“We put our customers at the heart of what we do!” This was the war cry of 2018 from the marketing community.

Marketers and CX practitioners claimed that a customer-centric approach was their key focus. However, a recent Forrester Opportunity Snapshot revealed that 82 percent of brands claimed a customer-led approach in their journey planning, with only 13 percent having successfully achieved it.

We all know well that positive customer expectations and business fortunes are inextricably linked. In light of this, how do we start to make customer centricity a reality in 2019? How do we successfully carry out the promise of the past year?

It is essential that brands understand and develop complex relationships with customers at scale and “engage, engage, engage”. Too often, organisations plan customer journeys with only a brand-led ‘dictated’ approach. It’s time to do better. Technology can fully sustain brands’ aspirations to provide personal and positive experiences. With technology, we must foster relationships, and ensure that this evolving relationship is driven by the customer, not controlled by the brand. This is how brands make steps towards customer-centricity – they must enable customer journeys, not dictate.

Allow journeys to evolve over time, this will lead to better engagement

In life, we are all grappling with the concept of time. This is never more evident than at the changing of a year. As we move towards New Year’s Eve, we reflect on the past 12 months; we take stock of what we have done, how far we have come and how long it has taken us to achieve the successes and peaks of 2018. However, when considering the change we want to make in 2019, we do not need to feel the pressure of time. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb – the best time to start enabling was yesterday. The second best time is today.

If, as a brand, you are looking to improve your customer journey and level of customer engagement do not feel daunted by the year ahead. Associated change does not have to be painful, and focusing on customers is not at the expense of revenue, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Connecting your channels to reveal “true customer journeys” is feasible within a matter of weeks.

Empowering your customers to follow their own journeys is the future and requires a strategic shift in approach. While it is quick to implement, remember you are in this for the long term. It is important to facilitate customer journeys that analyse and traverse all touchpoints that evolve over time, with the aim of providing better long-term experience and growth. Traditional campaigns generate insights, awareness and short-term revenue. But they tend to talk at customers, treat channels separately and are ultimately perishable.

To achieve sustainable competitive advantage in 2019, B2C marketers must deliver real time, two-way insight, driven interactions with individual customers. This way you foster relationships and ensure a longer term involvement with your key stakeholder.

The year of the ‘engagement paradigm’: conducting an intent driven journey

Moving into 2019, it is clear that we are now operating in a world with multiple business models of innovation and varied digital economies. There is the sharing economy (think Uber, AirBnb), the Subscription economy (Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer) and the Direct to Consumer economy. The thread that links these all together is that each of these economies are grounded in the principle of the ‘Engagement Paradigm’ – a principle that encourages brands to nurture customer relationships, create long term value and help the customer identify and meet their own needs.

The new cultivated customer of 2019 is curious, demanding and impatient and brands need to show up, wise up and speed up.

In 2019 customers have two expectations – to be treated appropriately and to not have their time wasted. By adopting the principle of the Engagement Paradigm brands can create better experiences than the competition. They do this by using technology to interpret the signals emitted from millions of interactions and touchpoints to understand who is engaging, and crucially what they seek throughout the journey. This requires a philosophical shift and the business needs to ask “what does this customer need?”, rather than “what are we trying to sell?”.

At my firm, Thunderhead, we call this an “intent-driven” approach to customer journeys. Intent-driven journeys hand significant control to customers, recognising their individual goals and helping them reach them quickly. This style of approach allows a business to mobilise communications, sales staff or call operators to attend to the customer, satisfy their requests and needs, and put them firmly where they belong – at the centre.

The year of the ‘Elite Customer Squad’

As boards grapple with the commercial benefits and operational ramifications of putting customers at the heart of the business, a customer-focused superteam has emerged to turn intentions into reality. The CMO is joined by the CTO, CIO, CCO and, most recently, Chief Customer Experience Officer. This elite customer squad – and the focus on real journeys – helps to ease the essential organisational shift from being brand- to customer-focused, considering culture, KPIs and collaborative working practices.

This team also become the ambassadors of ensuring brand safety. Trust continues to be an issue for brands; issues from data leakage, misuse of personal data, commoditisation and trade in personal data continue to plague the pages of the newspaper and therefore instilling a sense of safety and protection is essential to guarantee confidence in your brand moving into the New Year.

 AI:  It is not “magic dust”, but it is critical

AI is high on all the prediction lists for 2019. However, cautionary notes from industry luminaries and leaders are creeping into the conversation. A senior Google executive recently reminded us that AI is not “magic dust” that can be sprinkled over the enterprise with transformative effect.

At Thunderhead, we see the focus on AI in 2019 doing the important and critical work behind the scenes around sense-making, information analysis and decision making. For instance, thanks to AI, we can understand and orchestrate complex, content-driven and ‘live’ customer journeys at incredible magnitude.

24-hour zero party data

 Steve Coogan’s 24 Hour Party People might be the film you have locked in your mind as you approach the end of 2018, but 2019 is all about ‘zero party data’

Consumers increasingly want control over data and how it is used. The solution is zero-party data. A type of data that is never inferred through income or device matching, nor is it merely observed through spending behaviours or cookie data.

Zero-party data allows brands to build direct relationships with consumers, and in turn, better personalise their marketing efforts, services, offers and product recommendations. According to Forrester, “creating a systematic, engaging process for collecting zero-party data is a great way to build that trust and then continue engaging the customer over time”.

Marketers use data within every area of their role. In 2019 it is important that third-party data is not amassed from a host of unrelated and unreliable sources like credit scores, cookies and click trails as it is guaranteed this will not only damage your relationship with your customer, but also inevitably lead to you conducting an out of touch and unsuccessful campaign.

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