Closing the Expectation Gap: Digital-first Customer Experience is the Key to Satisfaction

Autumn 2022

Consumers today expect every customer experience to be easy, effortless, and instantaneous. However, the truth is that expectations are radically outpacing the reality of what brands are offering. 

This is creating serious friction and causing consumers to delineate between the brands they love and those causing them frustration. In fact, a recent survey  conducted by NICE CXone reveals that 95% of consumers would abandon a brand after a negative customer service interaction. Yet just 25% of brands believe this to be the case, assuming consumers will endure three or more negative interactions before jumping ship.

As brands battle through yet another economic downturn, frictionless experiences are becoming more important than ever. Those that can strengthen loyalty will succeed. With 95% of consumers saying that customer service has an impact on their brand loyalty, it’s clear many brands will fall through the experience gap – the disconnect between what consumers want and what brands offer.

 Thankfully, knowledge is power. And recognising the widening breadth of the experience is the first step toward competitive differentiation and performance improvement. Here are the areas where digital customer experiences aren’t quite living up to the expectations of those using it:

1. Meeting customers on THEIR journeys

Mostly due to the dominance of its search engine over the last 10 years, Google is now used as a verb by consumers globally. It therefore stands to reason that 85% of consumers start their customer journeys using Google search at least half of the time. And just under half (46%) of consumers go to Google as the first stop for customer service every time. 

Unfortunately, only 15% of businesses estimate Google as the first step on the consumer journey. This highlights the important – often forgotten – role that search plays in customer experience optimisation. Going forward, brands must prioritise AI-powered, proactive customer experience strategies – and appear on page one of Google.

2. Build smarter self-service faster

Ironically, one of the largest discrepancies between expectation and experience is self-service. 

While 53% of businesses believe their customers are very satisfied with their self-service offerings, only 15% of consumers agree. What’s more, 81% of consumers expect more self-service options, but 40% of businesses think they have enough.

Proving this demand from the consumer, 95% of brands are seeing a growth in
self-service requests, with 34% of consumers citing faster response times as their number one benefit. The top request from consumers to improve self-service capabilities is for customer service to be smarter (34%) – having the ability to digitally address more complex tasks than are currently being handled.

It’s clear that it’s time for brands to get to know consumer behaviours for self-service better. Consumers want their issues to be handled intelligently, efficiently, and with a positive benefit to them. 

3. Let’s get digital—and chat.

Improving digital channels to meet consumer demand is high on the agenda for today’s brands. And yet, while chat is a top digital channel preferred most often by consumers at 52%, only 31% of businesses offer chat as the primary channel for customer services.

All is not lost. Brands recognise the importance of expanding and investing in digital channels in 2022 and chat capabilities top of the list. Yet, 54% of brands suggest that significant improvements are still needed to maximize the effectiveness of today’s options.

But digital does not start and end with chat functionality. Service via the brand website and the ability to offer better visibility in search results also ranked high on the list of priorities of brands. Less so are social media and mobile applications, either because they’re not offering it yet or, if they are offering it, they recognise that service is not yet good enough.

The top three digital channels for customer service according to consumers:

  • Chat: 52%

  • Email: 47%

  • Website: 33%

How many businesses offer chat as the primary service?

  • Only 31%

What's being done about this?

  • 54% of businesses agree their chat services require significant improvement

  • 47% of businesses are planning to significantly expand chat capabilities

  • 44% of businesses are also planning to significantly expand digital service via the brand website

  • The ability to offer better visibility in search results (42%) also ranked high on the list of priorities of brands.

A new approach is needed, and quickly

Time to close the gap

While we have focused on digital-first experience gaps, ultimately, the survey findings  highlight the importance of both digital self-service and agent-assisted channels. This confirms the need for a new approach, one that focuses on the cyclical path of the multi-dimensional digital customer journey. 

Customer expectations will change more in the next five years than they have in the previous fifteen. The traditional service approach misses the full journey and set of customer needs.

Owning every digital doorstep and ensuring each provides meaningful experiences to customers is not only an incredible engine for disruption and market differentiation, but it’s also crucial for true customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. AI, of course, is an essential piece of this puzzle.

To truly own our CX future, brands must be able to intelligently meet their customers’ needs wherever and whenever their journey begins. In fact, the same is true today – brands must be able to engage on the first page of Google, across TikTok videos, via email, or on a chatbot. AI sits at the centre of this approach as it enables brands to offer customer resolutions through data-driven self-service or by preparing agents to successfully resolve any customer need event in the first interaction. It is only this digital-first customer service approach that can bridge the gap between expectation and experience. 

For many brands, this will mean redefining the way organisations engage and interact with customers. Deploying technologies that bring together the best AI and digital self-service functionalities to offer truly connected, smart customer interactions across the full customer journey.

The bottom line is that in ten years’ time we will be in the Fluent CX Revolution 2.0. Today we’re making day-to-day activities more fluent but, in the future, a frictionless experience will be the baseline. To be a step ahead, it’s imperative to build digitally immersive frameworks now. Smart businesses have some catching up to do. When it comes to assessing and investing in digital customer experience, those that don’t keep up now risk becoming obsolete. It’s time to plug the gaps.

Elizabeth Tobey

Head of Marketing, Digital Solutions

Elizabeth is the Head of Marketing for NICE's Digital Solutions group. Previously, she held leadership roles spanning marketing, communications, community, and CX departments at video game, social media, and cloud platform technology companies in both the B2C and B2B spaces. Over the course of her career, she has focused on identifying new and effective ways to create meaningful dialogue between a brand and its customers, and on developing products and programs that are built on relationships, outcomes, and impact. 

Laura Bassett

Vice President of Product Marketing

Laura has 20+ years of experience in consulting, development, and delivery, making her an extremely knowledgeable and passionate Vice President of Product Marketing at NICE. Laura is NICE CXOne’s chief storyteller, leading a team of the industry’s most innovative and creative thought leaders.