Unlike customer experiences that aim to create positive memories with a series of unique moments, the elements that indicate a recession has arrived look distressingly the same.
There’s rising inflation, which topped a record nine per cent this past summer in the U.S. Many employers are putting hiring plans on ice, while firms like Amazon have announced significant layoffs. Increased production and transportation costs, meanwhile, may have companies making tough decisions about where they invest their budgets.
While most business leaders would probably agree about the importance of maintaining a strong customer experience (CX), the implications of the recession are far from clear. If cost-conscious customers hold back on spending, for instance, how will that affect the degree of service and support organizations offer to the base of shoppers that remain?
What about the many different opportunities to enhance CX through the use of strategic – but often expensive – technology platforms?
According to Andrew Kokes, global head of marketing at HGS, conversations with client organizations right now tend to fall into a couple of key areas. First, they want to know how they can leverage technology and data to serve customers more quickly and efficiently.
Second, leaders worried about customer churn want to explore how they can harness voice of the customer (VOC) tools and initiatives to maintain loyalty. They are also taking a second look at policies, such as payment plans that could assist those challenged to pay their bills on time.
“It’s a question of, how do you do a better job of really making them feel like they matter – that you understand the challenges that they’re going through?” Kokes told 360 Magazine. “They are all seeing the impact of having less disposable income or more pressure because inflation seems like it’s never-ending.”
The recession is also accelerating a desire by organizations to offer more self-service capabilities, Kokes said, though not without some concerns they could make the experience worse. He acknowledged, for instance, that in some cases chatbots may have been deployed in ways that haven’t provided the necessary level of support customers expect. That’s why Kokes advised thinking of chatbots as a sort of “copilot” for live agents, training them until they can reach more of an “autopilot” mode.
Dennis Reno, head of customer experience at CX automation provider Cyara, the recession could put the spotlight on companies that have typically treated areas like service and support as an afterthought. For those putting CX investments on the back burner, meanwhile, he warned that a lack of visibility could impair their ability to ride out the economic storm.
“The thing that scares me the most in business is not knowing what I don’t know,” he said. “If I don’t know my customers are experiencing a quality problem, or that they’re not able to get through, (addressing) that should be a No 1. priority.”
Other CX purchases that might get put off include tools that provide user data and feedback on companies’ websites, said Mohanned Ali, CEO of Hotjar. Given the increased importance of a strong digital experience, he argued that’s a mistake.
“Companies may think, ‘Well, they’re already on our site, we got them where we wanted them to go.’ But a click doesn’t translate directly into a conversion,” Ali said. “That’s where user data and feedback tools come into play. These tools will save the CX team’s time by effortlessly connecting what their users are doing, and why, without having to spend time and money to find an issue that at times impossible to pinpoint without the right suite of tools.”
It’s not just weighing CX technologies that will preoccupy businesses now that a recession is here, of course. Reno said many customers are struggling with contact center staffing levels and what they should plan for in the near term. This question has been made even more complex by the ongoing debate over how decentralized customer service operations should be.
“They don’t want their calls dropped due to poor voice quality, especially when you’re talking about remote employees who could be located just about anywhere,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of discussion around call center owners or managers or leaders that feel a loss of control, not knowing as much about what customers might be experiencing.”
Experts agreed that there will likely be greater scrutiny on CX metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to guide decisions around in-person vs. hybrid working. Ali, however, said companies should also be careful about cutting back or holding off on recruiting dedicated CX roles.
“Anytime a company decides to begin a hiring freeze or layoffs it’s signaling to the customer that there is trouble brewing for the company,” he said. “I think it is more concerning when these freezes or layoffs happen in the customer experience areas because not only does it make it seem as though the customer and the comfort of the customer are not top priority, poor customer experience can lead to further trouble for the company.”
Regardless of doomsday scenarios from economic forecasters, Kokes said business leaders should make sure they don’t optimize costs at the expense of losing ground to competitors. This can easily happen when companies don’t improve their ability to personalize experiences the way customers increasingly expect. Companies with deeper pockets will continue to set the bar in these areas.
“Not every company is an Amazon. Not every company is Netflix and has the staff and the budget to do those kinds of things,” he said. “I think companies do need to commit to that journey, though, understanding their customer and the experience that they want to provide.”
To Ali, the bottom line on CX has never been clearer – even if the financial bottom line of many companies is not at greater risk.
“When product teams have the proper tools to understand how their users behave, they can deliver more value, prioritize updates and find ways to improve faster,” he said. “Any investment that is going to allow you to listen and empathize with your customer is going to be worth it.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.