An AI customer service message on a phone.
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Despite hype surrounding AI, automation and the digital customer experience, Australians aren’t quite willing to let go of person-to-person interactions. Not yet, anyway.

Research from Qualtrics and SAP’s Centre for Experience Management shows that 45% of Australians prefer service interactions with a real person, compared with 21% who prefer digital platforms.

Furthermore, only 29% of consumers are looking for more services and interactions through mobile apps, and 26% of people look for a “seamless” experience across all digital touchpoints.

However, consumers want to see companies working to improve customer service representatives’ helpfulness. This is ahead of a desire for easy-to-use mobile apps, having access to more payment options, and even speed and delivery of service.

In short, consumers still respect more traditional ways of doing business. They just want to see organizations get better at them.

The customer experience is more critical to retention than ever

One-third of Australians have stopped purchasing from a company after having a bad customer experience, according to another body of research by CPM. More than two-thirds of consumers believe companies place no, low or moderate importance on delivering excellent customer service. This was true both before and after the onset of COVID-19.

Interestingly, most Australians have straightforward ideas of what makes great customer service. According to 75% of people in the CPM study, it’s a matter of being able to access the correct information, having consistent information across both digital and human interactions and the presence of knowledgeable staff.

In theory, there should be technological solutions for delivering this. It can be delivered with a desiloed and centralized data environment that allows relevant people across each line of business to access customer data when they need it. It should then be supported by AI-driven insights, allowing an organization to engage deeply and knowledgeably with their customers.

However, research suggests that, globally, the majority of customers believe their feedback goes to the wrong person. This means there isn’t enough insight into the intent of a customer when they reach out to a company, and suggests the data environments or the application of them still has some way to go.

This isn’t helped by skills shortages and high rates of staff churn. Organizations are clearly struggling to provide a consistent and properly personalized user experience, and customers aren’t sold on AI’s ability to deliver that without human oversight.

SEE: Discover how Australian IT skills shortages are inhibiting entrepreneurship and innovation

“Delivering programs, products and services with a customer-first mindset is more important than ever, and a key part of this is ensuring customers receive the experiences they desire while frontline employees are enabled with the tools and systems to quickly and easily understand and take action on what matters most to customers,” said Lara Truelove, author of “The Customer Experience Edge: Australia and Program Leader for the Centre for Experience Management.”

Getting back to basics and leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience

For all the interest in AI chatbots and “self-service,” the cost of poor customer service in Australia is in excess of $100 billion per year. There is no doubt that AI and automation will continue to grow and play a more significant role in leading the interactions with customers.

However, organizations should be wary of trying to jump the transformative stages in-between. For now, too many Australian organizations aren’t providing the expected level of customer service, and consumers are all too willing to take their business elsewhere in the meantime.

For any organization that wants to appeal to demographics beyond the technology’s early adopters, using technology to enhance traditional customer service approaches should still be the priority.

Providing a swift response

Every organization is experimenting with chatbots to provide that first interaction with a customer — and this is a good way to handle the demand. However, the key piece will be the swiftness of response when the customer’s needs mean that the chatbot will be escalated. Ensuring that the chatbot and prior interactions with the customer have been centralized to prevent the customer from experiencing repetition in their interactions with the business is also important.

Having an effective communication tone

Adapting the tone of communication means understanding how customers are talking about your business and, in general, how it communicates. Having a finger on the pulse here means having an effective strategy to identify, categorize and analyze the unstructured data coming in from social media and then disseminating the information to everyone within the organization who interacts with customers.

Making the omnichannel experience seamless

Although the Qualtrics research might show that only 26% of Australians are looking for a “seamless” interaction with brands across all digital channels, they’re certainly going to notice if things go wrong. Delivering an omnichannel experience means having centralized sources of data on customers, so no matter how a person is interacting with that customer, the knowledge of that customer is kept updated and consistent.

Offering personalized and proactive contact

Customers who feel like they’re only a number to a company and that they are the ones that need to continue to chase the company for information or updates are going to report a poor customer experience. Having automated systems that help proactively manage customer needs is critical to allowing the customer to feel like they’re being personally looked after.

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