Video: CIO of the future: How the IT leadership role continues to change
Everywhere you look, people are talking about rising customer expectations.
Whether B2B or B2C, every customer-facing role can tell you how things have changed over the last two decades -- and much of that change has been sparked by constantly evolving tech. A new study by Salesforce Research, State of the Connected Customer, examines the forces that are driving (or complicating) these customer expectations.
There are broad implications for marketing, sales, and customer service -- but what caught my attention was the impact all of this has on IT. We already saw from another recent study that 81 percent of tech leaders believe IT is entering a new era driven by customer expectations. This new research reveals a closer look at how customer expectations are shaping the CIO mandate on innovation, customer-facing tech, and artificial intelligence.
Customers Want Innovation and Vote with Their Wallets
Innovation is an unavoidable buzzword today, but actual innovation is table stakes to stay competitive. State of the Connected Customer research shows that 56 percent percent of customers (including 66 percent of business buyers) surveyed actively seek to buy from the most innovative companies. Customers expect companies to provide new products and services more frequently than ever before, and it takes more than ever to impress them. As a result, companies can't think of product cycles in years anymore -- they need to iterate at a much quicker pace.
The bar for innovation and customer experience is getting higher, and many companies struggle to keep up. This holds true for both B2B and B2C companies. The survey found that 82 percent of business buyers say they want the same experience as when they're buying for themselves as consumers.
For IT leaders, the battle between innovating and "keeping the lights on" is nothing new, yet customer demand for innovation grows stronger by the minute. From State of IT, 65 percent of IT teams say innovation for competitive differentiation is a high priority. However, innovating for the business has been a perennial challenge for IT teams. The good news? Many IT leaders are trying to give their teams more time to innovate; over the next 12 month to 18 months, 81 percent of IT organizations will increasingly automate the more routine tasks to allow team members to focus on innovation.
Channel Versatility Is Essential to Creating Cutting-Edge Experiences
Digital experiences are your customers' first impression of whether your company actually walks the innovation talk. Fifty-nine percent of customers say companies need cutting-edge digital experiences to keep their business. What's more, customers keep moving the goalposts: 67 percent say their standards for a "good customer experience" are higher than ever.
As digital communication channels multiply, companies struggle to prioritize where they should innovate first. Looking at the research -- assuming younger generations point the way to trends -- social, online communities, and voice assistants are on the rise. Sixty-seven percent of millennials and Gen-Zers use voice-activated digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to connect with companies -- 1.7x more than traditionalists and baby boomers who do the same.
Whether or not a business delivers on top-notch experiences has a real impact on the bottom line:
- 57 percent of customers have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.
- 70 percent of customers say connected processes -- such as contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions -- are very important to winning their business.
In order to provide connected, high-quality customer experiences, companies need a 360-degree view of their customers. IT leaders are prioritizing this (61 percent say providing a single view of the customer data is a high priority over the next 12 months to 18 months), but given the highly distributed nature of customer data, it's easier said than done. Only 29 percent say they've integrated 75 percent or more of their data sources. The top inhibitors to gaining a shared single view of the customer are security/privacy concerns, hard-to-integrate legacy systems, and lack of visibility into where data is stored.
A Majority of Customers Say "Yes" to AI-Improved Experiences
There's a fair amount of polarization around companies using AI. Some want to paint AI in a negative light, but others have a more balanced view. In several industries, retail as an example, high-performing brands are winning by leveraging AI for sales, services, and marketing.
The State of the Connected Customer survey found that 59 percent of customers are open to companies using AI to improve their experiences. Whether they directly realize that AI is powering the experience, customers have come to like -- or even love -- a variety of everyday processes that would be impossible without it. Credit card fraud detection, email spam filters, and automatic reminders are among the favorites. Self-driving cars, however, won't win an AI popularity contest anytime soon.
From the IT perspective, AI is the No. 2 technology expected to have a transformational business impact by 2020 (second only to cloud computing). But businesses aren't exactly quick to the draw; only 20 percent of IT leaders say their AI technology plans are comprehensively defined. If IT leaders expect to keep pace with customer expectations -- and ultimately beat competitors -- they'll need to kick it up a notch.
Read also: The 10 skills you'll need to land a CIO job
With sales, service, and marketing units pushing hard on more AI-powered customer experience initiatives, CIOs are already keenly aware of the shift toward customer-centric operations. These new proof points -- directly from customers -- only add incentive to innovate.
All of This Hinges on Trust
Of course, none of these cutting-edge, tech-driven experiences are possible unless there's a solid foundation of trust between customer and company. In the wake of high-profile data breaches, it's no wonder that 57 percent of customers are uncomfortable with how companies use their information. For a closer look at customer expectations, including the role of trust, plus country-specific findings, get the full report.