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How to Give People What They Want Online Level up your customer experience by marrying tech and human capital.

By Peter Daisyme

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Companies are starting to pay the price for poor customer service. When American businesses fail to live up to consumers's high expectations, it costs them $1.6 trillion each year, according to Accenture. People have long expressed a need to be valued and treated well by the companies they patronize, but now they're backing up that desire with their wallets. Gartner has found that nearly 90 percent of businesses are competing on the quality of their customer service these days. How, then, are so many of them still doing it wrong?

Some enterprises are finding that part of the problem is that consumer desires are occasionally at odds with one another. People have understandable frustrations with automated customer-service platforms, but they also want their questions addressed at all hours of the day and night. They want airlines to be transparent about the cause of delays -- but not to learn that everyone on the plane is being kept waiting so first class won't be deprived of a hot meal.

Although it can be difficult for businesses to square every demand, companies that prioritize customer experience, or CX, are seeing the fruits of their labor. One big reason Amazon's control of the e-commerce market continues to grow annually is the customer-first service principles outlined by CEO Jeff Bezos.

Related: Here's Why Customer Experience Is the Driving Force for Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

Here are four ways you can use those ideas to deliver the CX more consumers are coming to expect.

1. Augment with automation.

Customer expectations have changed with the times, and advances in technology have been central to that shift. Customers are used to Google answering their questions in the blink of an eye. Now, Forrester has found, more than half of online shoppers in the U.S. say they'll ditch a purchase if their questions aren't quickly answered. But it's not always possible to have a human agent available and waiting on the other end. That's where chatbots come in.

More than half of consumers recently surveyed by Usabilla said they would use a chatbot rather than a human to save time. Thanks to recent developments in AI and machine learning, some chatbots can now analyze emotions and user intent, making for some impressively non-awkward conversations. Best of all, they can provide answers any time, day or night -- regardless of a customer's time zone.

2. Create headache-free experiences with tech.

Technology isn't a good solution if it's only creating a painful experience for consumers. Human agents will sometimes need to step in to handle the inquires that chatbots can't. It would be pointless to prioritize chatbots if the human agent couldn't pick up a conversation where the bot left off. Consumers don't want to have to repeat themselves just to get help, especially after a long hold or multiple transfers.

That's why it's crucial that companies invest in software that integrates every interaction for all customers into one complete profile, packing in their personal preferences and past purchases, as well as records of all their interactions. Integrating your online help desk and CRM software is one path to take, allowing you to store your customers's data from every step of their journey under one roof. This will ensure that they're getting the quick and painless experience they desire, regardless of the platform.

Related: How to Increase Your Chatbot Engagement

3. Help customers find harmony.

As noted earlier, one of the biggest challenges when creating a cutting-edge CX is that consumers's most pressing desires often come into conflict. For example, Gen Zers "crave personalization and are more than willing to share their data to get it," explains Ajay Kapur, co-founder and CEO of Moovweb. "Unfortunately, providing a highly personalized experience competes with achieving speedy page loads." Striking the right balance will require learning where users will tolerate trade-offs and where sacrifices are unacceptable.

When companies implement the latest digital tools, they need to remain sensitive to the technological tolerance of their customers. While users may like self-serve options, they don't necessarily want to download your mobile app. Your customers shouldn't be expected to bend over backwards to use technology they find confusing, intrusive or inconvenient, so ask for feedback on whether you're balancing their occasionally conflicting desires. Mix follow-up surveys with social media monitoring to track exactly how customers think you're doing.

4. Equip your people to provide a personal touch.

Fast-changing technology doesn't eliminate the need for the human element. "Even as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in everyday interactions, human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions," advises Gregg Johnson, CEO of call-intelligence firm Invoca, in Harvard Business Review. So lean on technology to provide a human touch at scale. This requires keeping your reps updated on the latest trends and tech so they'll be able to round out the customer's service experience in a positive manner.

By shifting employee training materials to online portals, you can streamline training and make sure that each department has all the most up-to-date information. You can also help training get done in the most efficient ways by allowing staffers to complete webinars and reading tasks on their own schedule. Although there's a lot to gain from technology, your human reps remain your most important investment.

Related: 4 Ways That Live Chat, as in "Human' Chat, Still Beats Out the Bots

Whenever possible, provide multiple options to facilitate customer interaction, even when it costs more. In this new world of heightened consumer expectations, people aren't merely comparing your customer experience to your competitor's -- they're comparing it to every CX interaction they've ever had. That's why it's crucial to ensure your customers are getting the most out of getting in touch with your company.

Peter Daisyme

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of Hostt

Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Hostt, specializing in helping businesses host their website for free for life. Previously, he was co-founder of Pixloo, a company that helped people sell their homes online, which was acquired in 2012.

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