This article was originally published on The Telegraph and is reproduced with permission from The Telegraph.

Thanks to rapid advances in technology, the customer experience (or CX) has never been so important to businesses and public bodies. Whereas once the customer may have had just one “touchpoint” with a company, now they often have several. At the same time, technology is helping to raise customer expectations for a much better service.

“Customer-centricity is driving everything,” said Teakaau Piho, worldwide executive leader for DXC Technology’s CX Services at a breakfast roundtable supported by the tech firm and hosted by The Telegraph. “What’s changed is the baseline for a good customer experience, driven by the interactions we have every day with companies such as Amazon and Uber.”

According to Mr Piho, the customer now expects a “seamless” experience where technology “just works”. However, there is still a huge disconnect within many organisations as they attempt to implement new technologies that will really help to deliver meaningful value for the customer. “The Amazon customer experience remains the exception rather than the norm,” said Piho.

Part of the problem is that many companies deploy different technologies as point solutions, such as robotic process automation (RPA) for back-office functions and virtual assistants for front-end communications that rarely integrate with one another. Data therefore remains “stuck” within technology silos. In this digital-driven age, that data is the key to good customer service and needs to flow across the business, bringing context and insight to every customer interaction.

One of the main challenges, especially for established companies, is dealing with legacy systems. “It’s not like Silicon Valley, where you can start from scratch with digital technology in place,” said Birgit Wirth, Customer Projects director, Arriva UK trains. For the transport industry this means a constant process of evolution with different types of solutions, including big data and AI for monitoring operations and customer-facing systems such as social media and timetable apps.

One organisation which has developed a popular customer-facing app is parcel company DPD. With four million users, it allows customers to monitor deliveries and set their own delivery preferences. However, according to Sinead Croke, director of Customer Experience, DPD Group UK, one of the big challenges in the delivery industry is that some people still like to pick up the phone. “We’ve built a chatbot but now we’re looking at technologies that can deliver a real natural language experience.”

For NHS Property, which manages over 3,000 NHS facilities, customer experience has come a long way very quickly. “Three years ago we didn’t even have a contact centre or phone line for our customers,” said Riadh Salhi, head of Customer Strategy, NHS Property. “Now we’ve got a support centre and a number of digital help desks,” he added.

While most companies at the breakfast roundtable reported problems with using social media channels for managing customer complaints (DPD stopped its Twitter feed last year), Clare Willetts, Virgin’s brand director and head of Customer Experience, said its research shows that people talk more when they’ve had a “good experience rather than a bad one.” However, the problem is that companies tend to react to the negative comments and not engage with those leaving good feedback. “They need to amplify the positive messages,” she said. Willetts also said that the service customers expect can vary depending on the situation. “Sometimes I want the experience to be seamless and quick, but other times I may want to take my time and talk to someone. A ‘frictionless’ interaction, or one with points of friction. And it can be these interactions that deliver the essence of the brand.”

One big issue for many companies is when to introduce new technology. According to DXC’s Piho many established companies such as Microsoft are now regularly updating their products with new features to get customers used to a “rapid release cycle and constant change.” However, for some companies there is the concern that customers may get left behind. “There’s always a dilemma between what’s technically possible and what really makes sense especially for bigger companies,” said Arriva UK’s Birgit Wirth. One possible solution according to Michael Cooper, digital director EMEA, McCann Worldgroup, is to have beta testing and focus groups to test out new features before they go live.

For DXC’s Piho it’s important that companies don’t fall into the trap of trying to do too much, such as embarking on major, complex projects with technologies like AI to meet what in many cases are very simple customer needs. “You don’t need to spend three or four years doing a huge organisational transformation when there are smaller solutions that can be deployed in a matter of weeks.”