Almost all of the respondents (94%) to a recent customer experience (CX) survey, conducted by ITWeb in partnership with SAP Africa, said CX was crucial, given today’s climate.

Marc Emert, solutions specialist for SAP Africa Customer Experience, agrees: “Customer experience is increasingly important and is seen as a key differentiator. Additionally, today’s customers are far less forgiving and quicker to leave a brand or business entirely because of a poor experience.”

He adds, “Offering customers a personalized, relevant, engaging and enriched customer experience is a key element of customer retention and reducing churn.”

This is supported by the survey respondents, 37% of whom regard CX as a valuable tool to create better customer experiences, with 37% also viewing CX as a key component of business survival.

Nearly a quarter (22%) see CX as valuable in building customer trust. Some 39% believe that an elevated CX experience is crucial to customer retention, with 15% viewing it as key to customer acquisition. Nearly half (46%) believe the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Emert agrees: “Customer experience is key to both customer acquisition and retention. From the very first interaction, such as an online purchase transaction, customers have expectations for personalization. As a customer I have no desire to sift through hundreds of search results to find what I’m looking for. A poor service experience will result in me taking my business elsewhere. CX is key to both acquisition and retention, far from mutually exclusive.”

Unified service 

The vast majority (88%) see the CX function as unifying marketing, commerce, sales and customer service, while 12% see CX as something standalone and separate. “A truly personalised approach will consolidate data from various customer touch points and interactions on all of the various channels including Web site, sales reps, call centre and so on. This is why it’s challenging to sell to a customer who’s had a previous issue with your business, even if it was with a different division.”

Only 59% of organisations have clearly defined customer journey systems, designed to deliver an effective, memorable CX. “This means that 41% of customer journeys are highly fragmented and non-iterative,” explains Emert.

Asked whether their CX systems are installed on-premises or whether they use a cloud-based system, 30% opted for on-premises, 25% were in the cloud and 16% used a combination of the two.

Only 59% of organisations have clearly defined customer journey systems.

“We’re seeing a significant adoption of CX SaaS offerings. Customers are looking for fit-for-purpose solutions with scalability and continuous innovation.”

In nearly half (43%) of the organisations surveyed, the CIO or IT were in charge of CX, with 16% saying it was the responsibility of the business or the CEO. “CMOs and CXOs are ultimately the stakeholders driving this approach.

However, board buy-in is required to ensure the successful adoption of CX-centric software solutions.” Asked to rate their organisation’s ability to deliver a customer experience, half (49%) of respondents said it was well thought out and executed, while 44% rated it average.

For the purposes of the survey, an ‘intelligent enterprise’ is described as one that applies advanced technologies and best practices in order to make it resilient, successful and sustainable. Just over half (54%) of respondents said their organisation was on trend when it came to being an intelligent organisation, with 16% saying they were behind the times and 31% saying it was correct in theory but not in practice.

Personal conversations

Almost all (97%) of respondents agreed with the statement: To build customer trust, it’s as important to build and maintain conversations with them in person, as well as online and from places they are most comfortable.

“Conversations are irrelevant if they are not personal, engaging and enriching.”

Customers will share data provided there is an element of return in the form of personalization.

Emert says that one-directional spam SMSes could arguably be regarded as a conversation, but he prefers to use the term engagement – and engagements need to be relevant, personalized and, most importantly, on the customer’s terms, i.e. on their channel of choice (WhatsApp, e-mail) and strictly consensual.

Over half (56%) of respondents felt that the challenges of COVID-19 highlighted both strengths and weaknesses around CX within the organisation. A relatively high percentage (65%) said their organisation implemented CX strategies based on the COVID-related lockdown restrictions.

Information learned from these strategies was already being used to make changes to customer journeys by 19% of respondents, while another 19% said it was going to be used to form part of how they adjust in 2021, with 60% agreeing that both of these statements applied to them.

57% of respondents said COVID-19 had encouraged adjustments in the frequency with which their customer, experiential and operational data is reviewed for changes to operational practices.

Asked how often they think experiential and operational data should be reviewed for changes to operational practices, 41% said monthly, 26% said biannually and 15% said weekly; 10% said annually. Emert vehemently disagrees with this, saying, “Data is dynamic and should be viewed, interpreted and acted on in real-time. A customer today isn’t the same customer in a month. You can’t establish a bi-directional, mutually beneficial relationship (between customer and brand) if the data is ‘stale’.”

Who is in charge?

When it comes to leading the development of the CX journey, 57% believed that it should be led by IT, while 43% believed CX should be a department all of its own. Of those who favoured separate CX departments, half (49%) believed it should collaborate insights and develop solutions together with IT.

“IT has a fundamental role to play in ensuring an adopted solution fits into the IT landscape. An integrated solution is the best solution. However, the CX function should lead the initiative with IT’s support – not the other way around.”

Of organisations that currently employ CX initiatives, 42% said they were focused on different products at different touch-points and channels. 18% said they were singularly focused on one overall experience with the organisation.

Finally, more than half (53%) of respondents said that forward-thinking companies needed to consider the customer experience in order to adjust to the next normal in 2021 and beyond. 38% said data and security should be a focus, and 9% said POPIA compliance. “All three are equally important,” says Emert.

“It’s impossible to offer a personalised, relevant and engaging customer interaction without data. However, this data needs to be consensually shared by the customer. Customers will share data provided there is an element of return in the form of personalisation.”

About the survey

ITWeb, in partnership with SAP CX, conducted a CX survey to examine what South African businesses expect the new normal for 2021 and beyond to look like.

Focusing on the value that CX brings to the business, the survey ran online during November/December 2020 and asked, among other things:

1. Whether organisations have clearly defined customer journey systems, designed to deliver effective, memorable CX.

2. How organisations rate their ability to deliver a customer experience.

3. Who’s in charge of CX within the organisation.

A total of 356 responses was captured, with 54% of respondents being at executive or middle management level, and working in a range of industries.

This article first appeared on ITWeb.