Jun 17, 2020

Your Customers Are Elephants

By P.V. Kannan

I had the opportunity to speak in front of approximately 1,000 customer experience professionals at Forrester’s CXNYC conference. While backstage, I also had the opportunity to meet and listen to other speakers. As I listened to those speakers and prepared for my remarks, I thought about the parable of the blind men and the elephant.


In that story, five blind men touch and then describe an elephant from their perspective. The blind man that felt the trunk said, “an elephant is like a thick snake.” The man whose hand touched the elephant’s ear thought the elephant was like a fan. The next man who touched its leg thought the animal was more like a tree trunk. The fourth man who touched the elephant’s side thought it was like a wall. The last man felt its tail and described it as a rope. That elephant is your customer, your interactions with your customers maybe isolated and focused on a single aspect of their needs, but you need to find a way to bring the knowledge from all of these interactions into one holistic experience.

The Power of a Moment

A couple of speakers that stood out for me (and reinforced my thinking), were Rick Parrish of Forrester and Chip Heath of Stanford University. Rick talked about the fact that many customer experience leaders are stagnating as competitors slowly catch up. In order to break away from the competition, he suggested that companies focus on what’s most important for their customers’ experience and provide employees and partners with the resources they need to deliver the right experiences in the right moments.


Chip spoke about how our lives are defined by moments. He gave several examples of people who had an experience that forced them to reexamine things, or opened up an opportunity. He gave an example of a newly married couple on an airline. In that example, the flight attendant made an announcement asking other passengers to write a note to the couple on a napkin with their advice for a successful marriage. That created a powerful moment not only for the couple, but for everyone on the plane.

Bringing Moments Together to Create Holistic Experiences

Think about how disappointed you feel every time you interact with a company and one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. Yet, each aspect of company’s business (customer support, sales, marketing, etc.) only touches one aspect of the customer experience.


Today’s problems exist because most companies subscribe to a channel-centric view of the world. They’ve kept adding channels to keep up with customer demands in a way that is not ideal nor sustainable, resulting in a reactive approach that’s disjointed and disconnected. Customers are forced to start over each time they shift channels, resulting in too many failed experiences.


It’s time to bring those experiences together.

What’s the Best Chatbot for Your Company?

It’s important to figure out how bots fit into your company’s customer engagement environment and how they’ll best be used. What level of engagement do you need?


Let’s start by dispelling a few common myths.

MYTH #1: Customer acquisition and customer engagement are unrelated

Fact: Every moment impacts your brand


You only have one brand, and your company should only be having one conversation with your customer. From the customer’s perspective, it doesn’t matter whether they’re engaging with you because they’re considering buying your product or service, or whether you’re resolving a customer service issue. It doesn’t matter whether you’re touching the trunk, the leg, the ear, or the tail. You’re engaging with them.

MYTH #2: Self-service and assisted service are two separate things

Fact: The customer thinks of this as one journey


Stop thinking about their journey in terms of chat, IVR, social, mobile, etc., and stop thinking about self-service and assisted service as two different pieces of that. Start thinking about your customer’s intent and how you want to execute on their intent by mixing self-service and assisted service seamlessly.

MYTH #3: Chat, IVR, social, and mobile are all different and require a channel-based approach

Fact: Customer experience exists across a continuum that spans all channels


A journey could start with a search on a mobile device, and move to desktop search, a website, and social channels. Once a consumer decides to engage with your brand, you’ll service them via IVR and chat, and you might tie those into CRM, billing systems, and even unstructured data on the back end.


In today’s world of big data, customer experience has entered what I call the “Age of Intent”. This is a new era in which businesses, that understand, anticipate, and act on consumer intent will thrive, and those that don’t will be disrupted. In the “Age of Intent”, companies are shifting from channel-centric engagement to intent-driven engagement.

Artificial Intelligence is the Brain that Pieces the Elephant Together

Imagine delivering a consistent customer experience on any channel, whether that’s text, speech, or both. First, figure out how and where you’re going to deliver those experiences and those memorable moments. Once you figure that out, how do you connect the dots? This is where AI and Machine Learning can provide value for your business today.


Because of AI, we can now process huge amounts of data on the customer. If you think about where your business logic sits, and where your customer information sits, you can abstract them. Make data work for you by applying decisioning and continuous refinement so you’re able to anticipate/predict what the customer wants/needs and personalize that interaction.


Use channels in a way that’s conducive to the journey, and engage with your customers how and when they want to be engaged with.


Expose all of your customer data through APIs and microservices, and connect the data to a Customer Intelligence Engine that can communicate with all these channels. This makes intent-driven engagement possible. Under the hood, intent-driven engagement uses a variety of data (profile, interaction, relationship) and applies Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques in order to do the following:

  • Understand—AI analyzes data about the customer, their interactions and relationship with your company. That is combined with what the customer has said or typed for greater understanding.
  • Decide/resolve—AI then predicts what the customer needs/wants to get done and provides the best channel or response for the customer to resolve his/her issue or compete his/her journey.
  • Constant improvement through Machine Learning—All of this data, including what’s been said/typed, the interaction itself, and the outcome is then fed back into the predictive models via Machine Learning to continuously optimize future interactions.

Getting it Right

One company that does this right is Avis Budget Group. When I call Avis about a car rental, they can say “Hi PV, it’s nice to have you back. Would you like to change your reservation or make a new one?”


If I’ve returned the car and call them back within a couple of hours, the odds are that I left something in the car. They know that. When I tell the story, it’s fairly obvious, but that’s not how most companies think about service. They do this by using a platform that incorporates Microsoft’s Deep Neural Networks technology so that customers can effortlessly complete their transactions in the IVR.


Another real-world example of intent-driven engagement and its impact on the business is Hilton. When I start searching for hotels in London, I’m greeted with a chat window that says, “do you need help picking a hotel in London?” Hilton uses a predictive platform that leverages chat data, processed through AI and Machine Learning to power its digital concierge. By knowing what the consumer is looking for (e.g. a five star vs. a four- star hotel), the agent quickly becomes a trusted advisor on the consumer’s journey.


Those are just a couple of examples of the many ways that digital transformation is disrupting and transforming customer service. As you think about touching your customer, remember to think holistically about your brand. Be channel agnostic, and make the experience the same across all channels. If you can do this, you can create a personalized, predictive, and effortless customer experience. In return, your customers will ultimately reward you in ways you can’t even imagine yet.