Five Trends Shaping The Future Of Customer Experience In 2018

Money talks.

Particularly when it comes to customer experience, money talks.

When it comes to money — the CEO decides. So the priorities of the CEO matters — because what the CEO focuses on grows. And generally there’s a lot of pressure on the CEO from the board to make quarterly dividends. With so much board focus on quarterly profits and growth, it’s hard for the CEO to truly focus on customer experience — which involves long-term investments, or being misunderstood by wall street for long periods of time.

The discussion of customer experience is dependent on a discussion about money — because views on money shape entire company.

A few industry leaders are taking a contradictory stance regarding money and the obsession with wall street and quarterly profits.

Co-founder and Chief Executive of BlackRock with 4.6 trillion in assets Laurence Fink recently said, “Today’s culture of quarterly earnings hysteria is totally contrary to the long-term approach we need.” When he says “we need” I interpret that to mean the approach we need to make improvements in business. Fink also said in business quarterly earnings reports require executives to look back. He said, “quarterly earnings don’t articulate management’s vision for the future.” Investing in customer experience requires a view into the future.

Investing in customer experience is an act of bravery, because often the returns don’t happen right away — and many boards and CEOs are not willing to wait around for that payday. And there’s truth to the fact that it’s costly and time consuming to improve customer experience. Amazon, often cited as the best in class case study for customer experience — doesn’t need to turn a profit, and possibly one of the reasons the company is able to take so many risks with its customer strategy. Amazon has been criticized in the past for its inability to make money. In the third quarter of this year Amazon boasted a profit for the 9th quarter in a row, however before that the numbers were very up and down year to year. According to Investopedia this is called a slow burning model to a sustaining business.

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO on his first day of work in 2009 announced that shareholders should no longer expect to see quarterly annual reports from the company with earnings guidance for the stock market. Polman said, “Put your money elsewhere if you don’t “buy into this long-term value-creation model, which is equitable, which is shared, which is sustainable.”

The stock was worth $38 per share in 2012 and five years later is steadily increasing, and the day I wrote this it was $58 a share. If the CEO doesn’t focus on customer experience, in no way can you expect the company as a whole to improve customer experience.

Last Year 75% Of Companies Said Top Objective Was To Improve Customer Experience

Most executives think customer experience is important but that’s where it stops. In 2016 one study found that 75% of companies said their top objective was to improve customer experience.

So we can simply pack up our bags and go home right?

If you plan on going through a customer experience transformation the conversation needs to start in the boardroom. The CEO must drive the leadership conversations about the importance of pivoting to become a customer-focused company

Once you do that you can start making investments in the five areas I’ve outlined below in my annual predictions post — many of which have a technology focus. Technology isn’t everything, but it doesn’t matter if you have the most customer-focused culture in the world, if your technology experience doesn’t make customers’ lives easier and better you will lose customers.

2018 is going to be a big year for customer experience because now there’s c-level awareness that someone at the top of the company needs to be dedicated to driving it. In its fourth year, I’m happy to share with you the five topics that I believe are the most critical for 2018.

My top five predictions for 2018 include CEO involvement in the customer experience strategy, personalization, the use of data and decisioning, the customer experience cloud, and all types of augmented reality experiences for customers.

1. CEOs Get More Involved In The Customer Experience Strategy

The CEO sets the tone for your entire company. When it comes to how your company treats customers, it all starts from the top. The CEO is the leader of the organization and the person who people will look to every single day. In uncertain times, the CEO’s reaction sets the tone for the culture of the entire company. The CEO also sets the tone in their day-to-day actions by what they focus on. Is your CEO the kind that rages when the stock price drops quarter to quarter? Does the CEO impulsively lay off entire groups of employees rather than focus on transformational growth and innovation? It matters. Customer experience is directly related to employee experience, and the CEO has an influential role in palpably shaping that. Is the CEO more of a visionary or a firefighter?

The companies that have better customer experiences all have CEOs that care about customer experience and sew it into the fabric of the company.

For companies that have CEOs that don’t make it a priority, you cannot expect the customer experience to improve. Forrester reported this year that the top three challenges for a customer experience program include organizational culture (54%), organizational structures (45%), and processes (41%) and these three programs are all driven by the CEO. While most CEOs aren’t working in the contact center day to day, the companies that boast better customer experiences have CEOs that are heavily involved in the listening and feedback mechanisms at the company. The CEO knows exactly what’s happening on the ground of the company.

A CEO with an infectious attitude towards creating a powerful customer experience can lead a company towards growth and financial success. Some companies have a habit of telling employees that if there’s a problem at the company don’t look up. However this attitude makes no sense considering those at the top make all the significant decisions particularly when it comes to resources – and much of the employee experience, which shapes the customer experience is pre determined by the CEO. If the CEO invests in a customer-focused culture, then it will be felt in the customer experience. So yes employees should look up – because leadership must be accountable. While a company might have a chief customer officer, it’s the responsibility of the CEO to be the representative for the customer — to constantly guide the company — with the customer experience is the true North Star for the company.

2. Time Is Our Most Important Commodity: Personalization Aims To Respect Customers’ Time.

You ever hear your elders talk about how when they were kids they had to walk to school in the freezing snow uphill and both ways? Eventually we will tell our kids stories about the sheer number of irrelevant content we had to watch, read and generally deal with – a world they will not know. The next generation won’t watch ads on the television, they won’t be spammed offers by companies that aren’t relevant for them, and they will be able to opt out of almost everything. Why? Because being forced to ingest stuff that isn’t relevant for you is not a pleasant experience and it caters to our most important commodity; time. If you aren’t in the business of saving your customers their precious time, making their lives easier and better, you risk being disrupted by a newbie who will.Personalization is the best marketing investment you could make. People want experiences that are actually relevant for them. We know this but something gets very lost in the execution.

Customers today demand the hyper-personalization of everything. Personalization is what happens when the company leverages a deep understanding of customer preference, structured and unstructured customer data, conversations in and across all channels; when companies can preemptively anticipate a customer’s needs. Additionally augmented reality has already allowed companies to personalize and shape customer experiences.

Before personalization we need to establish the identification of the customer. In 2017 customers still repeated themselves at every turn. In-store retail is the biggest offender. In stark contrast to Stich Fix, an online retailer that offers personalized styling services and had a powerful IPO this year.

It’s possible to bring personal tailored experience to a customer with the use of technology like machine learning. We talk a lot about machine learning, but only a handful of companies are quick to leverage it in a way that improves the customer experience. One early and easy to understand example is Spotify – when you listen to a playlist and you like a song by hitting the thumbs up icon, the playlist improves in real-time. Wouldn’t it be nice if our healthcare providers, insurance companies and retail experiences were all that seamless and intuitive?

In the recent past companies have not made personalization a priority. According to Business Insider the number one barrier to personalization is too few resources dedicated to it. The second reason is lack of a clear roadmap. The companies that do embrace personalization – embrace personalization with gusto. For example Sephora has done a great job of creating personalized experiences for customers – marrying online and offline engagement strategies – using tools like augmented reality to allow customers to try on different looks via their phone. In every aspect of digital customer engagement Sephora tops the “best of” list. They have some of the most successful customer communities I’ve ever seen which drives sales. You can shop a look of another customer. They do an amazing job of marrying content with shop-able in-context products. Sephora leverages data from the beauty insider program to personalize every aspect of the customer experience.

3. Companies Embrace Decisioning And Data To Find Opportunities To Add Value To Customers’ Lives

In some scenarios, a person is better than a machine. But when it comes to combing through large amounts of data in-real time to serve up the most relevant next action to the customer, a machine is simply better at it. And combing just gets more and more arduous as we create more data. By 2020 it’s estimated we’ll produce 44 zettabytes every day. That’s equal to 44 trillion gigabytes. One gigabyte can hold the contents of enough books to cover a 30-foot-long shelf. Multiply that by 44 trillion. That’s a lot of data — which most companies cannot process fast enough. Frontline employees are generally operating with data that’s “too little, too late.” Now we can use artificial intelligence to empower our technologies to identify opportunities and experiences that are relevant for the customer. Frontline employees can in no way provide the same just-in time customer experience that decisioning can help with.

For example Sprint uses data to create better customer experiences. In 2014, Sprint had a customer churn rate of 2.3% — twice as much as its biggest competitors. The company was relying on customer experience agents — who were relying on their own judgement — to look through the data to identify how to best serve the customer. Before decisioning, the agent would look through 20 or more offers, picking the best offer while on the phone with the customer. Customers hate waiting, and often customers are waiting on the phone while employees figure things out. Whether they are on the phone with other employees, or looking through large amounts of information. While the customer waits, and quietly hates you with increasing zeal.

Sprint wanted to get away from relying on its employees to make real-time decisions. After implementing a data solution from Pegasystems (Disclosure: Pegasystems is a former client of mine), Sprint leveraged predictive and self-learning analytics to find customers at risk of churn and proactively provide personalized retention offers. Sprint reduced customer churn by 10% to historic lows, and increased its net promoter score by 40%. Additionally Sprint boosted customer upgrades by eight times, convincing 40% more customers to add a new line, and improving overall customer service agent satisfaction.

Decisioning can help create that sought after personalized customer experience.

4. The Customer Experience Cloud Gains Prominence

We’re used to hearing about the customer service cloud, or the marketing cloud, but now we’re seeing a new focus on the customer experience cloud. This has to do with how the company manages their data. Historically organizations had individual clouds for their marketing and sales programs as a way to pull together data, with each cloud holding information for just one area of the company. But the customer journey is changing, and so is how companies manage the customer journey. The big push now is the customer experience cloud, which brings together things like customer data, digital experience, and personalization to create an efficient, modern way to manage interactions with customers.

The old way of doing business with only a marketing cloud or sales cloud just isn’t enough anymore. Marketers used to have to juggle numerous tools to stay on top of what customers were thinking, how they were communicating with the brand, and what products they were interested in. Without integration, so much time was lost to inefficiency, and brands never truly had a full picture of their customers.

Customers don’t care if the person they are talking to works in marketing, sales, or IT — they just want to have a personalized interaction with the brand to build the relationship or have their problems solved.

5. Augmented Reality Makes Reality Better For Customers

I will never buy perfume on my phone because I can’t smell it through my iphone – well not yet. Part of the problem of engaging with online services is it’s not the same as the real thing. What would be possible if a person could experience a simulation of an experience? The possibilities seem endless. AR can be used in a number of ways depending on the needs of the organization. Some brands have created worlds where customers can virtually “shop” in a store and try items on their own bodies.

Other brands are using it as a way to provide a taste of a product they can order online. For example I have tried on lipstick and eye-lashes using Sephora’s Visual Artist tool on its ios app. Through augmented reality I can try on various lipsticks, blushes and even eyelashes find my eyes effortlessly. Another example is Wayfair, the ecommerce company offers tens of millions of consumers on iOS 11 an augmented reality feature which allows shoppers to see 3D furniture and décor in their homes before they buy. Wayfair’s “View in Room 3D” app feature is incorporated into the shopping experience, allowing customers to easily discover, visualize and buy their favorite furniture and décor items from their iPhone or iPad – all within the Wayfair mobile shopping app.

Augmented Reality gives an accurate prediction of what a customer can expect. For example when you order food off a menu an app called KabaQ you provided an augmented reality app showing highly-realistic 3D models of menu items on the user’s view of their table, allowing them to see various selections from multiple angles and zoom levels.

There are so many opportunities where augmented reality can give customers a more realistic idea of what an experience will be like — or help the customer make a better decision for themselves and their family. Healthcare, retail, insurance, and hospitality are four examples of industries where augmented reality would be helpful.

2017 has been a great year for customer experience — far and wide there is much more awareness about the topic and the definition of customer experience. There is more understanding that customer experience does not equal customer service. In sum, most of what I’ve talked about here is technology-driven. That doesn’t meant that culture is not important. Culture drives the decision to take customer experience seriously. Even if you’re late to the customer experience game, it’s never too late to begin improving your programs. When you set out to make your customers’ lives easier and better, you will see your business transform. That’s a prediction I can guarantee.

Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author of More Is More, and keynote speaker. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here. Go farther and create knock your socks-off customer experiences in your organization by enrolling in her new Customer Experience School.

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