“Experience” in brand marketing is tantamount to “location” in real estate—it’s the three most important words. According to new research released by Zendesk, in partnership with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), companies that have continued to invest in their customer experience (CX) over the past year are 10 times more likely to have maximized their resiliency during the pandemic—and three times more likely to have grown their customer base year over year.
“This research confirms what our customers across industries, sizes and life cycles all tell us: that customer experience requires continuous investment and innovation to truly set their business apart,” said Jeff Titterton, chief operating officer at Zendesk, in a news release. “The way the customer service function is viewed is changing—it’s the hub of your customer relationships in this digital-first economy. Having the tools for proactive service, information sharing, and cross-selling are now just as important as issue resolution. These are the skills that will shift your call center from being a cost center to a revenue driver.”
The firms’ newly released 2021 State of CX Maturity Report surveyed more than 3,000 CX decision makers with more than 15 percent of these from North America to understand the characteristics and benefits of customer experience leadership. ESG built a CX maturity scale to identify common patterns and behaviors that separate high-maturity CX organizations—what ESG calls the “Champions”—from three levels of less-mature ones: “Starters”, “Emerging”, and “Risers”. The report outlines what businesses need to do to move up the maturity scale.
The research found that the number of Champions within midsized and enterprise companies has more than doubled from 6 percent to 14 percent since 2020. The greatest gains in North America were seen in the United States—shifting from 7 percent in 2020 to 17 percent in 2021. Meanwhile, Canada shifted from 4 percent in 2020 to 7 percent in 2021.
“The findings indicate that the shift to digital and remote work during the pandemic served as a trigger for companies to accelerate their adoption of new technologies, policies and processes to benefit from a higher CX Maturity,” added Adam DeMattia, director of custom research at ESG, in the release. “Across North America, Champions recognize that service excellence can be a differentiator, and are actually accelerating investment in CX projects.”
There also continues to be a clear correlation between improved CX maturity and the benefits of increased customer satisfaction (CSAT), faster response times, and effective customer service. Notably, the study also calls out the connection between CX maturity and greater business growth and revenue.
- Related to their peers, midsized and enterprise Champions in North America were 3.4 times more likely to have grown their customer base over the past six months, and 6.4 times more likely to have increased per-customer spend over the same time period.
- Champions are also changing how the customer service function is viewed across their organization. With digital interaction being the main connection point with many customers, Champions in North America are 3 times more likely than Starters to operate profitable service teams, where direct revenue exceeds the cost of customer service.
Other key imperatives for CX Maturity that the research identified include:
CX-led innovation is a competitive differentiator
The vast majority of respondents in North America (89 percent) agree that CX innovation is required to protect their business from competitors. They also see the value of data to help focus this innovation—almost half of respondents (44 percent) recognize they could do more to use customer data to expand sales opportunities and business growth.
Among the four levels of CX maturity, Champions are taking the lead in driving continuous innovation in their CX and using customer service data.
- Champions are 7 times more likely to be using service data extensively.
- When used, that data is delivering results: Champions are 12.7 times more likely to identify the impact on sales success as “game changing”.
- Champions in North America are also 2.5 times more likely than Starters to have accelerated major CX projects over the past year.
Conversations, not transactions, create stronger customer relationships
Nearly all Champions (97 percent) agree that pivoting to a more conversational experience with customers is a key goal for their teams—signaling the shift away from transactional service focused purely on resolving tickets.
- Champions are three times more likely to prioritize delivering conversational customer experiences that can build deeper customer relationships.
- Organizations in North America have increased the number of service channels year-over-year from an average of 6.6 to an average of 7.
- Many anticipate that preferences and changes will continue to shift as well: 63 percent of organizations predict that chat and social channels will be most used by customers in the future, up from 50 percent who say this is the case today.
Investment in CX leads to better agent retention
Agent turnover, training, flexibility and wellbeing all emerged as areas of investment and focus for teams over the course of the past 18 months. This led Champions, in particular, to move quickly to implement tools to support overwhelmed service teams.
- More than a quarter of organizations (35 percent) say staffing turnover continues to be a challenge, up from 29 percent in 2020.
- Organizations expect an 8% increase in the number of remote agents, even after the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer an issue.
- Investments and process changes made by Champions in the early stages of the pandemic include increased mobile device use by agents (46 percent); increased utilization of public cloud services (62 percent); more flexible work policies (56 percent); adoption of new collaboration tools (56 percent); and expanded mental health/wellbeing initiatives (54 percent).
- Between accelerating CX investments and adapting service policy changes earlier in the pandemic, Champions in North America are 10.3 times more likely to believe they made the right investment and policy decisions during the pandemic to maximize their resiliency.
- Champions across the region are nearly 4 times more likely to have excellent agent retention.
In the second quarter of 2021, ESG conducted a double-blind survey of 3,250 line-of-business decision makers who were responsible for ensuring and enhancing the customer service at their organization. Organizations represented spanned all market segments, from small businesses to large enterprises, and multiple industry verticals like retail, consumer and corporate services, financial services, healthcare, education, and technology companies, among others.