Top 10 customer experience trends for 2018: fashionable or transformational?

Based on published studies, in 2017 Forbes found that 75% of companies said that their top objective was to improve the customer experience, and all these saw the CEO at the helm of the battle to pivot the organisation to become truly customer-focused.

So we, CX professionals, can simply pack our bags and go home, right? Job done!

However, I believe that reality is still lagging the good intent, and that many organisations are not necessarily focused on the right transformational activities, or at least not in the right way. In fact, many studies show that organisations are still struggling to derive the desired benefits from their CX initiatives.

But why is that? My view is that it comes down to two things: What organisations are focusing on, and how they are doing it.

Let’s start from the first. These are the top 10 CX trends I can see emerging this year – from the point of view of the organisation, rather than from customer, social and environmental factors.

Top 5 strategic CX trends for 2018

1.     The rise of experience design. Increasingly, organisations are adopting the more transformational approach of Experience Design, using methodologies like Design Thinking or more creative ways of working like Customer Labs. These drive a more radical look at customer needs and emotional motivators and at the proposition, technological and organisational solutions required to exceed them, kick-starting more innovative and transformational design-led CX initiatives.

2.     Focus on brand-alignment. Some organisations are starting to address the frequent gap between the promises made by the brand and the customer experience delivered by the organisation. This requires the definition of a clear Customer Strategy, which identifies the key customer promises and experience principles required to meet the expectations set by brand marketing and communications. Using methodologies like Design Thinking, these principles are then translated into a brand-aligned customer experience blueprint to be embedded across the organisation for consistent delivery at all customer touchpoints.

3.     Importance of emotions. While most organisations still focus their CX initiatives on the transactional needs of their customers, the undoubted importance of emotions in customer behaviours and decisions is drawing increasing attention. A few organisations are starting to design a customer experience that taps into customers’ emotional motivators, build capabilities to highlight empathy and generate emotional engagement, invest in people engagement as a lever for generating customer engagement, or define metrics that better reflect this deeper and more elusive customer perception of the brand. All I’m saying here is watch this space, as it could be a new competitive battleground.

4.     Customer journey mapping enrichment. Customer Journey Mapping has been a key CX focus over the last few years, as an effective way to identify customer pain points and mobilise tactical improvement initiatives to remove them. However, the focus is now expanding in 3 new directions. 1) Deeper: enriching these maps with real-time dashboards of customer, operational and commercial metrics and insights. This transforms them into effective CX management tools, with clear cross-functional accountability and KPIs, driving continuous reactive and preventative actions across all touchpoints. 2) Narrower: tailoring maps to different customer Personas, in an attempt to identify their specific transactional and emotional needs and transform the journeys to better meet them. 3) Wider: expanding the customer journey map into a broader, truly end-to-end view, pushing the boundaries to customer needs and emotional motivators as well as 3rd party interactions well before and after the ‘traditional’ journey map started or ended. This highlights opportunities to address those largely unmet needs, create differentiation and strengthen customer loyalty.

5.     CX metrics evolution. The last few years saw the general decline of C-Sat and the emergence of NPS and CES, as well as a progressive proliferation of CX measurement tools and dashboards in most organisations. However, the desire to draw deeper and faster understanding of the key drivers of the customer experience, and circumvent the reality of ‘customer survey fatigue’, sees some organisations re-assessing which CX metrics they should use, at which CX touchpoints and in which way. In addition, organisations are increasingly building models to link CX metrics to business and financial outcomes, in the continuous quest for identifying the ROI of CX and its link to value.

Top 5 technological CX trends for 2018

1.     Experience simplification. While this is not a new trend, it is still the overarching one driving a lot of transformational activities through a balance of digitasation, automation and process re-engineering, which aims to create a seamless integration of online and offline touchpoints through a customer-led experience design. Needless to say – plenty more needs to be done in this space, as making things easy is always the most complex thing to achieve – especially considering legacy systems and business-centric operational drivers, as well as the fact that customers’ tolerance is reducing very fast.

2.     Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots momentum. This continues to be a primary area of exploration and development, which uses technology to make transactional customer interactions easier, faster and more relevant, while increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of business operations and enabling employees to focus on more valuable or complex customer interactions. While experiments proliferate in this space, so does skepticism about their role in the future of CX. But my point is that the future is already here. The key is to think about this as a solution to a clear customer or business need, as part of carefully blended customer-led experience design, technical transformation and operational alignment. Do you remember the skeptics about the introduction of computers 30 years ago…?

3.     Automated customer insights. Text analytics have already become part of most Voice of the Customer programmes, but these insights still rely on customers to ‘fill in’ traditional standard surveys. New developments are now focused on fitting around the customer journey in a less intrusive way – for example, through Voice Recognition capabilities to capture and analyse the customer experience ‘live’ during phone conversations, or even using voice-activated devices like Alexa or Siri post-interaction. There are also Conversational Surveys which use AI and chatbots during or immediately post online interactions, fully integrated with the customer journey and with questions intelligently adapting to their progressive answers – which moves us beyond a one-size-fits-all survey, to a personalised and conversational feedback experience.

4.     IoT, connected solutions and the sharing economy. These have been buzz phrases for a while, but still remain primarily that. However, a few organisations are starting to capitalise on the opportunities offered by these new technological and social trends to create new propositions and business models that better meet the needs of their customers. The right solutions offer big benefits like more efficient use of resources, access to best in class capabilities, strong 3rd party partnerships, rich data, risk mitigation… Just think about Uber and AirBnB, or the proliferation of shared cars or workplaces.

5.     Personalised pull engagement. In the quest for stronger customer loyalty, many organisations are investing in customer engagement initiatives. While most are still ending up with marketing effectiveness, push communications and generic solutions, some are testing new data-driven ways to engage customers through personalised and relevant ‘pull’ content. Meeting customers where they are (online, offline or on social channels) and on their terms (linked their interests, preferences, hobbies…) becomes a more effective way to capture their attention and pull them to you – rather than trying to flock to them the latest seasonal offer or discount.

The watch-outs…

It is undoubted that these areas can prove transformational for an organisation and generate higher customer loyalty and business value – but here come the two watch-outs:

·      ‘Trend’ is not the same as ‘fashionable’. Do not fall into the trap of jumping on the bandwagon. If these are main CX trends across the industry in 2018, it does not mean they are the things you should focus on this year too. You should not start an AI or Bot programme just because you think it is fashionable. It all depends on the overall CX fitness level and maturity stage of your organisation, and on your most important priorities. Invest some time in assessing these first, to then prioritise your efforts and investments.

I can help you with this through my tested CX Fitness Check™.

·      CX is an art and a science. You need the right CX skills and methodologies to achieve the best results. So invest in your people’s capabilities, or hire in the right talent and solutions providers. This is an area where the DIY ’have a go’ approach does not work – as demonstrated by the fact that recent studies show that only 23% of organisations achieved the target objectives from CX initiatives, and as many as 93% did not achieve the desired competitive differentiation.

Get in touch for a CX consultation, or check out my programme of CX training opportunities ©, also available for in-house delivery.