The Top 6 Trends CX Leaders Need to Pay Attention to in 2023

Written by Aneta Ranstoller  on   Jan 5, 2023

Brands face unique challenges heading into 2023 as they balance the variety of changes the last few years have brought on—a looming recession, staffing shortages across all industries, and significant shifts in consumer behavior and expectations brought on by the pandemic. The only certainty is that the quality of customer experience (CX) is more important than ever.

There’s a good reason why you should be ranking CX high in your priorities for the coming year. According to Forrester’s US 2022 Customer Experience Index rankings, CX quality fell for almost a whopping 20% of brands in 2022. Not only that, the degree of quality has reverted back to early 2020 levels when we were just at the beginning of the pandemic! 

The proof is in the pudding. This steep drop is clear evidence that companies are losing focus on customers, even though customers expect more than ever from digital and hybrid experiences. In 2022, only 3% of US companies were putting customers at the center of their leadership, strategy, and operations—a decrease of 7 percentage points from the prior year.

Industries such as airlines, telecommunications, and hospitality have suffered losses in their CX quality as a result of environmental factors like rising costs, supply issues, and staffing shortages. To keep up with competition, CX leaders need to stay informed about the ongoing rapid innovations in technology. Let’s take a look at the six key trends we predict will impact CX in 2023.

1. Authentic Intelligence is the New AI

2023 is anticipated to be the breakout year for authentic intelligence in the realm of CX. By extending artificial into authentic-focused technology, you gain the ability to have more organic connections with customers, drive better insights, and achieve resolutions more efficiently.

Authentic intelligence in 2023 is at the heart of an advanced CX solution, using inputs from systems and APIs, historical data, customer profiles, and cutting-edge conversational design. With these inputs you’ll be able to extract advanced data analytics personalized to each individual customer and use it for more intuitive responses through email or app interface.

Specifically, authentic intelligence will change the CX landscape for both customers and agents in the following ways:

  1. More intelligent conversations with the customer. Conversations powered by authentic intelligence will feel more organic. Customers will have the freedom to convey nuance in their speech without tripping up the AI system’s pre-scripted response algorithm, thereby facilitating more effective resolutions with the customer support team in less time.
  2. Modularity allows for incremental deployment. An advantage to CX teams looking to incorporate authentic intelligence is that it can be done without disrupting operations since it can be deployed incrementally. CX leaders can deploy single modules at a time and use it to gather information for larger deployments, making the transition more digestible and less risky for both customers and agents.
  3. Easily integrates into the tools you’re already using. Authentic intelligence technology easily integrates into a wide variety of tools used by the CX team, such as agent desks, CRM, data sources, and third party systems. These tools automatically feed the AI’s input database, enabling the system to constantly become more intelligent and informed about your customers.
  4. Cloud-based and secure. Designed for cloud computing, authentic intelligence removes the requirement for coding to implement changes or updates. Being cloud-based also means it comes with the highest level of and most-up-to-date security for the protection of customer and company information.

2. High Quality CX is the Biggest Brand Differentiator 

In the simplest of terms, CX can be summed up as what your customer thinks about your brand or company. This perception is a cumulation of every interaction they have with you across every channel. Each interaction is an opportunity to build a stronger bond between you and your customer. On the flip side, it also means you have the potential to weaken that bond if you provide a poor experience.

Customer expectations demand a high quality CX that covers the following six areas:

  1. Customers need to feel like they’re talking to a human being. Customers crave authentic conversations, not robotic transactions. With a traditional chatbot, customers can get frustrated when their questions are met with pre-scripted chatbot responses that lack understanding of the customers’ needs. In contrast, AI-enabled conversational assistants aren’t just getting customers basic info they need; behind the scenes, they’re also feeding human agents intelligent data and analysis to deliver better, faster outcomes without customers ever being aware.
  2. Self-service options are seamless and effortless. Companies are building better relationships with their customers by empowering them to find the solutions to their questions. By allowing customers to resolve their own issues through website or app interface, CX teams provide them with a sense of ownership and reduce demand so that the team can address more urgent or complex issues.
  3. Don’t make your customers wait in line. Customers value their time a lot. According to Accenture, 64% of consumers wish companies would respond faster to meet their changing needs. CX leaders will need to strike a balance between reducing the time customers spend resolving issues and resolving those issues to the customers’ satisfaction.
  4. Proactive engagement. Subscription renewal prior to expiration is one such example of proactive resolution. But what if the existing credit card is expired and no longer in use? Your CX team will need to be on top of that too and get in touch with the customer before the renewal date. Real-time data can be gathered to ensure that you are looking ahead for any roadblocks that may impact customer satisfaction and retention.
  5. 24/7 support with social media. Social media has changed the definition of fast. This is because most people have at least one form of social media at their fingertips at all times, which makes customer support a 24/7 business. Companies must now ensure their social media is equipped with tools to handle customer questions from time-zones across the globe. 
  6. Hyper-personalization. Hyper-personalization combines customer data and AI, generating insights to create experiences for individual customers in real-time. For example, in a contact center, bots can track customer conversations in real-time, proactively feeding agents information to streamline and personalize the conversation. Such information may include sentiment insights that encourage agents to adapt their call handling to satisfy the emotional needs of individual customers. The entire customer base is a “segment of one”. In other words, companies can treat customers as though they are in a demographic of their own.

3. Acceleration of Conversational AI Automation

It’s important to note that conversational AI is not a single technology, but rather a combination of different technologies, including natural language processing, machine learning, deep learning, and contextual awareness. These technologies work together to enable computers to understand and respond to human language, making it possible for them to have natural, human-like conversations.

With companies rushing to cut costs and improve customer experience, the adoption of smarter conversational AI has become a major focus for CX leaders everywhere. Frontier Airlines recently announced its decision to drop its customer support line, forcing people to resolve their issues via their website and social media; all of which are built on conversational AI. 

Frontier’s announcement, while not without its risks, highlights the power of conversational AI and the importance of having a well-thought-out CX strategy. Ultimately, it’s about finding ways to elevate the customer experience to new levels, whether through phone conversations or other touchpoints.

Conversational AI should not be confused with a chatbot, which does not provide the CX agent with the same powerful detection of nuance and context. For example, a chatbot will not be able to detect synonyms or small variations in the customer’s phrases. This means there is little room for the customer to go off-script. Chatbots are also unable to remember information across long conversations. Conversational AI allows the customer to ask a question in the middle of a conversation, while still retaining the chat history for the support agent to use.

Don’t underestimate the power of connections – they can make all the difference in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Netomi’s Conversational AI helps you create an engaging CX strategy that truly stands out for strong, authentic connections with your customers.

4. Employee Experience is Just as Critical as CX

Providing excellent customer service is of the utmost importance, but it’s also crucial to consider the experience of the agents who are providing that service. With constant staffing shortages due to employee burnout and high turnover, the employee experience can no longer be placed on the back burner. 

It’s been widely accepted now that everyone wins when support agents feel engaged in their role. Research conducted by Deloitte revealed that companies in the top quartile of employee experience are 25% more profitable than competitors in the bottom quartile. In fact, Deloitte states that organizations with highly engaged employees reported a 3-year revenue growth rate, 2.3 times greater than average. With these kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see why it is essential to empower our agents and make sure they feel supported in their roles.

One way companies are addressing this is by utilizing AI to enhance the agent experience. It’s a win-win: by investing in our agents, we can improve their satisfaction and drive better outcomes for customers. CX agent engagement will undoubtedly continue to be a focus in the new year as it becomes more difficult to retain the best talent.

In a recent Netomi article, we looked at how AI-powered chatbots work alongside our CX agents to increase their productivity and improve their levels of engagement. There are three areas in particular that benefit significantly from AI:

  • Agents are empowered with the information they need. By pulling information directly from knowledge bases, AI-powered chatbots drastically reduce the need to manually retrieve information and resolution time for the CX agents.
  • Influxes of customer queries can be handled quickly. Chatbots can work around the clock to provide instant responses and support during times when there is a high volume of queries, such as course registration deadlines or travel during peak seasons.
  • Preparing agents with insights that inform, offer context, and save time. CX agents can be better prepared for customer queries when they have all the information needed prior to interacting with the customer. Chatbots can assist the CX agent by pulling all customer-related information before they take over. Additionally, chatbots can gauge the sentiment of the customer so that the agent can offer a more empathetic approach..

Meeting the increasing demands of customers for timely, personalized, and convenient support will continue to be a challenge, especially when it comes to staffing a competent customer support team. To succeed in tomorrow’s environment, it will be important to use a combination of human talent and AI to assist and augment the work of our agents. In doing so, agents can be freed up to focus on the work that has the greatest impact. 

5. Using an Incremental Approach to Digital Transformation

Incremental digital transformation, ie., the gradual implementation of digital technologies and processes, is expected to be a major trend in 2023 as budgets tighten during economic uncertainty. This approach involves making small, incremental changes over time, rather than attempting to overhaul an organization’s entire infrastructure and processes all at once.

There are several reasons why an incremental approach to digital transformation is likely to be popular in the coming year:

  • It allows organizations to test and learn as they go. Rather than take on too much risk upfront, organizations are better off collecting data and feedback from both customers and agents. They can afford to be more flexible this way, as changes can be made using this feedback and refined in real-time.
  • Incremental change is more cost effective. It allows organizations to focus on specific areas or processes that need improvement instead of tackling everything at once. The rip-and-replace approach is often plagued with massive consulting contracts and multi-year timetables while yielding less than expected ROI. 
  • Less disruption to day-to-day operations. Support agents will find it easier to adapt to smaller changes and customers won’t be put off by large scale improvements that take time to get used to. The learning curve for both groups is mitigated as business operations continue to see incremental improvements. 

6. Generative AI Will Continue to Gain Momentum

While the impact of AI on employment has seemed somewhat abstract in the past, the rapid development of generative AI is a reminder of just how quickly and significantly work can change. The CX arena is no exception to this trend.

Broadly speaking, generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence that uses advanced computing power to create content that closely resembles human-generated material. To do this, it employs techniques such as natural language processing and generative adversarial networks, which allow it to learn patterns and algorithms from existing data. This enables generative AI to automate the creation of new, unique content without requiring input from a user.

Recently, AI driven ChatGPT has been making waves for its ability to solve riddles and generate lines of complex code. A Google created chatbot, ChatGPT (which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is the latest in OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 family of large language models (LLM) and is being hailed as the smartest chatbot ever developed, with 175 billion parameters. 

We predict generative AI will play a leading role in:

  • The creation of proactive personalized product recommendations through insight analytics 
  • Better and deeper customer segmentation leading to true personalization and contextualization of experiences
  • Yielding greater insights into understanding of customer satisfaction and performance

This next generation of capabilities will mean a broader range of interactions, more accurate answers, and lower levels of required human support which will result in higher adoption and eventually more training data for the models.

2023 is Set to Be A Landmark Year for CX

In the face of rapid and complex change in the world, companies are seeking new ways to emerge stronger and be better prepared for the future. As CX leaders, you will need to understand the diverse, and often paradoxical, drivers of consumer behavior and how to respond to these evolving needs. This requires a holistic, data-driven, and human-centered approach that leverages the right mix of technologies.

Forward strides will be made in the domain of conversational AI for a more organic exchange of information with the customer. Brands will also compete for more authentic relationships with their customers, while innovating to improve their employees’ engagement in the workplace. The evolution of generative AI will continue at break-neck speed as companies try to maintain a steady pace of innovation. 

The plot for 2023 cannot be more intriguing, as all signs point to a major inflection point in the CX space. 

Why Frontier Airlines Cut Its Customer Service and What it Means for the Airlines Industry

Written by Aneta Ranstoller  on   Dec 7, 2022

I’ve never flown with Frontier Airlines, but I know people who have. 

Imagine this. You’re at the gate waiting to board as the scheduled flight departure time is here. Agents on the ground are trying to check passengers in and deal with last-minute changes and requests. Passengers are directed to the airline’s app to help resolve the requests and issues, yet the app is not working on your phone. Now, several passengers have to pay the premium at-gate baggage fee because the online system is down. Passengers are rushed to board and the flight is undoubtedly delayed. The experience: irate customers and frantic agents.

Based on this tale that actually occurred on a Frontier flight from Washington to San Francisco in late October 2022,  I’m not convinced I ever will. 

As the world barrels towards digital-first, Frontier Airlines announced its decision to drop its customer support line. To speak with a live agent over the phone is no longer an option. Ouch! This changes the customer experience dramatically, steering them only towards digital channels such as social media and web chat. In theory, it sounds like a smart strategy. After all, isn’t all the buzz to be digital-first? Unfortunately, in practice it is counter-intuitive. Here’s why.

“Our Customer Care function recently transitioned to fully digital communications, which enables us to ensure our customers get the information they need as expeditiously and efficiently as possible,” the airline said in a statement. 

To Phone or Not to Phone? Why Frontier’s Move Could be a Strategic Disaster

Netomi’s 2022 Airline Customer Service Benchmark Report looked at the state of customer service for the top 20 passenger airlines in North America – inclusive of Frontier. Overall, customer service statistics revealed that the phone is still the best channel for getting in touch with an airline, followed by social media as the next best option.

Frontier had a strong call center before they axed the department

Interestingly, Frontier scored in the top 5 for phone support with an average hold time of 2 minutes on a weekend.

 

Frontier Airlines scored as one of the top airlines for call center support before they eventually terminated that support channel.

Eliminating the option to speak to a live agent carries the risk of alienating customers. Not all customers are digital natives, with some preferring more traditional methods of communication. Silent Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are on that list. It is imperative to adopt a holistic and customer-centric approach that caters to all generations and determine if digital-first interactions are what they desire. They often are, but not always. 

What Frontier stands to lose by risking it all with automation (and little else)

With too much reliance on automation, airlines run the risk of robotic interactions by simply attempting to replicate a phone interaction. Consider a chatbot whose primary goal is to deflect tickets away from human agents by directing customers to content on the airline’s website. Deflection is not synonymous with resolution and it neglects the experience of the interaction. Was the issue successfully resolved? Was the customer satisfied with the end result? 

If Frontier’s solution is a basic FAQ chatbot with the sole purpose of deflecting queries, it is not necessarily resolving customer issues to the extent that a human agent can.  Transactional approaches are counter-intuitive to the experiential era.

An alternative approach: Human intelligence plus AI is the ultimate combo

Two of the top 5 suggested searches for Frontier are related to connecting customers with the call center according to Google Search.
“Your call is (not) important to us” – Frontier Airlines bids farewell to phone support.

A spokesperson from Frontier claimed that “most customers prefer to communicate over digital channels”, but there is evidence suggesting this might not be entirely correct.

In fact, Google search indicates that customers are interested in getting their issues resolved via Frontier’s call center. Two of the top 5 suggested searches for Frontier are related to connecting customers with the call center.

The most successful airlines strike a balance between AI and humans working together to get the job done. For example, AI can do the bulk of the prep work by retrieving customer-specific information to help an agent draft and confirm the ideal response to a customer. If the AI is not trained on an answer, it can smoothly escalate the issue to a live agent. This should always be an option based on the topic, customer sentiment, or if a customer wishes to interact with one. At times it may also be necessary, as some issues are more critical, or customers may be hesitant to provide confidential information online, such as passport details. 

Why Frontier Could Struggle Prioritizing Connections

So, when transitioning to digital channels or choosing to prioritize these over others, airlines must be prepared. Frontier must strategically think through these decisions, ensuring that support offered through these channels is even more robust and always-on to meet customer expectations for effortless and speedy resolutions.  Travel is a fast-moving industry and on-the-fly support is needed to deal with last-minute changes and requests. A Conversational AI platform is better equipped to handle these more efficiently than overloaded agents. For CX success, a omnichannel support strategy is critical, one that spans channels and touchpoints. This is what the modern customer expects all the time. On all channels.

Conversational AI is Getting Better

This is where innovative conversational AI solutions enter the picture – leveraging next-generation chatbot technology that empowers support agents for quality conversations with their customers. What if those gate agents mentioned in the Frontier story above were armed with full context and details on each customer, allowing them to solve issues faster? We are in a time when customers crave authentic connections with brands, they crave personalized experiences and being part of a community. Airlines must take care to maintain that connection – incorporating empathy into each interaction. 

There are also various edge cases to consider, and it is important that a chatbot is trained to handle such cases. After all, travelers are unique beings with their own unique situations. For example, a customer may need to change their international flight at the last minute due to a family emergency. A Conversational AI solution that really understands the customers’ intent to get to the resolution quickly is crucial. An AI solution that understands both the sentiment of the customer and the empathy cues of the conversation for personalized resolutions. A solution that is proactive and anticipates customers’ needs provides optimal results in virtual customer service

Frontier’s announcement speaks to the power of Conversational AI and emphasizes the importance of having a robust CX strategy. At the end of the day, it all comes down to considering how you can take the customer experience to new heights (pun intended). Considering how you can create quality conversations for excellent agent and customer experiences. Do not discount the power and the importance of connections. If those experiences do not include the phone as a support channel, then you need to ensure that other touchpoints are powerful enough to make those experiences even more memorable.

Is Frontier investing in a truly Conversational AI platform or simply an FAQ virtual assistant that deflects common customer queries? Only time will tell. As travelers and CX enthusiasts, we will be watching to see how this digital-only approach unfolds.  

 

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