Customer experience is now the hottest topic in business. According to Forrester Research, CX became the number one priority for business and technology leaders in 2015 and ranks high as a critical success factor for enterprises in 2016.
Focusing on CX makes business sense. Better customer experience correlates with stronger revenue growth, according to Forrester, and a 2015 study from the research firm Watermark Consulting shows that customer experience leaders have outperformed the broader market by more than 30 percent.
Optimizing the customer experience is not a simple process. For one, many marketers are still debating the scope of CX and, as a result, the way companies measure CX success is shifting significantly. Customer preferences and attitudes also continue to change, posing a serious challenge to companies who already lag in technology and CX insight.
RELATED: For strategies on how to improve the end-to-end customer journey, check out The Enterprise Guide to Customer Experience, an e-book authored by Tyler Douglas, chief sales and marketing officer at Vision Critical.
To keep up with the customer experience revolution, companies need to get a grasp of the shifts in the space. Here’s a look at trends that will shape the customer experience practice in the years ahead, according to CX influencers and experts.
Many companies struggle with CX because they don’t have the basics right. That’s according to Annette Franz, director of customer outcomes at Fidelity Investments, author of the popular blog CX Journey, and advisor to several software companies.
“While companies might be listening to their customers, they aren’t necessarily acting on the feedback,” Franz says. “Or they’re so focused on the metric that they overlook what customers are actually telling them.”
There are two basic trends that are now critical for CX, according to Franz: the simplification of the customer experience and personalization. In other words, “Reduce customer effort. Be easy to use and to do business with. And know me.”
So how can companies get these two things right? The first step is to map the customer journey, creating an understanding of the customer and identifying gaps in their experience.
The second step is no easy task: centralize customer data.
Explains Franz, “Without centralizing data, it’s going to be very hard to reduce customer effort and to personalize the experience.”
Centralizing data is key to personalizing the customer experience and reducing customer effort – @annettefranz (TWEET THIS CX INSIGHT)
Marketing merging with CX
Digital analyst, futurist and best-selling author Brian Solis predicts that experiences, even more than products, will become an important competitive advantage. Specifically, he sees marketing increasingly becoming all about CX.
In a blog post on his website, Solis says that companies that invest in engagement and collaboration are overtaking more traditional brands.
To win in this new battlefield, companies must get closer to their customers. Solis’ advice for brands is to “zero-in on the needs, values and aspirations of a generation that defines everything radically differently than previous generations.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Solis’ provocative take on the customer experience, watch our webinar with him.
Increasing expectations for social media support and customized experiences
Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert, shared his predictions with us via email. He said speed and a “frictionless” experience will be top demands from customers.
The best-selling author of Amaze Every Customer Every Time, Hyken believes that customers will continue to flock to social media to demand support from companies. (This helps explain why companies like Apple have been beefing up their social media presence.) Adds Hyken, “This can be an opportunity for a company to show how good they are—or a PR nightmare if they ignore a social complaint.”
Companies also need to provide a customized experience for customers—and soon. “Through data and predictive analytics, a company can spot trends, but more importantly spot an individual customer’s buying patterns. This information gives the company the chance to give their customers what they want and when they want it.”
“Customers want an easy and frictionless experience. That’s the number one demand.” – @hyken (TWEET THIS CX INSIGHT)
Embedded customer service
The same technologies that have empowered customers in the last decade will continue to shape CX in 2016 and beyond. Adam Toporek, keynote speaker and author of Be Your Customer’s Hero, says that decision-making in CX will be shaped by “established trends in the areas of omnichannel, mobile, and millennials.”
For instance, geofencing and geotargeting will increase in relevance in CX as mobile use continue climb globally.
“Embedded customer service, such as Amazon’s ‘Mayday’ Button and United Bank’s interactive teller, will begin to become more prevalent this year,” predicts Toporek. “And as technology costs decrease in years to come, this technology will become a major part of many industries’ customer experience.”
As customer become even more empowered, companies will need to engage with their customers more than ever before, according to Toporek. “Customer intelligence will become more central to many organizations, as they refine not only how to better collect customer customer data but also how to use that data to drive results.”
Embedded customer service will begin to become more prevalent this year – @ (TWEET THIS CX PREDICTION)
Predictive analytics (with a generous dash of customer emotions)
“To understand human behavior, it’s vital that we examine the data that companies have accumulated,” Shaw tells us via email.
But he’s also quick to point out the shortcomings of big data. “There is a big hole in big data and that is the lack of data on customer emotions, how the customer is feeling. This needs to be built into any predictive analytics, as emotions form a large part of how customers behave.”
“There is a big hole in big data and that is the lack of data on customer emotions” – @ColinShaw_CX http://ow.ly/Zrbll (TWEET THIS CX INSIGHT)
Go mobile or go home
In addition to the importance of predictive analytics, Shaw says mobile will continue to shape customer expectations.
“If you don’t have a mobile platform today, you’ll be dead tomorrow,” warns Shaw.
But a mobile CX strategy doesn’t necessarily mean creating apps.
Adds Shaw, “I see far too many companies creating apps that will never be used by customers. Take apps for car insurance, for instance. Often these apps let users take pictures of accidents to automatically send to the insurance company. But unless you are an extremely bad driver, the time between accidents is quite large. So why would you have an app on your phone for this occasion? The chances of knowing how to use this type of app are also remote.”
“If you don’t have a mobile platform today, you’ll be dead tomorrow” – @ColinShaw_CX http://ow.ly/Zrbll (TWEET THIS CX INSIGHT)
A 2016 report from Adobe confirms what many marketers are finally realizing: customer experience is in charge. The report found that, for many marketers, “optimizing the customer experience” is the most exciting opportunity in their profession.
“This customer experience mandate is permeating everything else these businesses are doing,” writes John Travis, vice president of EMEA Marketing at Adobe, in a blog post talking about the report. “Marketers in every sector are embracing this new customer experience reality.”
The focus on customer experience is driving the need for data-driven marketing and higher quality content, according to Travis. “Marketers are prioritizing data-driven marketing because of customer experience, not instead of it.”
Agencies recalibrating for CX
Recognizing the growth of this space, major agencies are ramping up their CX offerings in order to remain relevant to their clients. As reported by the Australian-based publication AdNews, big agencies are making notable moves in CX.
The biggest move yet: Saatchi & Saatchi buying CX specialist MercerBell.
“The experience that people have with brands these days is so critical to building a brand and building a business,” says Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Mike Rebelo about the acquisition. “CX is a very interesting space which we didn’t have a capability in but now when it comes to our clients we can provide those experts in that space to work with us.”
Another agency, Starcom Mediavest, recently held a summit that heavily pushed a CX agenda. The move comes after the agency has released a report that revealed that only six percent of Australian businesses are currently implementing CX well.
Expect more marketing agencies to enter the CX game. As Will Lavender, owner of the CX agency Lavender, says, “CX is a pervasive expression of where technology and marketing is heading and I think it’s just something that is going to become more and more important.”
The combination of data, people and process patterns
Lynn Hunsaker, founder of the consulting firm ClearAction and one of the leading influencers in CX, argues in a recent CustomerThink article that “customer experience excellence in the future will be led by companies that see patterns and use those insights to leapfrog the norms.”
In particular, Hunsaker says CX pros should look for patterns in data, people and process. For data patterns, the key is to get a complete picture of the customer. “There are always important insights to be gained when combining data sources. And the holistic viewpoint afforded to managers of all kinds can certainly catapult service and company-wide customer-focus.”
Hunsaker says it’s critical to listen to both employees and customers. “Customer experience management is about people—both outside the company and inside the company.”
Finally, companies should evaluate their processes so they can correct CX problems. Concludes Hunsake, “Since the company exists to meet customers’ expectations, we should embrace insights that compel us to continually align with the evolution of customer expectations.”
The death of traditional engagement tools
In an effort to improve the customer experience, many companies rely on customer intelligence tools to engage with their customers. But while companies may have good intentions when they use these technologies, they may also be inadvertently hurting their relationship with their customers in the process.
In a recent webinar, Nick Stein, senior vice president of marketing at Vision Critical, says that a common tool, the traditional survey, is falling short. That’s because marketers often use ad-hoc surveys to interrogate their customers with many questions, missing the opportunity to make a genuine connection.
Explains Stein, “Your customers want to feel like they matter to you and to your brand. But in the age of the empowered customer, the traditional survey technology that you use to understand the customer is alienating them and pushing them away.”
Companies should beef up their marketing stack with online tools that are permission-based and that enable them to build more meaningful relationship with thousands of customers, according to Stein.
These trends make it painfully clear that the customer experience revolution is just beginning. To succeed in this CX-obsessed world, companies must get closer to their customers and institute the right processes in the enterprise to empower their employees to keep their customers happy. In the end, the companies that show a deep understanding of their customers are set to win the CX race.
RELATED: For more strategies on how to improve the end-to-end customer journey, check out The Enterprise Guide to Customer Experience, an ebook authored by Tyler Douglas, chief sales and marketing officer at Vision Critical.