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How to Navigate Machines in the CX Ecosystem

How to design a customer experience that prioritizes the always-evolving human and machine interconnection.

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Editor’s Note: This guide was written by CX expert Jeannie Walters.

Before you continue reading: For the sake of simplicity, in this guide we’ll be using the term machine as an all-inclusive representation of innovative technology that is readily available to customers and companies—from Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI), voice-command, etc.—and that influences the customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) strategy must focus on the customer, yet at the same time, CX programs rely heavily on machines to understand their audience, gather feedback, and better serve them. Meanwhile, customers carry powerful devices with them, contact brands via smart speakers and rely on machines to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature.

This human and machine ecosystem was not even imagined a decade ago. So the question is: How can CX leaders continue to evolve their program to understand, include, and leverage these machines in each customer’s journey?

This guide features best practices for designing the ideal customer experience that incorporates both the customer and the machines that they love.  

Let’s start at the beginning: It’s all about the customer and designing for them.

Chapter 1

Designing for the entire customer experience

Organizations that design better experiences for customers win in many ways, including: gaining market share, customer loyalty, share of wallet, referrals, and increased word-of-mouth marketing. 

CX leaders create meaningful end-to-end customer journeys by designing the overall experience. This means considering what the customer needs—whether it’s the readability on a website or the location of a dressing room—and designing the experience for them. 

Customer experience has come a long way since designing storefronts, checkout lines, and other simple interactions. Now, customers carry their own mobile tech devices to support daily tasks. Such machines deliver their own experiences, sometimes meaning humans must adapt to them.

Today, designing great customer experiences requires considering humans and the machines they use, the way machines serve them, and the machines we don’t ever see.

Start with humanity

Humans by nature rely on tools. Our earliest ancestors created specifically shaped sticks to leverage for hunting and gathering food. But the tool is not the outcome. A tool is just a tool, so any experience design needs to start with the human, not the machine in use. 

This means that you must answer the following human-centric questions when considering experience design.

1. Who is your customer? 

Your customer is a person with a particular outlook. Their specific place in the world, their unique expectations and their perceptions will be the center of the design. 

Start with a persona for your design to help everyone understand not just what the customer wants to do with your product, but who they are as a whole. A persona represents an individual customer, which can guide your design in a more personal, authentic way.

Personas often include insight like demographics, such as age, socioeconomic status, and more. The best personas include insight on where your customer likes to get their information. It may also include their comfort level with technology and getting support. 

These personal preferences and characteristics indicate the way customer experience design should evolve to meet their needs. For example, if your customer is most comfortable with getting support within the experience, like an app, then the design of your support should include in-app options. But, like all experiences, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. While the majority may want that option, there will still be others who want to talk to a person over the phone while dealing with a service issue in the app.

Designing for the customer means creating experiences that prioritize the options that your customers want, while still allowing for custom options based on personal preferences. 

Now that you know your customer, it’s time to ask the other questions around designing the right experiences for them.

2. What are they trying to do?

This is the seemingly obvious place to start. But be careful—too many organizations end up designing for their tool or machine instead of the customer. It’s easy to answer this with a bias toward what we think on the inside of the organization. 

So what is your customer trying to do? 

  • They aren’t trying to use your app.

  • They aren’t checking out with your kiosk.

  • They aren’t having a conversation with your chatbot.

But they are trying to accomplish a goal by using these tools. This could mean they want to:

  • Run a faster mile by using your app as a guide.

  • Get groceries quickly and safely for their family.

  • Fix a problem that’s disrupting their day.

Don’t fall into the trap of answering this question with an inside-out view. Really step into your customer’s shoes and consider their entire set of needs, not just the one your tool may be serving. 

3. How are they trying to do it?

Your customer has many options today to get something done. They have that mobile device in their pocket to serve them. They pop open their laptop on a daily basis. They might even use that machine in their pocket to make a phone call.

Experience design should include considerations that aren’t just linear regarding which channel or platform they use. Customer-focused experience design means considering questions around the non-linear journey, too.

Designing just for a mobile app experience, for example, might exclude those moments when a customer thinks, “Is this easier to accomplish on my laptop?” There are human challenges—like reading fine print or clicking on buttons that are too close together—that could prompt those questions.

Instead of just designing the experience for mobile devices, laptops or other individual tools, design for your customer’s journey by asking specifically what will happen if that channel doesn’t work for them. 

Here are some questions to help guide you: 

  • What obstacles might prevent a customer from completing their task via your app, kiosk, or digital experience? 

  • What would a customer do if they needed support in this particular moment?

  • What if they switched channels?

  • What if the app is frozen?

  • What if the voice-controlled remote doesn’t understand their voice?

Walking through these what ifs around the question of how your customer wants to do something can provide a more proactive experience. 

Not thinking through these questions at the start of the design could lead to service issues, reactive, on fire problem-solving, and frustrated customers. It’s worth it to take the time to answer these questions during design.

Always include emotion

Don’t forget to include the basics around experience when designing for that combined human and machine interaction. 

Customer experience is based on meeting or not meeting expectations. If you set the right expectations, then you can exceed them on a regular basis and delight your customers. If those expectations are too high, then your customers will ultimately be disappointed.

Consider not just those expectations, but also your customer’s emotions across their journey. There are emotional stakes in all experiences. While it’s easy to think of machines as models of efficiency, it’s up to experience designers to create the right emotional environment within these tools. 

There’s a reason customers are now accustomed to reading messages from machines while the backend system works. For example, ATMs at banks often display messages of “Working on it” or “Now depositing” while approving or updating the system before confirmation for the customer. These moments of reassurance are important for the customer and display a sense of humanity from the machine.

Experience design in the new normal

Although you must design with the machine in mind, the experience is always all about the customer. Start with the customer and design around them, not the tool. 

The evolution continues each day. There are currently higher needs for security and well-being to include in designing and redesigning experiences.

While the well-being and comfort of customers has always been a concern, it’s reached a new level in the era of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). A self-service kiosk, for example, has a high-touch experience that may lead to concern for customers. In this case, the experience between the customer and the machine requires additional touchpoints, literally, to provide reassurance. Providing disinfectant wipes next to each kiosk might be an update required. Or asking a protected employee to actively wipe down the kiosk before and after each customer might show customers the reassurance they need.

This is a new experience for most customers, even though using a kiosk to self-checkout might not be new at all. This is where experience design matters the most and showcases how it’s not about the machine itself—it’s about the customer’s journey.

Chapter 2

The machine CX ecosystem

What does interacting with machines look like? They’re everywhere, and they’re nowhere all at once. Customer experiences today require considerations for these machines which are so integrated into the customer’s life that they could literally feel like part of the family. 

Let’s start with the most ubiquitous and personal item most humans now carry around—their mobile phone.

Mobile phone 

Mobile technology has become so important to regular daily life. People detect missing their mobile phone within minutes of misplacing it, unlike a misplaced wallet, which can take days to notice. The average American checks their phone every 12 minutes (Some people check every 4 minutes). The absence of such an important device creates immediate anxiety. 

Mobile technology can mean a few things to customer experience design.

1. Mobile-first design

Traditionally, websites and ecommerce interactions were designed for the desktop experience first, then modified for mobile. Some designs ignored the specifics of mobile experience completely, leading to compressed and frustrating user experiences for the mobile user. 

Responsive design solved some of these frustrations, but now that mobile use is the first choice for the majority of persons, it should also be a priority for customer experience programs. By designing for the mobile experience first, you’ll demonstrate to your customers that you recognize how important this device is to them. 

People are turning to their mobile phones for everything, from checking the weather to ordering groceries. It’s easy to think customers rely on specific apps for these needs, but many still prefer to use the mobile browser for their online experience. In fact, one prediction by eMarketer claims 95.4% of online users will search the Internet through their mobile phones by 2021.

Mobile-first sounds like putting the machine first. But the best design is always about the customer. 

Starting with the mobile experience in your design still dovetails with knowing your customers and respecting their journey. The mobile experience is part of it. Beyond just the device, your customer’s current situation impacts how well their mobile web experience is.

There are special considerations for mobile-first design: 

  • Your customer’s access to a strong network could make data-heavy desktop web experiences feel like a burden. Mobile-first design means lightening up what’s needed in the experience.

  • Mobile actions require a tap, not necessarily a click. Your customers need space to touch and enough space between actions to avoid My Fingers are Too Big Syndrome.

  • The mobile experience might not be enough for what they’re seeking if they are familiar with the desktop experience. Give users an option to go to the desktop experience if that’s what they would rather use. Some sites include “Go to Desktop Version” in the menu for users who are more comfortable with that option. While many users might find the desktop version hard to navigate on a mobile screen, some will prefer the consistency of the experience.

2. Mobile applications 

It’s tempting to think your customers are waiting for the app from your brand. Time on applications accounts for more than 80% of the time users spend on mobile devices, according to the latest comScore report, so creating an app for your brand seems like a no-brainer. If you’re going to design an application, make sure it contributes to the customer’s experience with your brand. 

Many applications are designed with the app in mind instead of the customer. The best apps are designed around the needs of the customer and based on data.

So, before creating an application, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What’s the most requested action on the website? 

  • What’s a repeated action customers might take with your brand? 

  • How can an app customize the experience around those types of on-demand and repeated actions?

Take the time to analyze your customer feedback before diving into the application development. Apps can serve an on-demand need like ordering takeout or they can create motivation for the customer to interact with your brand more often, like a home design pinboard, with notifications of new designs based on your style. They can also provide a stand-alone experience that your site might not offer, or they can integrate services with the mobile site experience. It can also provide offline experiences and serve up important and personalized reminders to your customer.

But here’s the hard truth if you want to put customer experience first: your customers might not need an app. If the app isn’t immensely useful, it is just taking up precious storage space on their most important device. Some apps are deleted within 48 hours after installing if not seen as valuable in that timeframe.

Remember, what are your customers trying to do? And how are they trying to do it? The correct answer is never “They’re using our app to interact with our brand.”

3. Personalized mobile experiences in the new normal

Mobile phones will serve an important purpose moving into the post-COVID era. For instance, instead of using a touchscreen after several other people, mobile phones will allow us to import that experience to our personal devices. 

Customers may enter a restaurant and scan a QR code with their mobile phone to receive the menu on their device. That same technology allows them to place their order and pay right from their device. This reduces the need for contact and helps eliminate multi-use items, like physical menus, to reduce risk for employees and customers. 

This same technology can be used for interactive touch screen experiences like digital signs at events, or product displays in retail locations. Leveraging the way customers rely on these devices will spur innovation well into the future.

Voice-controlled experiences

“Alexa, what’s the weather today?”

This question is such a natural way to start the day, right? Customers call out and their smart digital assistant—like Alexa, Siri or Google—answers with the accurate forecast for the day.

These smart machines, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning,  respond to our voice in natural conversation, with some humorous exceptions due to not fully understanding us 100% of the time.

More than 53 million adults own at least one smart speaker, according to research by NPR and Edison Research. That means your customers are most likely talking with a smart assistant almost every day.

Brands are designing smart skills for this technology to help customers with everything from setting a thermostat by voice to answering questions about current news.

So, how do you design for voice-controlled experiences?

1. Make it simple 

The AI technology that allows these machines to understand that, “What’s the weather like today?” and “What’s it like outside today?” as the same question is amazing, but it’s not perfect. 

And when customers are in need for a service, they may not ask for help in complete, structured questions. “What’s the weather like today?” might be reduced to “Weather!” 

If your brand is considering adding a voice-operated interaction, keep it simple.

2. Think of real use cases

It’s unrealistic to think your customers want to control a complex spreadsheet via voice. But using voice-command where it makes the most sense can add value to the customer journey.

A great example of this is how Salesforce launched Einstein Voice for their CRM platform in 2019. The concept is simple but immensely useful. Instead of typing in notes, Einstein can listen and transcribe directly into the CRM system.

This type of use case reflects how customers could value voice-command experiences as part of their journey, not as an add-on to it.

3. Voice-command for the future

Voice control can help customers avoid touchscreens, just like mobile technology can. In the hospitality industry, for example, voice-controlled tablets or digital assistants can provide information for guests about the hotel, allow them to request services, and provide extra touches like finding favorite music or providing guided meditation sessions.

Voice will be important to the customer journey as more contactless or low-touch experiences are desired. There is opportunity for healthcare, hospitality, education and more.

Personalized experiences through automation

Machines are interacting with customers every day. Thanks to automation software and chatbots, customers can have more personalized experiences. Ironic, right? 

The high-touch interactions customers appreciate—being addressed by name, feeling recognized and known, and not repeating their story at each channel—are hard to scale without automation.

Automation software can help customers feel nurtured and cared for at key points along the journey. To get automation right, it should reflect the customer and their needs. The best way to do this is to understand the customer’s journey first, then design automation to reflect those key interactions.

It’s important to make the distinction between automation with personalization and automated experiences

Customers don’t want to receive the same email at the same time as everyone else. They want to receive their email, at the time that’s right for them, based on their specific journey. 

Automation can provide that by recognizing steps in the journey the customer takes. One customer might receive a welcome email and open it right away. Another might receive a welcome email and open it three weeks later. Sending both these customers the same follow-up email on the same day doesn’t reflect or respect a personalized experience. The first customer should receive their personalized follow-up days or even weeks in advance of the second customer.

If you’re a Salesforce user, this guide will show you how you can automate your customer feedback program with GetFeedback. 

The key takeaway here is that customers will continue to rely on mobile devices and voice-controlled experiences, but they may be using them at home more often. Look to your customer’s real behavior and feedback to guide how you introduce these tools into their journey. This can be most important when they need support.

Chapter 3

Customer support: serving Grandma and the gamer

Gamers don’t want to leave the game to solve an issue. Shoppers don’t want to abandon a shopping cart on an ecommerce site to find out why their payment isn’t processing. Grandma may just want to get someone on the phone.

Customer support needs to provide service where and how the customer needs it. That means understanding and appreciating how support is offered on various machines, from mobile devices to gaming consoles to everything in between.

Like any other part of the journey, it’s critical to start with the customer.

In an ideal world, each customer would receive one-on-one help and resolve their issue quickly. But in the real world, that approach is impossible to scale. Thankfully, we have machines to help.

Design the support experience around your customer. Understand who they are, where they are, and what they really need when they have a challenge to resolve.

What’s the promise?

Customers expect your brand to be authentic, wherever they experience it. Before worrying about how to execute a customer support strategy for various touchpoints, worry first about the promise.

Support should live up to that promise, too. Does your brand promise to be fast to respond? Does your customer expect a high-end, luxury experience? Your customer support options should reflect what your brand offers, just like any other part of the customer journey.

Who is your customer and where are they?

Your customer is trying to do something. And then they can’t. Great customer service can absolutely increase loyalty and retention, but the need for it starts as a typically negative experience for the customer. Don’t lose sight of that as you plan for this critical part of the journey.

Different customers might need different types of support, even if they have the same service issue. Providing options that are easy to access and understand is a key way to scale great customer support.

Scale support with options

Artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and content are tools you should consider in order to provide personalized support at scale. Customer support is a delicate balance of providing the right number of resources against the number of requests coming in. And machines can help your brand maintain that balance in favor of the customer and the employees in your Customer Support team. 

Here’s the straight truth: Your customers may not want to talk to you. Nuance Enterprise found that 67% of customers preferred self-service options over traditional customer service channels like calling into a contact center.

Your customer support should include several ways for customers to help themselves. Thanks to machines, support can be right at their fingertips!

The best approach is to offer a combination of options, so you’re delivering a great service experience to all customers. Below are some ideas.

Contextual content

If your customers have similar questions, then your content needs to provide the answers. Simple solutions like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) are still valuable, but leveraging technology to provide solutions within context is better. 

Most customers rely on search engines to find information. And they expect your site to behave in a similar way. 

Search is a function comfortable for customers across all ages and devices. So make sure you have a great navigation system with a search option that guides your customers to the information they need in the moment they need it.

Knowledge base

Customers are now familiar with the idea of the knowledge base section that can be found in a typical website. A knowledge base allows customers to use the search function, but it also provides an organized section of various questions and answers.

The various topics and categories can provide more flexibility to link to key documentation, add videos and product walk-throughs, and more. Track what customers are searching for to keep adding the answers that matter most.

Chatbots

Chatbots leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide conversational experiences personalized to each customer.

One complaint about chatbots is that some customers have trouble discerning if they are speaking to a human or a robot, aka a chatbot. They might feel deceived if they believe there’s a human answering their questions and discover it’s a machine. 

The best experiences are authentic, even with a chatbot! The customer should see upfront that this is a machine-driven experience. To personalize the experience, customers could select from a dropdown menu before beginning the experience and receive an introduction to the chatbot.

Customers don’t want to spend time with a chatbot only to discover the help they’re seeking isn’t available. Chatbots often don’t have the ability to escalate the issue, so instead they direct customers to call the customer service line.

That’s a frustrating journey for the customer. They have to switch channels and often must repeat the information already provided in the conversation with the chatbot.

Customers deserve a seamless journey with the brand. That includes experiences with chatbots. Design the experience within the context of the overall journey.

Automated response options

Customers ask the same questions over and over again. They can’t necessarily keep up with all the pieces of information we want them to know. No matter how well you communicate, customers will still have questions.

Another way machines help scale customer support is with automated responses.

Standard responses

Email and other templates can help support agents and others within the company respond to standard questions with pre-approved answers. Templates can help employees save time and still deliver the experience that makes customers feel heard. 

It’s important to still personalize the response. Just because it’s a template shouldn’t mean it should use corporate-speak or robotic language. These responses should be based on how a real human answers and then simply get replicated easily. Personalize with a customer’s name and a personal sign off, too.

AI for human agents

Artificial intelligence and chatbots aren’t just for the customer-facing journey. Your support agents can provide a highly customized experience by using these same tools behind the scenes, as they interact directly with customers. 

This experience prevents putting customers on hold while searching for information or relying on outdated or incorrect process flows. Agents can ask the chatbot for help as they answer the customer, leading to happier customers and easier workflows for agents. There are so many options for scaling support today. 

And yet again, it all comes down to starting with the customer in mind. Provide options so your customer can select what’s right for them. Some will avoid reaching out for service and be fine helping themselves. Others will require more support and want that customer service phone number readily available.

Scale is all about serving many, but when done well it’s about serving each individual customer in a faster, more personalized way.

Chapter 4

The future of machine-inclusive experiences

Innovation continues at a rapid pace, thanks to smart people and smart technologies. Designing for the future customer experience means considering machines that may not be readily available yet, but are on their way to be.

Below is a list for your consideration. 

Smart speakers getting smarter

Customers will continue to rely on voice-controlled machines like smart speakers, remote controls, and even appliances like vacuums and printers.

Support programs predict more

Customer service agents will have more support from machines moving forward. As chatbots and machine learning improve, agents will have to type less to get the information they need. The listening bot will provide exactly the information required for the predicted next step.

Customers expect more

There won’t be much patience for brands who don’t provide value where customers believe it should be. If a customer wants to interact via a smartwatch, they will be disappointed if their favorite brands don’t have a way to do that. 

It’s exciting to think about what's next, but it can also be overwhelming. No matter what innovative machine is introduced to the experience ecosystem next, the customer will still be there. The smart brands will focus on the customer first, and keep delivering great experiences based on that. 


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