The 2017 edition of Edelman’s Barometer of Trust makes sobering reading for anyone in business: the UK’s level of trust in business is at a record low; the credibility of CEOs has plummeted by 12 points in the last year; and people are three times more likely to believe leaked documents than company press statements.
Edelman found that, for Britons, trust is being undermined by public fears about immigration and the erosion of societal values. But they also concluded that trust is threatened by the pace of technological change; and this poses a serious dilemma for brands seeking to improve customer experience by investing in new technologies.
The phenomenon of technological advancement and its impact on society is elegantly described in Thomas L Friedman’s “Thank you for being late – an optimists guide to thriving in the age of accelerations”. Friedman maintains that the pace of change driven (in part) by exponential increases in computing power (Moore’s Law) has left many people feeling dislocated. Mid-tier jobs are being replaced by software and old societal norms of community overturned by new technology-based interactions. In the field of customer experience the talk is of chat-bots, artificial intelligence, machine-learning, big data, cashless society, apps and omnichannel. But just how compatible are these developments with a world where customers still express a dislike of IVR and some technologies remain relatively immature?
At the same time strategies for building a strong brand are undergoing a sea-change. Traditional brand approaches such as advertising, sponsorship, distribution and product differentiation are no longer as effective as they once were. Instead we are entering an ‘Age of Experience’ where brands will become stronger by demonstrating authenticity of experience and establishing a personal relationship based on mutual trust. (Tellingly last week Campaign has reported on falling revenues at WPP, the world’s biggest ad group and Accenture’s ambitions in customer experience - “Accenture wants to be world's biggest 'experience agency of record”).
If Robert Pirsig (author of ‘Zen and motorcycle maintenance) needed proof for his maxim there is an expanding book of examples of how technology falls short. Earlier this year Facebook announced it was ‘refocusing’ its use of AI following a 70% failure of its bots. We encounter weekly examples of data breaches. And even at the most mundane level technology can fall short; a significant minority of the customer feedback comments we gather for our clients reference call routing systems that do not give options that the customer understands, leaving the customer frustrated and the client using more resource, not less.
Technology has a key role to play in delivering a good customer experience (where would we be without CRM, email, online booking systems, efficient ways of gathering customer feedback) but it also bring risks – at the granular level of ‘customer service fails’ and at the macro level of undermining reputation and trust. Here are five ways you can minimise those risks.
Let me close with a view from Douglas Adams, author of ‘Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy
As always, let me know what you think.