Customer experience (CX) continues to be one of the greatest challenges to businesses across Africa and the Middle East, at a time where customer expectations are the highest they have ever been.

This disconnect is exposed as Dimension Data reveals findings from NTT’s annual Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report titled “The Connected Customer: Delivering an effortless experience”.

The study’s primary finding is that companies in Africa and the Middle East are not delivering this effortless experience. According to the research, only 6% of organisations are delivering a fully functioning experience, yet more than half (63%) consider CX to be their primary differentiator.

Organisations struggle to align their CX strategies to voice of customer (VoC) feedback, with 68% having no formal process for considering this data and 28% which capture no feedback at all.

Only 31% fully define and track the value contribution of CX and more than a third (38%) are able to connect data relationships between channels – leaving the rest operating ‘blind’ with no full view of the customer ecosystem.

That said, the collection of VoC feedback by organisations is improving year on year – there has been a 45% improvement since 2019 in those capturing some form of feedback and 8% now perceive their VoC program to be at an advanced level across all channels.

Nompumelelo Mokou, MEA customer experience executive at Dimension Data, agrees. “We are living in interesting times, and given the spread of Covid-19 across the globe this has become even more real. A global pandemic like this shifts customers’ expectations even more, and highlights the gaps for effective customer experience strategy. It heightens the need for organisations to adopt client first systems and cultures that go beyond the value statement on boardroom walls.

“Organisations that fundamentally understand their customers, how to engage meaningfully and personalise service, will be forerunners in responding to customers needs,” she adds.

“Although organisations agree that data is key in understanding their customers; there is diminished impact when this data is not properly configured and managed. Uncoordinated data leads to incongruent customer outcomes.

“Now more than ever business needs to automate and integrate artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and data analytics in day to day customer interactions to augment agents’ response rates and key complaints resolution.

“Already several banks and insurance companies have been optimising their branches and customer interactions centres, it is business unusual and it requires agility and fortitude to adapt to change,” Mokou comments.

A successful CX strategy is proven to improve customer and brand engagement, and drive commercial performance, yet many organisations are still stuck in the developmental stage due to siloed technology systems, inconsistencies in experience, and a lack of clear processes.

Specifically, challenges include:

* Faltering technology systems: Nearly one in three (30%) say their technology systems are failing to meet current needs and many teams still struggle with legacy systems (52%) and the integration of multiple technology systems (43%). Additionally, the inability to secure budgets (57%) remains a concern and skills shortages is seen as a growing concern (38%).

* Siloed channels and internal business organisations: Almost two thirds (63%) of organisations agree there is only partial collaboration between functions when it comes to designing CX, and 11% don’t collaborate at all. More than two thirds (69%) still have no cross-channel contact management strategy and only one third (33%) claim to have good or complete consistency across contact channels.

* Inconsistent priorities: Personalisation capabilities have surged from 49% to 73% in one year, but just 12% of organisations place “customer delight” as the top driving force behind their customer journey design strategy. This may account for why over one third (36%) of assisted-services enquires fail to be resolved during first contact, while automated channels fare worse with a 45% fail rate.

While just over three quarters (78%) of organisations indicate that they are satisfied with their customer satisfaction capability, only 9% of their customers rate customer experience at ‘advocacy’ level. Worryingly, just 5% of AI and robotics users say customers rate their experience at advocacy level, exposing the gap between emerging technologies and satisfaction levels.

This demonstrates that businesses need to create a smart strategy which bases AI on optimum data, organisations must learn to fill the gap between data management and integration, and prioritise an efficient data management platform.

As it stands, more than half (62%) of data capture needs are defined and aligned to desired business outcomes, and just 19% have a dedicated team managing the company’s entire data lake.

In fact, 18% have no data management strategy at all. Because of this, data is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. More than half (54%) of all teams are evaluating and learning how to use available data and over a third (35%) do not have the required data management skills or resources to do so.

An increasing number of organisations are moving towards the use of smart data to inform CX decisions but are often overwhelmed by this transformation. Half of businesses confirmed data analytics and data management will be one of the top three tech initiatives prioritised by the CX team.

Analytics (61%) is expected to be the top factor in reshaping the CX industry within the next five years. This is closely followed by artificial intelligence (57%), service personalisation (48%) and technology integration (45%).

Many organisations believe AI and automation is the future for creating operational efficiency, hyper personalisation and providing an effortless customer experience. Rules-based robotic solutions “are the preferred option both now and in the short term with AI being the top five year priority.”

The vast majority (81%) of organisations also believe customer operations will be positively impacted by AI and CX robotics in the future, followed by business insight and customer intelligence (66%) and workplace management/operational productivity (53%).

However, the implementation of AI remains difficult. Looking forward, businesses must find a solution for the current lack of skills across the business, which is currently considered a challenge for more than half (58%) of organisations today.