“Today’s ‘empowered customers’ expect ‘emotional personalization’ enabled by ‘immersive technologies’ delivered through ‘omnichannel touchpoints’ along with ‘new-age customer service’.”
If you examine this statement closely, you are likely to spot five customer experience (CX) trends in it.
The statement summarizes this article. But first, let’s parse the statement for its elements.
Trend 1: Shifting Sands of Consumer Sentiment
66% of customers, as per the Salesforce report State of the Connected Customer, expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. Furthermore, as more digital natives swell the consumer numbers in the years ahead, the demand for seamless digital journeys will only rise. Forrester Senior Analyst Anjali Lai expected to see a shift in the core behaviors (i.e., dimensions) that define empowered customers. The key dimensions of customer empowerment are willingness to experiment, device usage, digital-physical integration, information savviness, and self-efficacy.
Trend 2: Emotional Personalization Is Expanding Fast
Brands, especially since the pandemic, are contending with higher degrees of collective vulnerability. Emotion-based targeting and personalization is on the rise where individual customers’ profiles are analyzed with psychological and emotional models using verbal data in the form of text or voice. An emotion-enabled virtual assistants/chatbots or avatars will be deployed more and more that can detect a customer’s sentiments and can respond accordingly, using voice and facial expression analysis. McKinsey pegs new value for personalization at $3 trillion. No matter the hits or misses, the need for authentic touchpoints is increasing as organizations commit to more AI and ML-powered ‘empathy-ecosystems’.
Trend 3: AI and VR Immersive Experiences Are the Next Game Changers
Technologies like product experience walls, facial recognition, wearables, digital payments, smart mirrors, smart shelves, handheld scanners, IoT, RFID, virtual assistants, mobile augmented reality, and blockchain have been evolving for a while. But with the pandemic, the impetus on innovation has reached the next level. Enterprises are now keen to utilize advanced technologies such as AI to deliver more immersive experiences via augmented and virtual reality to gain a competitive advantage in developing innovative products and services.
Trend 4: Omnichannel Touchpoints Will Continue To Meet Your Customers Where They Want
Omnichannel is multi-channel on steroids. As opposed to multi-channel, omnichannel experiences focus on consistent, personalized, real-time experiences optimized across specific devices.
And the difference between the two? Stark.
An Aberdeen Strategy and Research report predicates omnichannel customer experience management (CEM) programs to achieve a 91% higher Y-O-Y increase in customer retention and a 3.4% increase in customer lifetime value.
It is important to note that mobile customer experience is more important than ever before. As the leading traffic router today (desktop usage is declining steadily), customers aren’t exactly eager to recommend businesses with poor mobile websites.
Trend 5: Customer Service and Its New-Age Avatars Are on the Rise
The quaint term ‘Customer Service’ has taken up multiple meanings. Organizations understand that the art of Customer Service is now also a science: Customer Self-Service, Social Media Customer Service, Crisis Management Customer Service, Remote and Personalized Customer Service. These are all services trained on the customer but with specific technology nuances. Organizations are creating unified roles like the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) to incorporate the various and overlapping responsibilities of sales, marketing, and customer service and support.
Brands That Inspire Us To Create Amazing Customer Experience
Every year, the CX network surveys leading customer experience practitioners (with mature CX strategies) to piece together insights businesses use in their quest to exceed the ever-rising customer expectations. Their report (Global state of customer experience 2019) names Disney, Apple, Uber, Amazon, and Zappos as the best. No surprises there!
Admittedly Consumer Experience, is a vast area for analysis and introspection, but what can these top-notch CX B2C companies teach B2B’s?
- First, connect the dots. And then do it more, do it better: More than focusing on customer reactions, look to pre-empt customer behavior and expectations. Answer this critically: How do the new channels and technologies work for you?
Case in point: At each touchpoint in a customer’s journey – whether real or reel, Disney’s Imagineers first plan and then immerse customers in their rich storytelling tradition. They connect dots. Do you?
There is an inevitable gap between customer expectations and a company’s offering (digital or otherwise). How well (and consistently) are you bridging the gap?
- Human, human, where art thou?
Before or after implementing any new technology, keep answering the question: Do my digital channels involve cutting-edge technology while retaining the wholesome and authentic human experience?
Case in point: Granted that Apple’s iPhones’ legendary loyalty has dipped from the stratospheric 92% to a still enviable 73%, but plenty of B2B businesses will do well to understand that customer experience initiatives are about human first, and ROI second (like, Apple’s Genius bars and phone repair supports are typically gratis). Or even how ML can bring the human element to CX. For instance, Spotify customizes playlists that account for what customers did earlier in the day. Cool, isn’t it!
What about the ways Royal Caribbean uses facial recognition and machine vision to elevate the customer experience proactively?
Scan your customer value chain. Look for moments of ‘urgency.’ Do you spot the CX ‘micro moments’ that are potential ‘buzz spots’ (a.k.a brand loyalty growth points)?
- Use technology to drop the Center of Gravity (CG) of decision-making. Really Low.Does your definition of Customer Experience anticipate customer needs so that you can respond to THIS very moment?
Case in point:
Uber’s example of going digital-first/only and reducing customer efforts via relentless upgrades is ideal in this case. Or even Amazon’s legendary practice of reducing the number of customers seeking service by answering the questions they do not have (yet) is commendable. Or think about how Disney uses Magic Bands at its parks to offer convenience, information, and ultimately experience.
So, the next time you map touchpoints as part of your customer’s holistic journey, critically assess if a customer’s decision-making ‘center of gravity’ is low! If it is, then ease of convenience (and the consequent CX) will be high.
Finally, no serious examination of Customer experience trends can happen without paying attention to the utility and ubiquity of Customer Analytics.
Every time a customer has an omnichannel interaction, the information a customer leaves behind is a rich crumble, ready to be mined for intelligence, insight, and intent.
So, whether it be Sales Channel Analysis (best and worst-performing channels) or Sentiment Analysis (Ouch’s and Aha’s heard socially) or even, Customer Churn Analytics (identifying customers at different stages of customer loyalty); the key is to decipher (in fact, layout the schema) the overall customer behavior. Each time a specific behavior is detected, say a customer abandons a shopping cart, possible reasons can be worked out (A Pricing mismatch? Searching for a complimentary item? Error on the checkout page? Fishing for discounts?). Once understood, the corresponding actions can be pinned down (Nudge? Reminder? Complimentary product recommendation? Discount?)
The key in all data reading and crystal gazing is the clear ability to marry ‘metrics’ with ‘empathy’; the ‘what’ (Customer Satisfaction Ratings or Net Promoter Score) with the ‘why’ (personal context).
A paper by HBR on the merits of Real-Time Customer Analytics makes just that point.
It argues that brands that harvest real-time customer experiences are the ones adept at bridging three interrelated capabilities through analytics and insights. These are:
- Unified customer data platforms (capability to extract customer insights to shape experience)
- Proactive analytics with AI and ML (purpose-built data collection & analytics platforms that incorporate customer insights, marketing programs, services, operations, and support)
- Contextual interactions (drawing a customer into subsequent actions the brands want customers to pursue, be it in the physical or virtual realms)
The report highlights how 60% of participating business leaders unequivocally state that using Customer Analytics has significantly increased customer retention and loyalty, deepened their understanding of customer journeys, and generated quantum revenue growths!
Finally, in 2021 and beyond, where is CX headed?
Let us summarize by saying – buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. The more expensive the item, the more they are willing to spend (PWC report). Customer experience is poised to overtake price and product as a key differentiator. As more and more companies start competing primarily on the basis of customer experience, we can expect to witness significant leapfrogging in this area.
Vandana Singal is Director, Solution Consulting at Pimcore Global Services (A Happiest Minds Company). Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce.
She has extensive experience in managing presales, product development, and multifunctional teams.