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3 advances making customer experience more immersive
Zendesk CTO Adrian McDermott discusses the role of AI, conversation and personalization in CX for brands and retailers.
Brands’ primary goal is to sell products, but that’s not the only way they differentiate themselves.
The experience a consumer has with a brand can be just as important when it comes to standing out and influencing the decision to buy, especially when people have to choose between similar products. That experience can also have a big role in determining whether people will buy from a brand again, helping the brand to live beyond an individual product’s consumption in a consumer's mind.
As commerce becomes more digital, the experiences that can be offered to consumers is evolving rapidly. Digital channels for selling and marketing are only expanding, and the way a customer experiences a brand matters at each point. Meanwhile, technology is advancing to create new ways of communicating with customers and serving them that feel less rigid, and fit into their lives. According to customer experience-focused software company Zendesk’s 2023 CX Trends Report, 61% of customers are excited about experiences that are natural, convenient and fluid.
Within brands and retailers, Zendesk said it’s all pushing toward two trends: A bigger role for CX, or customer experience, and more investment in creating immersive experiences for consumers.
At the NRF Big Show 2023, The Current spoke with Zendesk CTO Adrian McDermott about three components of immersive CX that were highlighted in the report. Here’s a look:
Given all of the attention and wonder that was inspired by the release of generative tools such as the chatbot ChatGPT and image-generating DALL-E-2, AI is at or near the top of any conversation about technology to start 2023.
While AI is not new, the outpouring underscores how quickly AI is evolving, and the readiness of consumers to use it. In ecommerce, AI is familiar in the form of chatbots. They are often deployed in customer service to triage and answer questions. Business leaders have harnessed the technology for years, and see it advancing, as well. According to Zendesk’s survey, about three-in-five leaders say AI and bots have become more natural and human-like, while also improving performance. Looking ahead, 57% of leaders expect AI and bots to replace some human agents in the next few years.
But even as the ability to harness tools like large language models to perform human-like tasks gains promise, it must be adopted and become part of an organization’s operations before it can reach customers. According to Zendesk, 64% of leaders say they believe their organization is lagging in the use of AI and bots, even as the same percentage say expansion is an important priority.
At the same time, consumers are gaining higher expectations of AI. When it works, there is recognition that it can be a tool to improve their lives. The arrival of new features like ChatGPT serves to highlight not just how quickly the technology is advancing, but also how AI is capable of more as it gets better.
This means they will look to the places where they interact with AI to do more. Chatbots currently triage and answer questions. Could they also provide something that consumers weren’t considering when they started a chat?
“People are looking for high quality, AI-based interactions, and accepting of those. So the shift is from, this is a way for me to save money, to, this is a way for me to innovate on experience,” McDermott said.
For the companies building technology and the brands and retailers using it, the question is: What will you build with it next?
Text messages. Chats. Voice commands. Messaging is becoming the center of our digital lives.
“Whether it's Facebook Messenger, it's embedded messaging in your application, it's WhatsApp or it’s Google Business messaging, the messaging window has become the new browser window,” McDermott said.
Those can quickly become places of business, as well. While chatbots are already familiar, these spaces are not just for customer service. In messages, retailers could add product carousels, coupons or delivery tracking. These are some of the uses of Zendesk Sunshine, which is a product that normalizes the APIs of different messaging platforms into a software development kit that brands can use to create experiences for customers.
Yet not all businesses are built for this shift at this time. According to Zendesk’s survey, about half of leaders said their agents are able to access conversations and respond across all support channels in one place. Additionally, 61% said they are not built for conversational experiences at this time.
But there is interest. About two-thirds of leaders surveyed are rethinking the entire customer journey to build a more fluid experience that is available to assist a customer “in any way they need at any time,” Zendesk said.
Meeting customers where they are is always a good bet. More and more, they’re messaging, and they’re willing to carry out more of their lives in the chat. Brands can provide the tools to do so.
Increasingly, the convergence of data, conversations and machine learning tools that help to match preferences with customers are enabling shopping experiences to be more tailored to the individual.
That’s the promise of personalization, and business leaders see how it can drive growth. According to Zendesk’s survey, 77% of leaders say personalization increases customer retention, while 59% say it reduces customer acquisition costs.
The data that in part powers personalization plays a unique role in commerce. Customers provide key data like their address and size to make a purchase. That’s purely for utility. But they also want better experiences. The data can be harnessed to provide them.
Instead of tracking numbers and rote lists of options, brands can leverage personalization tools to use real names in communication and provide recommendations for products.
The access methods may change. With the decentralization offered by web3, identity data may be stored in a digital wallet, and order data may only be available for a few weeks via an ephemeral key. Looking out ahead, McDermott sees “consumers controlling both what you could know about them, and how long you can know it.”
But the insights that are gleaned from the data in aggregate can live on, with consumers benefiting from experiences that are made for them. With further development and investment, they will only continue to grow better over time.
Trending in Shopper Experience
GA4: The new Google Analytics will bring big changes for ecommerce
The new GA arrives on July 1. Logical Position's Nick Tursi says site owners should migrate data now.
To succeed in ecommerce, brands must not only tally sales totals and compare them to costs, but also analyze the drivers of those conversions. Putting the learnings about what worked into action can be used to optimize a site in a way that eases the path to purchase, and ultimately propels future sales even higher.
For years, Google Analytics, or GA, has helped brands uncover those insights. The service tracks, analyzes and reports data on traffic for website owners.
“Google Analytics has been a key part of the marketer’s toolkit for a very long time. It helps you understand where your customers are coming from, where they go on your site, how they interact on your site,” said Nick Tursi, Manager of SEO Strategy at digital marketing agency Logical Position. “You want to use all of that to make business decisions based on that information, and shape your site around that.”
For ecommerce brands, the data goes beyond counting and understanding users. It also measures how many of those users converted, and whether they returned to the site. This can all be used to seek the next set of customers, and drive more loyalty.
But GA as we know it is about to change.
GA4 is set to launch this summer, and it will completely replace the tool that is used now. On July 1, 2023, the current version of GA, called Universal Analytics, will be sunsetted. That means UA will no longer process data, and all traffic and analytics must be run through GA4.
That means the first half of 2023 is a period of transition. Rather than simply rolling out a new product release, the switch to GA4 is essentially creating a new platform. In order to avoid any risk of losing historical data, businesses must migrate to GA4. Tursi recommends website owners take that step well ahead of the official transition date, meaning that connected data will be flowing through both properties for a time. That way, historical data will be fully integrated into GA4, and in place once UA is retired for good.
“It is important to get set up as soon as possible,” Tursi said.
For those who use GA4 every day, this focus on privacy will lead to changes in how Google Analytics reports and analyzes data.
“It’s going to be very important for you to find the information that you used to be reporting on and get familiar with that new layout and design,” Tursi said.
Tursi outlined the following features of GA4, and changes in key areas that site owners need to know:
Event-based: GA4 is shifting from reporting session-based hits on a site to event-based reporting. This is designed to provide a more comprehensive picture of users and how they interact with a site. This will provide a range of data, some of which is different and goes into more detail than what was available in UA. The idea is not only to protect privacy, but provide more insightful data. Some important metrics to hone in on include transactions, average order value and form submissions.
Multiple platforms: GA4 is designed to make it easier to track across both websites and apps. This will provide a more complete view of the conversion process, and how customers interact with a site.
AI: Google will use advanced data tools to provide insights and detect anomalies that occur on a site. It’s designed so that the site owner doesn’t have to sift through mountains of data to find a way to improve, or investigate what happened during an event. “They’re going to use AI and machine learning in order to keep the customer’s data safe and identifiable information anonymized, but you still get the actionable insights you need as a business owner.”
A new interface: The look and feel of GA4 will also be different. It’s designed to be better organized and easier to navigate. The reports and menus offered will also look different, so the faster site owners can get familiar with it, the more comfortable they can be when it is the only option.