Technology and the Customer Experience

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CCN Associate Publisher Keith Levick, Ph.D., recently sat down with Jeofrey Bean and Sean Van Tyne, co-authors of the new business leadership book The Customer Experience Revolution – How Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks Have Changed Business Forever, published by Brigantine Media. The three discussed the increasingly important role technology is playing in creating the ideal customer experience, and the pitfalls that can be found along the way.

KL: When I got to the airport, that’s when the troublebegan. First of all, I was late. I couldn’t get off the phone and I couldn’t print my ticket, so I had to print it at the airport. I was at the kiosk trying to print my ticket and everything was going wrong. I didn’t understand what they were asking me; it wasn’t user friendly. I just didn’t know what to do as my anxiety increased. The bottom line is that I almost missed my flight.

Sean Van Tyne

Sean Van Tyne

SVT: I had a very similar experience on my last travel. I was running late, and I didn’t preprint like I normally do. I went to the kiosk; the type of things it was asking for (like identification), I didn’t have. I got frustrated because it wasn’t going to give me what I needed. I have a happier story than you because when I finally got to a human, they did take care of me and got me what I needed. And they got me on my way with a smile, and I didn’t miss my flight.

Let’s face it, sometimes the technology doesn’t fit your needs and you’ll need to talk to a person to take care of your needs.

KL: I much prefer the human-to-human interface. I become frustrated when sitting on the phone going from prompt to prompt until I finally get to a human.Do you think other people feel this way?

JB: I think it depends on whether the technology is working and if it has been designed properly. It could be that the design is flawed and it’s not doing the job effectively. In many cases, the development of these products did not involve the right people or they were rushed to market too quickly. In the end, people are left unhappy and frustrated.

We ran into a situation in the quick-serve restaurant market. They put kiosks in quick-serve restaurants and found that people under the age of 35, when they are in a rush and hungry, only want to interface with a machine.I don’t know if that’s as intense as when someone is late and they need to catch a plane.

SVT: The thing with a kiosk is that it reduces human error, and people’s orders are correct more often. If it isn’t, they can only blame themselves. The other interesting thing that Jeof and I learned is that customers tend to upsell themselves more than if they were at the counter. Therefore, if a customer service representative was trying to upsellthe customer,the customer is more likely to say no.Butwhen interacting at a kiosk, one is more likely to say yes. Restaurants really love these things because they are making more money faster by using the kiosks and have happier customers.

JB: When it comes to kiosks in restaurants, EMN8provides the appropriate technology. The challenge when developing technology is to account for the ever changing situations that human beings encounter. For example, rushing to catch a plane. Sean, do you think these things are considered?

SVT: They’re probably looking at it from the technology up standpoint rather than from a market-down. Instead of thinking about what it does they need to look at what it solves — what user goals are you meeting. Jeof calls it the “do-fors.” Don’t think about what the technology does, think about what it does for your customer.

KL: With all the technology I utilize on a daily basis, I often wonder ifdevelopers actually do that or if the goal is to make it faster rather than considerwhat I’m experiencing.

JB: The ones that do it well consider their customers’ needs. Like Apple’sinterface (iPhone iPod, iTunes) — they spent a great amount of time considering what the customer needs to accomplish.

KL: Another issue you brought up is the generational issue, when you mentioned that people under 35 enjoy using technology. For the first time in the history of the United States, the workplace has four generations (the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y). Clearly, the Gen X and Gen Y employees are more tuned in and aligned with using technology; it’s just part of who they are. How do you see the older generations using technology?

SVT: There are a couple of interesting issues when you look at the different generations.The largest population by number is the boomers. The boomers controlled our economy and will continue todo so for a while. The next generationis Gen X — those born in the ’60s and’70s.We’re a much smaller number who tend to have some angst and are angry at the boomers — not only because they experienced a better childhood,but alsothey left us with the bill. And then there’s Gen Y, also known as the Millenials. It’s not surprising that the younger generations are adapting much more quickly than the older generations. In fact, this is the first time in human history that younger people know more about technology than older people. Now, when grandpa can’t figure out the VCR he hands it over to the grandkids.

KL: Do you see any social implications from that?

SVT: Oh absolutely. The other thing we see as a trend is the younger generation (much like Europe) is far less concerned with its privacy.And the concern for privacy increases with age.Younger generationsare less concerned about privacy due to Facebook, Twitter, instagram and tumblr.They are more wired into the technology than the rest of us. Having said that, I do want to add that the boomers are becoming more comfortable with technology. They are using Facebook and the Internet more than ever before.Once they understand the benefits, they use it. They are just slower adapters and concerned more for their privacy.

KL: There is a hurricane of information coming at the consumer today. It sounds like what both of you are saying is that technology is here to stay.

SVT: Not only is the technology here to stay, but humans’ dependency on technology will only increase in time and not decrease. In my world, that means that the need for technology to be ubiquitous or invisible is also going to become mandatory. That is the ultimate interface, one that is invisible. A classic example is the thermostat; you set it and you don’t think about it again, especially if it’s automatic.

KL: If what you are saying is true, how will companies interface with customers? What can they do to provide the ultimate customer experience, so we’re not left frustrated?

Jeofrey Bean

Jeofrey Bean

JB: One size doesn’t fit all. A company needs to look at itself and determine its core competency.It needs to determine what it is and what it is not.Technology needs to be part of that strategy.

KL: I understand that technology is here to stay and that companies use it to differentiate themselves from competitors. However, technology does not offer the human touch. When I walk up to a human interface at a store or a bank I want the smile, which gives me the feeling that “I’m important” and drives the motivation to come back and do business with that company again.

SVT: Statistically, whenever you can involve a human face, both the friendliness and interaction go up.That is why you see pictures of faces on websites.

Another interesting use of technology is how stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and others use it to identify the customer.With that information they track what is purchased and are able to direct the customer to specific locations in the store. If you are in their loyalty program they remain connected with you. They remain fully engaged with the customer.

KL: Are humans going to be replaced by robots?Is this what we’re coming to?

JB: No. Each company needs to decide what technology they want to use and how it will provide a better customer experience. Some companies will have little use of high technology. However, if you serve a young, high-tech audience, you’ll want to offer them the latest and greatest social mobile experiences.

JB: Companies need to understand that at some point they need to have a human experience; even if you order something online it will get delivered to your house. You may want to call someone for support, which would be an analog experience. I think that companies that really understand their market and understand where to set the digital and analog experience will be much farther along than a company that runs fully automated.

KL: It may be that it all comes down to the relationship the customer has with the technology. At times it could be an exceptional relationship or it could be a disaster. What suggestions or recommendations do you have for organizations or companies providing technology?

SVT: I think Jeof and I would say the same thing — it requires the three Ds: Determining,Developing and Delivering the proper technology, and we discuss that in our book, The Customer Experience Revolution. First the company needs to determine what it wants to be, thenbegin development, and then deliver it. And always make sure it delivers on the promises made as well as monitor the results.

JB: Additionally, asKeith mentioned earlier, there is so much information readily available. Today, with all the interconnectivity and access to informationanytime, the big challenge is to qualify information. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true or even realistic. Companies designing technology for people need to understand that if they can help people get quality information that does what it says it does, I think they’ll be further ahead. Using the three Ds todetermine what the customer needs before they make huge investments in technology will save companies money and grief. And never losing site of the importance of engaging people.

KL: Once again, it’s relating to what the end user needs. In this case, it’scompiling dataand making it easy for the customer to utilize.

SVT: I look at it as a business opportunity and a differentiator. What are the conditions that people are using your technology? If I really understand what information people need because of what they want to do with that technology, I will realize that a noisy airport may not be the best time to ask them for an extra piece of information.

I will refer back to the conversation Jeof and I had with Gina Pingitore, the chief research officer at JD Power and Associates. We were talking about where people get their ideas of the kinds of experiences people should have. This is the time to pay attention to where they get their experiences with technology outside their industry. People don’t sort the experience by industry. If a person experiencesgreat service at Amazon, for example, they expect the same service with other companies. If they don’t receive it, there is a good chance the customer will be lost to a competitor. Gina says when a company sets the standard in one area of customer service, it sets the bar for all industries. That’s why it’s important to benchmark outside your respective industry. That’s where people form their impressions.

KL: That expectation of thecustomer is critically important. I recently returned a pair of shoes at Zappos. The experience was exceptional. Two days later, the service I experienced with another company fell short in comparison to my experience with Zappos. I actually remember comparing the two experiences in my head.

JB: You bring up a really good point, Keith. There are many companies that don’t realize that we are in the experience economy right now. Work is no longer about a service economy. If your company isn’t thinking about the experience it is delivering, it will become irrelevant in the marketplace.

JB: We don’t sort by industry, we sort by experience. Whether it was interacting with a person over the phone or your experience with Zappos, you’re going to compare the combination,which was technology and analog.

KL: It also involves the emotional experience the customer has with a product or service that is important. The research shows that people buy or don’t buy based on their emotions. When I feel good with the experience, I want to feel good again; I don’t want to be frustrated. I think the emotional side of what the customer experiences is critically important. Your thoughts?

SVT: Jeof and I also agree. We have a chapter in our book dedicated to the emotional connection, and we talk about the science behind it.

KL: At the end of the day technology has to create an overall positive experience for the customer.

JB: Yes. If not, a company will soon become irrelevant, which is a polite way to say they’ll go out of business. They get marginalized and then they try to adjust. At which point it is too late. We’re seeing that when someone gets the experience right and others don’t get it, the irrelevancy can happen very quickly. When they get it right they will be in business for years to come.

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