5 Trends Shaping Customer Experience in 2018

2018 CX Trends by Pedro van Gaalen

As the digital platforms that have shaped the services and on-demand economies become more pervasive, the underlying technology itself becomes less of a competitive differentiator.

In response, a new trend is emerging; one where brands compete for the attention, time and share of pocket of digitally-empowered consumers through enhanced engagement and richer, more meaningful experiences.

Given the importance of CX, it should be the top priority for businesses in 2018 and beyond. These are five key trends that will shape CX in the coming year.

Trend 1: Dedicated customer experience teams

2018 CX TrendsOrganisations will need to dedicate more resources to CX. However, Dimension Data’s Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report reveals that 36% of organisations don’t have a single manager responsible for CX. Of those that do, just 36% are at board level.

As businesses realise the resources required to successfully implement and manage a CX strategy, the function will rapidly grow from a single internal ‘champion’ – commonly the CMO – who aims to orchestrate the function across siloed marketing, sales and technology divisions, to specialised, cross-functional CX teams.

These teams will also need to comprise individuals with the skills and expertise needed to build CX capabilities, with Forrester Research highlighting the need for talent that can interpret and influence the AI-driven platforms that will form the foundation of an organisation’s CX initiatives, in its AI – The Next Generation Of Marketing white paper.

Trend 2: Data and analytics shape experiences

To meet the challenges of delivering superior CX, more businesses are turning to big data and analytics to better understand customer trends and preferences.

2018 CX Trends AnalyticsIn Dimension Data’s Benchmarking Report, analytics was voted the top factor that will transform CX over the next five years, yet only 48% of respondents have customer analytic systems, and only 36% possess big data analytic solutions.

This trend was echoed in the Econsultancy/Adobe Digital Trends report, which stated that without strong data analytics, marketers will fail to understand customers, which will hinder their ability to optimise CX.

While big data and analytics have established applications in sales and marketing, to date the ability to use this technology to forecast and design has largely been based on historical data. However, this capability is being reshaped with expansive access to real-time data that can be used in a predictive way, thanks to the application of the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

2018 CX Trends Forbes
Source: Forbes Insights Survey

A Forbes Insights survey, conducted in conjunction with SAS, polled 357 executives of large organisations on the benefits of evolving to data-driven CX. For nearly three in 10 enterprises, data-driven CX is already delivering a significant advantage in customer engagement.

Additional benefits include enhanced revenue generation, cost reductions, process efficiencies and quality improvements. Data-driven CX also enables organisations to optimise the targeting of specific customers, and delivers consistency and context across various channels.

Trend 3: Adoption of omni-channel approaches

Twitter reported that customer service interactions on social have jumped 250% in the past two years. It’s unsurprising then that Gartner predicts that 90% of brands will rely on social media in some capacity to manage their CX efforts.

However, digital has not displaced traditional interactions. That means businesses today are supporting an average of nine customer contact channels. This is expected to rise to 11 in the next six months, according to Dimension Data’s Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report, making the ability to deliver seamless CX across multiple channels a top priority.

This will pose numerous challenges, though, such as shifting capabilities to a mobile-first approach, and integrating channels to ensure they seamlessly interact with one another.

There’ll be many opportunities too, provided the appropriate technology is in place. The rise of proactive CX, powered by IoT and automation, for instance, will enable organisations to gather and analyse data from millions of transactions in real-time, to better plot the customer journey and craft impactful CX.

2018 CX Trends OmnichannelDimension Data’s research indicates that 67% of organisations are already tracking customer journeys in some form, but, of those, only 44% have automated processes in place to exploit the opportunities offered. The company therefore predicts that ‘connecting customer journeys’ will be one of the 2018 CX trends, and will continue to transform CX over the next five years.

Those companies that understand their customers’ journeys, and design and personalise them accordingly, will benefit greatly. Data from Aberdeen Group indicates that companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, compared to just 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies.

Trend 4: Smart CX environments

And, according to the Temkin Experience Ratings, a cross-industry, open standard benchmark of CX, early adopters of CX-centric technologies are already evolving beyond these basic track-and response capabilities.

Through the integration of omni-channel interactions, IoT endpoints and other emerging technologies, smart CX environments will increasingly become a dominant CX trend.

In the Econsultancy/Adobe Digital Trends report, for instance, about 20% of respondents ranked optimising the customer experience as the single most exciting opportunity for the year ahead, with respondents already looking beyond mobile to focus on IoT, Chatbots, automation, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

2018 CX TrendsIn this regard, Dimension Data’s Benchmarking report suggests that intelligent virtual assistants and Chatbots are currently driving the most growth in the channel. And expect this shift to accelerate, with Forrester Research predicting in its ‘The Rise Of Intelligent Agents’ report that in 2018, 10% of purchase decisions will be guided by intelligent agents powered by big data, analytics and AI. Building on these capabilities will be the multi-modal design of CX platforms, with support for gesture, face or emotion recognition incorporated through AR and VR. These capabilities will be added to verbal intelligence through voice recognition to create superior customer experiences.

As an example, expect retailers (such as Starbucks) to launch initiatives that exploit AR and VR to create immersive mixed reality experiences for shoppers where they can interact with both digital and real-world objects.  According to Gartner, mixed reality will be the immersive experience of choice in the next five years.

Trend 5: Humanise the experience
2018 CX Trends Human Conversational Model
Applying the Human Conversational Model to Digital Experiences. Source: Temkin Group

Amidst this technology-dominated backdrop, connected customers still want to be heard, understood, remembered, and respected. Ultimately, they want to be treated like people, whether they engage with machines or staff.

Successful CX strategies will therefore need to apply technology and customer data in ways that deliver experiences with a human touch. The challenge facing CX professionals in 2018 and beyond will be to ensure that technology-enabled channels can address customers as human beings, rather than mere data points.

The way to do this, according to Kantar TNS’s Enchanting Customers: The Digital CX Challenge report, is to use technology to create positive emotions in moments that matter by delivering enchanting experiences. In doing so, brands will ensure that those experiences become memories, which build the relationships that ultimately drive business outcomes.

According to the report, “the value of delight is a 20-point-stronger relationship”.

These 2018 CX Trends were compiled by Pedro van Gaalen, a top contributor to

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