As consumers, we’re not just consuming goods and services when we shop; we’re consuming an experience. And when a customer’s experience tastes bad, they’re more than willing to spit it out.

According to PwC, 32% of people worldwide will stop using a brand they love after just one bad customer experience (CX). Not just any old brand, one they love. Forever.  

Fortunately, some of the most troublesome barriers to great CX today can now be solved with breakthrough technology. So how can brands turn their biggest weaknesses into strengths?

First, let’s briefly outline what we mean by customer “experience”. Then, we’re going to suggest ways in which emerging AI technologies like digital humans can help enhance the customer experience. 

What is customer experience?

Getting customer experience mixed up with customer service is an easy mistake. But they’re not exactly the same thing. 

Customer service is the assistance that companies provide before, during and after a sale. Whereas customer experience is how a person feels about a brand based on the various interactions they have with its staff, products, systems and channels. 

Take buying a coffee, for example. If your barista is friendly, helpful and efficient, you’re getting good customer service. But if your local cafe insists on always delivering friendly table service, throws in a free cookie for your birthday and sends you personalized email recommendations about new coffee beans they think you’ll love, you’re getting closer to a great customer experience. 

We’re using this as an example because PwC revealed people will pay 16% more for a ‘great experience’ when buying coffee. With 500 billion coffees drunk worldwide each year, even this niche has a huge opportunity in transitioning from being service-led to experience-led. 

It’s not just coffee either. There are notable price premiums for many other goods and services, including hotels (14%), restaurants (12%) and airline tickets (10%).

In fact, there are opportunities across the board – let’s look at some in more detail.

Three ways to improve customer experience

Research has shown customers who have positive experiences of a brand are likely to pay 140% more than those who report negative ones. They also tend to remain customers for five years longer, and have a 33% lower cost to serve.

We’ve talked about coffee shops, but a free cookie won’t be a game-changer for every brand (although if any of our local cafes are reading, it definitely can’t hurt). 

More generally, what broader things can businesses do to boost customer experience? And how are emerging technologies helping to make this easier and more effective than before? 

Here are three interesting ideas based on research:

1. Offer an omnichannel experience

Everyone prefers to shop in different ways. Whether it’s walking into a store, browsing on a desktop or logging in on a mobile device, consumers want to interact with brands in ways that are convenient for them. 

But it’s not ‘multi’ channel that’s important in this respect, it’s ‘omni’ channel – every channel, with consistency. Tech-savvy customers expect a seamless crossover between them all.

Nearly half of consumers believe the best thing retailers can do to improve the customer experience is better integrate their in-store, online and mobile shopping channels.   

If people put products in their mobile app’s shopping cart, the items need to still be there when they switch over to a laptop later. If paying in-store with a store card, the reward points should be linked to a mobile app where they can be easily monitored and redeemed. And the experiences they have in store have to be consistent with their experiences online.

How emerging technology can help deliver an omnichannel experience

The Internet of Things is the definition of omnichannel experiences, allowing consumers to experience uninterrupted interactions across the devices they own.

The ability to talk to our devices is also no longer a subject of science fiction, which adds another channel – voice – for brands to focus on bringing under their power.

But building a great omnichannel experience is ultimately about forming better cohesion and connections. With so many of these newer channels being digital, the default way to communicate with customers on them has leaned more towards automation, with tools like chatbots, virtual assistants and other conversational AI.

Unfortunately (as we’ll come on to) the amount of “connection” consumers can have with these technologies (the valuable connections that lead to better brand-to-customer experiences) is limited. Think of the difference between getting help from an assistant in a store compared to via online channels – there’s a huge chasm in how service is delivered.

Which is where we come on to digital humans. These AI assistants live across any channel (digital or as physical kiosks) and greet customers with a friendly face, a welcoming smile and a vast wealth of data about a brand’s products and services – delivered as conversation. 

That’s adds omnichannel brand consistency, but also convenience for consumers, and a personalized service that goes beyond what technology usually offers.

If you’d like to read more, we’ve touched more specifically on this in the online-to-instore retail experience, with expert insights from our experience designer working on some eCommerce concepts.

2. Don’t leave customers waiting

Brands know their customers don’t like to wait for their issues to be resolved. One study found that two out of every three people will only wait a maximum of two minutes on a customer service call before hanging up. 

They’re not just impatient over the phone either. Consumer Reports found that 50% of shoppers have left a physical store without making their intended purchase due to poor service. 

Is online better? Around 70% of customers confirm that chatbots answer quickly. That’s the good news…

How emerging technology can help improve customer wait times

All in all, 60% of people prefer to wait for help from a human, but are open to being triaged by conversational AI.

After all, customer service technology is scalable, available 24/7 and can immediately prioritize the most important queries and complaints. If they can get an answer automatically instead of waiting for a real person, great.

But the question remains whether this is the best customer experience available. Surely not. In fact, barely one-in-three people say chatbots are friendly, which many people would consider an absolute basic requirement of good CX.

Advances in AI and machine learning mean companies can move beyond basic bots and provide a more human experience, even if it’s not entirely human.

Scaling in ways humans simply can’t – we believe that makes a difference. And the technology will still be available around the clock, wherever customers are in the world. 

3. Empathize and personalize

Almost all marketers (99%) believe personalization helps advance their customer relationships. These benefits aren’t just subject, they’re tangible; 97% have seen a direct lift in business results due to personalization. And that’s off the back of only 13% saying they’re “very or extremely satisfied” by their current personalization efforts.

Even without great levels of personalization, 89% say they delivered better customer experiences, 61% increased loyalty and 59% a measurable lift in ROI.

So, let’s try and improve those efforts. 

For brands to personalize, they must empathize. When customers are having a tough time, the brand should show concern. When the consumer is excited, the brand should be equally so. Again, this is where modern conversational AI technologies step in.

Just think what conversational AI can do in banking and other financial services, sharing a user’s excitement when applying for their first home loan. Or when digital humans are used in retail, and are able to provide reassurance and a solution when a product a delivery is delayed.

How emerging technology can help improve personalization and empathy

Data and algorithms can provide the customer insights that help businesses personalize their approach. Empathy is a different story though; this is where technology can often fall short. Cold, hard numbers rarely give off that warm, inviting feel.    

And let’s be clear. Nothing can have a natural conversation and develop rapport with customers like human staff. However, the best employees can’t be everywhere at once. Digital humans can. 

What’s more, they don’t just use text, like chatbots, they have a voice and a face – which brings a new realm of trust-building. This means customer-facing technologies can display emotion and provide empathy-driven responses.

Chatbots can try to simulate this by using emojis and the like, but nothing beats the human face – the most time-tested interface we have – for conveying a personal, empathetic touch.

Ready to improve customer experience with emerging AI technology?

Plenty of technologies to improve customer experience talk a big game; but you really need to see if they’ll work for you, right?

If you want to experiment and explore what’s possible with AI digital humans, you can start a free trial of UneeQ Creator. Design, develop and deploy your own digital human employee who can speak to your customers in a personalized way, with empathy and warmth – around the clock and across virtually any channel.

Once you’ve started, check out our blog for guides on how to upskill your chatbot or conversational AI platform, and start seeing this kind of innovation in action today.