We interviewed Adobe Experience Cloud Director of Product Marketing, Adam Justis, to get his take on the changing nature of customer experience expectations, how AI is coming into play, and how brands can close the gap between expectations and today’s reality.

Invoca: Customer expectations of brands are always changing — where would you say we’re at currently?

Adam Justis: We get to look at this as marketers and as consumers because at the end of the day, we’re a focus group of one. When I think about the brand experiences that I’m engaged with right now, I would say we’re in really mixed territory. There are a brands that are creating fluid, responsive, and connected experiences — truly resetting the bar for customer expectations. These brands are usually digital natives; brands that grew up without a lot of legacy processes and workflows. And then there are brands that haven’t been able to innovate as quickly, however, I think we still have some tolerance for these companies. For example, many of us are still driving to the department store and looking on the rack for a swimsuit that fits because we don’t want to order it online and have to return it.

View the webinar with Adam Justis and Invoca Marketing VP Julia Stead

When it comes to the digital natives, Uber is a great example of a company that has created an incredible experience in a relatively short amount of time. But, it’s also demonstrative of how fragile the customer experience can be. From violations of brand values, to people having bad experiences with the service, it’s more important than ever that Uber maintains a high emotional quotient (EQ) in its interactions with users. This means the ability to connect with users (riders and drivers) in the right way, based on their history with the company and their current emotional state. Creating the right experience, especially at a critical time (i.e. your driver got in a car accident) will pay dividends in creating trust and long-term relationships with users.

I: How well aligned are brands today to the expectations of customers? How can brands close the gap?

AJ: At Adobe, we’re doing a lot of work around how brands can deliver on the expectations of customers. What we’ve found is that often brands have excellent intentions, but are actually not that dialed into customers’ expectations of them and even if they have a decent understanding of what the consumer expects, they’re not enabled to deliver on those expectations in a comprehensive way. One reason for that is that consumers rarely express dissatisfaction until they’ve been disappointed — and then brands spend time reacting to the disappointed few instead of thinking more broadly about creating a great experience. I also think brands lack input from consumers about what they want. If you think about it, we tend to have a hard time imagining and vocalizing what would be the perfect experience. We know when a brand delights us, but it often happens by surprise. For example, I love how easily I can take a picture of a check and deposit it with my Chase app. That feature is truly a great experience, but it’s not necessarily something I had thought about before it became available.  

In terms of closing the gap, here’s a couple things that brands should think about:

Know your customer as one customer: Even if your experience delivery systems aren’t integrated and synchronized, start to make the effort now to aggregate data about customer touch points into a single view of how individual customers are interacting with your brand across its various divisions. When you do have the technology in place to deliver connected cross-channel experiences, you’ll want this data to fuel these experiences. Without the context about your customer, you’ll never effectively customize their experience.

Use focus groups: There tends to be little pockets of brilliance within the customer experience, where one team is doing something innovative, but it’s not scaling across all the divisions that touch the customer experience, including product, sales, support, shipping etc. One of the things that brands should do as they think about driving a larger impact is taking the time to put people in a room and do focus group testing. Not all divisions are incentivized to evolve in the same way, so learning how people in different roles prioritize the customer experience is so important in terms of connecting the dots and expanding those pockets of brilliance into an entirely satisfying customer experience.  

Adopt a fail fast mentality: We’re at an incredible place now with all the marketing technology available. Given all the options, it’s important to quickly identify the technologies that work for your brand. In order to this, you need to adopt a fail fast mentality. Use technology to test good ideas and variations of that idea, and constantly get feedback. Fail fast so that you can get the things that don’t work out of the way as soon as possible. Building a culture of optimization will enable you to more quickly get to a place where you’re meeting — and hopefully exceeding — customer expectations.

I: What’s your view on how AI needs to evolve to meet customer expectations for a personalized, human-like experience?

AJ: I think it’s unwise for us to imagine that AI won’t be relevant until it can think like a human. At Adobe, we’re thinking about how AI can immediately impact marketers’ ability to deliver a better customer experience. I really like this concept of the “citizen data scientist,” which means that anyone — not just data scientists — can understand how AI can apply to their business needs.

For example, I can’t think about every single customer experience that I’d want to create, but I can think about a set of rules that says, “for anyone who comes to my website or calls my contact center, if these conditions exist, then I want to create the following experience.” That’s AI makes it possible to create personalized experiences for thousands, or even millions of people. This used to be where the personalization conversation ended, but AI is pulling us to this point where I think we can finally realize the promise of marketing technology in delivering a 1:1 personalized experience at scale.

I: Things like understanding context and relationships are very hard to replicate with AI — are there industries and/or companies where human conversations will remain critical for a long time to come, in your opinion?

AJ: Healthcare is an example of this; I read an article recently that talked about how AI is actually more effective in diagnosing medical conditions than healthcare providers, but people won’t trust it because it’s not another human being. Another human being knows what the human condition is, and even though they’re not experiencing what the patient is going through. they’re more able to interpret and understand how they’re feeling. We have the capacity to comprehend emotion and it’s a meaningful variable that’s being factored into understanding the customer.

At [Adobe] Summit last year, Adobe’s VP of strategy said “Emotion is the currency of experience,” and that really stuck with me. No one is more empathetic about the customer experience than the customer care or support people, and they often feel the least equipped in the moment to deliver the best customer experience. While I don’t think these roles are going anywhere soon, I do think AI can be used in tandem with humans to drastically improve the experience.

When frustrated customers call, it’s so important that brands have the emotional EQ to meet them on their level and create a positive experience as quickly as possible. Part of creating that positive experience is tapping into AI to determine the top opportunities for a rep to improve the situation quickly. Having these options up front could save a rep 30 minutes on the phone discussing preferences and ultimately learning that they can’t deliver on what the customer wants. I think this is a great example of how AI is used as an amplifier rather than a replacement.

Want to hear more from Adam? View the webinar!

Laura Schierberl

Posted by Laura Schierberl

Laura Schierberl is director of content marketing and communications at Invoca. Prior to that she held positions at Oracle, Responsys and Hill & Knowlton where she honed her skills in all things PR, content and social media. Laura earned a B.A. in Spanish and Communications at Wake Forest University. Fun facts: she loves crime TV shows and her labrador has dabbled in modeling.