Unequivocally, the world has evolved over the past two years, and though there are still uncertainties ahead – rising inflation, threats of recession, talent shortages – one thing remains clear: businesses still need to strive to achieve sustainable and meaningful growth in the post-COVID era.

The changed business conditions have driven companies to innovate like never before, regardless of what industry they’re in. Technology lies at the very core of these changes, driving transformation from the inside out so humanity can continue to thrive in the new normal.

Experience lies at the heart of these changes and has rapidly evolved over the last few years. People have come to expect service delivery through virtual means, and demand that these services are presented to them in a fast, efficient, and seamless manner. In the past, it was simply a matter of customer experience, which offers brands a means to set themselves apart in a saturated market.

The pandemic has changed the way we live and work, which has, in turn, changed people’s expectations and demands. To adapt and respond to these changes, businesses must understand that the structure of almost everything we do––how and what people buy; how and where they work; how they interact with others––is more interconnected than before.

AI powers enhanced customer experiences

To focus on what ‘experience’ means to an organisation and prioritise the delivery of exceptional experiences, there must be a fundamental shift in perspectives and behaviours. Led by the global health crisis, the surge in contactless encounters and digital transactions has driven the need for businesses to innovate to stay ahead. It has become necessary to explore smarter ways to serve customers swiftly and safely – without compromising their employees’ well-being.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) architecture is now finding its way into critical areas of many businesses. Indeed, the Australian government states that: “AI presents incredible opportunities to grow our economy, create jobs and improve our lives.”

AI can be found across many pillars of a modern business, in departments including call centers, sales and marketing, operations, and the supply chain. AI investment will continue to grow in these areas, particularly in call center automation as organisations realise the benefit of enhancing what their human contact representatives can achieve. Adopting modern AI-powered tools will allow businesses to continually learn from their customers, employees, and everyone else along the consumer journey, creating a robust ecosystem to provide efficient and extraordinary experiences.

Adopting such technologies needs to come from the very top of the company and filter down across all levels of management and employees. It needs to be embraced to nurture a true experience mindset, and as such the investments in this technology must be underlined by a culture of empathy.

In other words, organisations should strive to listen, gather information by tapping into the mindset of employees and customers, and then leverage all the qualitative and quantitative information from those sources to inform actionable outcomes for business success.

New methods and approaches can help businesses gain contextual, data-integrated insights into what their customers want, picking up on signals through that data to better understand what people are saying and how they behave.

Progressive organisations will harness the seamless integration of AI (voice and video) with automation and machine learning, opening a new realm of possibilities. This yields a rich, unified means of understanding, and predicting, what customers are likely to do in specific situations, and why they behave in certain ways – based very precisely on their needs in those different situations.

An example of how this technology might work is to look at how it is already of benefit to the healthcare industry. For instance, using AI and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), healthcare professionals can better understand the day-to-day patterns of the patients they care for and are therefore able to provide better support. This encourages proactive rather than preventive health management, leading to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and therefore giving people more control.

Turning experience into a company-wide culture

When companies move to integrate new technology such as AI and automation, they close the gap between their brand promise and the experiences they deliver to their customers. By changing not just what they say, but also what they do, they create the foundation for a purposeful experience culture that fosters growth and innovation.

This point is particularly important, especially in the current business world where companies are beset by shifting sands and uncertainties. When multiple agendas and distractions exist, a singular and distinct experience culture can be extremely powerful for brands, permeating the business ecosystem to bring people together.

It is critical for organisations to enable authentic conversations on all levels – and therefore every person in every part of the business remains interconnected and collaborative. Customers today are savvier than ever and can sniff out inauthenticity in seconds. Therefore, to function as one cohesive, customer-focused unit, businesses need to revamp their outdated operating models and refocus. Rather than just engaging with customers at certain touch points, they must look at building engagement through the entire customer journey.

One exceptional example of this lies with Airbnb’s steady success. Using an omnichannel experience starting with their Global Customer Experience team, the company uses bots and live agents to offer support 24/7 across phone, social media, websites, email, and in-app messaging. This is the perfect manifestation of its mission, which is ‘creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere, as well as its unrelenting belief in honest, two-way communication both internally and externally.

Humans still reside at the heart of the new experience economy

Despite this rise in technology and the multitude of benefits it offers to the overall customer experience, there will always be a need for the human touch. Although customer demands will continue to evolve with time, driving innovation around ‘experience’ should not be a tactic that shows up only at specific moments in the customer journey or remain focused primarily on optimising certain touch points. Rather, it is all about creating an authentic 360-degree customer journey anchored in human connections. Finding this balance between technology and true human empathy will empower progressive companies to bring their brand to life and offer a steady path through uncertain times.

Ravi Saraogi is co-founder and president of Uniphore Asia Pacific.