Customer experience is a key component of driving business and is especially important in the face of economic uncertainty.
Ireland’s macro economy has held up well in the face of inflation and ongoing geopolitical crisis, but with economic commentators in the US saying the chances of a recession are 50-50, many businesses are considering their budgets. One area that should not be on the chopping block if cuts are to come, however, is customer experience (CX). This is because, despite the rational questions businesses are asking, CX is too important to ignore.
“Things are changing in the market. Companies are going to come under stress and strain because investment is down, a potential recession is coming, so the question now is, ‘How do you think about customer experience?’” said Brian Herron, director at strategic design agency Each&Other.
Imagine the scenario, Herron said: you are selling a software service or products through online channels and you have enjoyed having investment and tailwinds behind you. But now things are starting to look more complicated.
“Things have gone well for the last five to ten years. You have a war chest built up. You look at your numbers and see it’s starting to show signs of creaking,” he said.
Of course, UX is not the only area that will be making demands for continued budgets. However, Herron said, a strong case can be made for CX because it is so important for both acquiring and keeping customers.
“Everyone will say, ‘This is where you double down in my area,’ but when we look at customer experience, this really is a moment to see what value you can derive, either from your internal team or from external help, as CX will run down through your sales channels.”
Herron said that, given the role of CX at every stage of customer journey, it is essential to interrogate the discovery and sales processes properly. This can be done by thinking in terms of a number of layers.
“You need to ask, firstly, is the value proposition on your website matching up to why your customers are using your product? The next layer is understanding what the first experience looks like for your customer: are they impressed, or underwhelmed? Are they overwhelmed? Do they get a feeling of finish, of polish, of ease of use? The third layer, which I would argue is the most important, is your actual product itself,” he said.
“In one case, something you might be doing online is a necessity whereas in others you have competition, and so you can choose the one that suits you best,” he said.
Another laggard is the business to business (B2B) sector – and for similar reasons.
“B2B does lag, and it has a couple of aspects that have tended to result in it being unfocused. The first is the expectation that the person buying won’t be using it,” he said.
The result is that the choice to use this service or that piece of software becomes focused entirely on technical comparisons or simple cost-benefit analyses.
Secondly, he said, there has been a prevailing attitude that all of the sins can be covered by hand-holding during the set-up process or with training. However, with growing user sophistication and expectations set in the world of consumer software and services, this is starting to change.
“There is a shifting baseline. We expect now that our B2B software incorporates the kind of quality-of-life features that are more common in B2C [business to consumer],”
This creates an opportunity for B2B software and service providers to gain competitive advantage by matching the experiences we take for granted from consumer websites and apps.
This does not need to mean dumbing down, however.
“Reconsidering the overall customer experience will result in having the ability to differentiate your product as well as cover all potential scenarios well,” he said.
Indeed, automation, AI and other types of solutions now starting to come to market, such as low-code and no-code platforms, allow businesses to automate aspects of communication, customer experience and sales experience.
This, Herron said, also means those areas and even industries that were not typically considered to be at the forefront of IT innovation.
“If someone is sitting there in, for instance, quantity surveying, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if my QS software worked as well as these other platforms that I use,’ then now is the time to meet that expectation.”
This, Herron said, is a real opportunity for businesses providing niche software and services to put clear blue water between themselves and the competition.
“There is a trend in these areas to look toward better CX. The truth is, solutions from ten years ago are starting to look tired,” he said.