Today’s customers are more empowered than ever. When they buy from a company, they expect an exceptional experience across every channel they use to interact with that company. This is particularly true now that digital natives represent a growing share of buying decision-makers. This group is accustomed to getting timely, helpful and consistent interactions across all channels, and they’ll bring those expectations to every buying decision they make. Companies need to understand customers in order to offer them personalized experiences, intuitive services, and recommendation engines that keep them coming back. If a company can’t do this, they’ll inevitably lose business to other companies that can.
However, even some companies that see the need for customer experience (CX) optimization fail to recognize that an exceptional employee experience (EX) is equally important. In fact, one could argue that EX and CX are two sides of the same coin. Employees that are engaged and empowered can serve customers better. When you optimize employee experience, you create a virtuous cycle that also pays dividends in your customer experience efforts.
Like customers, employees are empowered to move elsewhere if companies don’t meet their expectations. This is exacerbating the challenges that businesses already face when it comes to attracting and retaining great IT talent. In the Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey (GTTS), 67% of global IT leaders said that a shortage of IT talent was a top threat to their business success.
As businesses look to future-proof their operations, both CX and EX have an important role to play. The results of the GTTS show that most IT leaders recognize this fact: When asked to rate their future-proofing priorities for their technology strategies, improving customer experience (81%) and improving employee experience (78%) were both among the most common responses.
What do customers want, and how can new technologies help deliver it?
Retail and e-commerce companies were among those most disrupted by the pandemic. All at once, millions of customers dramatically changed how they shopped, and retailers had to transform quickly to keep up. Many of the changes they made ended up being permanent. For instance, customers have grown accustomed to rich, personalized brand experiences across channels; going forward, they’ll expect nothing less. Even retailers that primarily operate brick-and-mortar stores recognize that they need strong digital capabilities in order to understand their customers and offer them the personalized experiences they expect.
Digital leaders have made AI part of their CX strategy for years now, but it’s taking on new importance given the dramatic advancements we’ve seen with AI lately. With the help of generative AI tools, it’s never been easier for retailers to effectively use the massive volumes of data available to them to better understand what customers want, and what actions they’re likely to take next.
AI can help employees access real-time analytics capabilities on demand, thus empowering them to make better decisions faster. For instance, employees can query massive data sets to get insights about future customer buying behavior. This allows them to better predict peaks and troughs in demand and adjust their inventory accordingly. Even before a customer knows they want a product, retailers can plan ahead to make sure it will be on the shelves when the time comes.
Retailers can also use AI to streamline customer service. Chatbots for customer service aren’t new, but the latest generative AI tools offer a deeper, more human-like experience than anything we’ve seen so far. Certain customer service interactions will still require a human touch, but helping customers look up information and solve minor issues for themselves is a great way to remove roadblocks in the customer journey.
Finally, offering customers access to AI tools can help them make more informed buying decisions. Offering access to trusted review data is one of the best things retailers can do to help customers feel confident enough to make a purchase. However, the problem today is that customers often have access to too much review data, and no way to understand what it means in context. AI tools can help customers go beyond star ratings to see why reviewers liked or disliked a product. This can help them evaluate the product using their own personal criteria, and make a buying decision faster.
In the Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey, improving customer experience and improving employee experience were named as top future-proofing priorities by 81% and 78% of global IT leaders, respectively.
A better customer experience requires better data management
AI is just the latest example of how data-driven applications are at the heart of good customer experience. To serve customers better, companies need to know customers better, including their preferences, expectations and behaviors. To know them better, they need the right data in the right places at the right time. The benefits of a data-centric approach to customer experience may seem obvious, but there are a variety of challenges involved with doing it right.
Strict data privacy and sovereignty regulations have been in place in the European Union for years now, and other jurisdictions are adopting similar legislation. Some of these regulations require that personal data reside only on physical hardware within the borders of the jurisdiction in question. These requirements may make it more difficult for global organizations to offer the same great customer experience everywhere they do business. In the GTTS, 56% of global IT leaders said that insufficient infrastructure would be a challenge for them as they adapt to stricter data sovereignty regulations.
Businesses that want to take advantage of the performance, flexibility and scalability of cloud services while still meeting strict data privacy and sovereignty requirements can adopt a cloud-adjacent architecture. This gives them the flexibility to move data across multiple clouds via low-latency connections, while storing that data on-premises to meet data sovereignty requirements. As an added bonus, storing data outside the cloud can help manage costs, as it removes the need to pay high egress fees every time you move your data out of the cloud.
Implementing advanced digital applications requires great talent
It’s no secret that businesses are struggling to find the tech talent they need to implement new technologies and keep up with a rapidly changing digital world. The GTTS found that 45% of global IT leaders consider the speed at which the tech industry is transforming to be the biggest skills challenge facing the sector as a whole.
Just like customer expectations, employee expectations saw permanent changes as a result of the temporary disruption caused by the pandemic. According to IDC:
“Hybrid work—once thought to be a temporary fix throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—is now a mainstay in the global future of work landscape, despite public focus on return to office initiatives.”
To find the best talent and empower them to do their best work, companies can’t restrain their hiring to particular locations. Just like customers expect to get the same personalized experience from anywhere, on any device, employees expect to be able to work from anywhere, on any device. This means that companies need to offer on-demand access to a full suite of collaboration and productivity tools while also accounting for the potential security challenges that entails.
Companies need great talent to help them make the most of AI, but the reverse is also true: Deploying AI is a great way to empower the employees you already have. With the right AI capabilities in place, you can eliminate human guesswork and streamline low-value manual tasks such as filling out paperwork. This will free your employees to spend more time on high-value tasks that require a human touch. Crucially, this includes interacting directly with customers to provide better service.
The relationship between customer experience and employee experience is truly cyclical. When you invest in the latter, it makes the former a lot easier. In addition, pursuing advanced technologies such as AI can help you improve both simultaneously.
Get the digital infrastructure you need to do CX and EX right
Getting the infrastructure you need to support your distributed AI workflows isn’t always straightforward. Deploying on Platform Equinix® is one way to help simplify it. Equinix IBX® colocation data centers are available in 70+ metros across the world, making it easier to deploy AI workloads at the digital edge, wherever that may be in your case.
Equinix digital services can help you deploy infrastructure at software speed. Whether it’s bare metal capacity on demand, virtual network services or direct connectivity to partners and providers, we have the solutions that can meet your infrastructure needs quickly and consistently.
Finally, deploying on Platform Equinix can help you connect with thousands of service providers in our partner ecosystem. With access to the right services at your fingertips, deploying advanced technologies and optimizing employee experience becomes a lot quicker and easier. Our collaboration with NVIDIA is one example of how we’re helping our customers fast-track their AI projects.
Customer and employee experience optimization are key steps that businesses must take to prepare themselves for the future, but they certainly aren’t the only things digital leaders have on their minds. For more insights on the trends, opportunities and challenges facing the business world, and how IT leaders are responding to them, read the Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey e-book.
 Amy Loomis, “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Future of Work 2023 Predictions,” IDC Blog, December 7, 2022.