In 2018, the wish to learn what the future holds is on the rise, so we asked five experienced businesspeople to give us their own Customer Experience predictions for the next year.

1. Paul Jarrett, MD & Founder of Sonin:

Businesses who want to win in 2018 need to focus on Customer Experience

When we talk about big digital and marketing trends, Customer Experience has been pretty high for the past few years. But today it sits firmly at number one. Why? Because it’s not just something businesses need to be aware of, but something that business performance now relies on. Both today and even more so for 2018 and beyond.

The link between Customer Experience and business performance has never been so clear-cut and the evidence to prove the business benefits is huge. It sits at the centre of everything we do and is by far the most exciting and important opportunity for businesses. We know that customer behaviour is evolving rapidly and when we look at customer and businesses interactions smartphones have become a core channel. When we think about it, our mobiles are our go-to devices for everything. We carry them with us all day-every day and they know more about us than anyone else in our lives. Making them an essential tool for life. And as mobile continues to reinforce its position at the centre of our ecosystems, brands need to ensure they aren’t losing out.

We need to shift our mindset from simply using technology because we’re told to, to creating services that solve real customer problems. We need to use technology to provide something of value to our customers which in turn enhances their experience.

The mobile-first leaders

Over the past few years we’ve seen a number of mobile first companies explode from the technology world, including Uber, Airbnb, Monzo, and Tinder. All of which provide a Customer Experience that is worlds apart from their pre-existing competitors. They’ve exploited global smartphone adoption to provide a more exciting, personal, and instantaneous service. And each of these companies have grown to be leaders within their industries in a relatively short space of time.

The reason behind their success? These companies have provided a service that is quicker, easier, and more exciting than their competitors. They have mapped out each step of their customer journey and understood where mobile can enhance the experience. They have listened to what their customers want and turned multi-stage journeys into quick processes with only one or two steps.

Take Uber for example. Remember when we had to call a taxi company, provide them with details of your location, and then make sure we had enough cash to pay for it? Uber takes care of every single one of those stages now. We just need to open the app and request a ride. Uber handle the location points and the payments. What makes this even more exciting however, is that today we don’t even need to open the app. We can simply ask our phone to order an Uber. A journey of six or more stages has become one.

The secret to improving the customer experience ultimately comes down to understanding your customers. Understanding their motivations, their needs and what they want at different stages within their journey. This enables us to create quicker, more efficient and seamless journeys.

Our most prized possession

It’s no secret that we live in a mobile-first world – our phones are our most prized possession. So enhancing the Customer Experience on mobile should be a key priority for 2018 if it’s not already. You need to look at transforming your services to make your customers’ lives easier. Brands succeeding today put Customer Experience at the heart of their strategy. And in doing so it enables them to create better products. This can be achieved through two things: promoting a customer-first culture internally and undertaking significant user research.

The leaders of today, in both digital and traditional industries, put Customer eEperience at the core of their business strategy. This customer-centric approach will become a bigger reality in 2018, particularly as businesses establish permanent cross-functional teams who are responsible for entire customer journeys. However, becoming customer-centric is not a quick overnight change but a long-term evolution. You need to think about how to empower your employees to think customer-first. Without the support from employees, businesses will fail at the first hurdle.

The voice of the customer

We also find that the most successful apps and digital products need to provide value for both the business and the customer. So, before we think about building any digital products for our clients, we work closely with them on defining the ultimate Customer Experience. This means user research is a priority, particularly for understanding both the needs and digital behaviours of your customers.

Mapping the customer journey and identifying each touch point, both online and offline, helps to determine pain points, key interactions, and where opportunities lie. Create conversations that give your customers a voice and listen to what they have to say. Use channels such as chatbots or voice assistants and technology such as AI sentiment analysis to gain a true picture of your customers. It will define both your vision and your strategy and save significant time and product development costs in the long run.

Only then do we think about which technology to use. Choosing the technology to adopt comes second. It’s key not to get drawn in and implement all new technology, but focus and invest your efforts in the technology that your users want and need.

The next generation of consumer experience is evolving quickly, and if brands fail to keep up the impact could be devastating. It’s a huge ask to get businesses to change their structure and strategy for their customers, but the rewards that come with it are equally as huge. Businesses that fail to evolve and become customer-centric will follow in the steps of those who failed to evolve with the internet.

2. Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO at Calabrio:

 Customer Experience strategy shifts from ‘customer-centric’ to ‘employee-centric’

Between calls, texts, chatbots, and emerging voice assistance channels like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, customers have more options than ever to interact with brands.

We can expect even more communication channels to emerge in 2018, adding to the complexity of how brands serve their customers. A breaking point is imminent for the front line contact center agents who are on the receiving end of increasingly complicated customer issues.

New research shows that 56 percent of agents are already challenged with complex issues. What’s more, 60 percent of agents say that their companies don’t provide adequate technology to handle these problems, leaving them stressed out and increasingly unengaged.

In order to continue to deliver on the promise of a great customer experience, brands must refocus on their people and technology integrations. In doing so, employees become empowered to quickly make informed decisions and deliver on the service modern consumers expect.

A new definition of the contact center in the age of IoT  

The emergence of smart technology and IoT will continue to change the definition of a customer service representative. One of the benefits of connected devices and appliances is that they can report issues directly to the company, completely bypassing the need for consumers to contact the brand when there’s an issue.

The question then becomes, “Who is the contact center agent?” In many cases, it is a repair person or someone in manufacturing who can fix the problem directly. We will see that it’ll become increasingly challenging to define the front line of Customer Experience in the world of IoT. This will require companies to rethink how they train, staff and equip different departments across an organisation. The role of customer service becomes the responsibility of employees beyond the traditional contact center agent.

3. Meyar Sheik, CEO and Co-Founder, Certona:

Mobile has re-written the retail playbook over the last couple of years, with its dominance set to continue in 2018. This comes as no surprise, as consumers increasingly want more convenience and ease, shopping wherever, whenever, and on whatever device they choose.

Mobile has become the connector between the virtual and physical worlds, enabling shoppers to move between sales channels, whether it’s comparing the price of an item before entering a store or using a mobile device to purchase goods online and collecting them in store at a later date.

Considering this, if a retailer’s mobile Customer Experience isn’t up to scratch, it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the performance of the rest of their channels, digital or physical. Retailers who haven’t already taken steps to optimise their mobile Customer Experience will be forced to adapt.

Next year, image-based, voice enabled search and product discovery on mobile will continue to gain momentum. As we move further into a mobile-first world, retailers must ensure they are ready to meet the demand of time and attention-poor consumers by optimising digital offerings to provide the best possible experience.

This means ensuring the same personalised experience is replicated across all channels, from mobile to desktop. Providing this is all about context, especially for mobile shoppers who are looking for products as and when they need them. Retailers should look to leverage historical and real-time information such as location, weather, and inthemoment shopping behaviours to provide content and product recommendations that are relevant and delivered at the right time to ease the discovery process. Personalisation in this way will continue to drive differentiated Customer Experiences and competitive advantages for retailers over the next 12 months.

 

4. Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, Co-founder & CEO of TwentyThree

 More brands will experiment with virtual reality

Not so long ago, virtual reality seemed like a futuristic technology that would never make it into the homes of consumers. But today, VR headsets are becoming increasingly mainstream, and at a rapid rate. In fact, Statistia, one of the leading statistics companies, estimates that by 2020, 82 million VR headsets will be sold – a 1507 percent increase from 2017 predictions. And with that, we’ll see more brands acting on the opportunity to reach customers through this lifelike, interactive medium.

Live streaming

Features like Facebook Live have made live streaming easy and accessible for marketers around the world. And livestreaming on a native website where marketers can control the user experience will continue to grow in 2018.

Live video is three times more engaging than pre-recorded video. So how will this change in 2018? Other than more brands experimenting with the tool, live streaming is predicted to become more interactive. For example, Amstel Radler hosted a customer-led live stream, where viewers controlled the content based on how they were engaging with the video.

Personalised video content

The greatest advantage of using video content is its ability to feel human and connect with your audience. In 2018, we’ll see this taken further, with brands using personalised marketing, sales, and customer service videos to help build relationships and gain customer trust.

Video marketing automation

Moving prospects down the funnel has been accelerated through video – especially with the emergence of Video Marketing Platforms that convert users and syncs data with existing marketing automation softwares.

In 2018, video will become more integrated into all areas of the marketing funnel. In fact, it’s been proven that emails with video have a 63 percent higher click through rate and landing pages with video can increase conversions by 80 percent or higher.

360-degree videos

This form of immersive video is becoming increasingly popular for brands. Google found in their own study that 360-degree video drove 41 percent more earned actions than the standard ad.

Videos will last longer

While it’s still important to make short videos to capture the attention of an audience, longer videos drive more engagement. Our State of Online Video report, released earlier this year, showed that videos can last for more than 90 seconds. Although 80 percent of videos are under five minutes, they drive less than a third of overall video engagement. In 2018, we expect to see longer and more engaging videos which last for at least 15 minutes, as they bring in over half of all video engagement despite making up just eight percent of all video.

5. Vicki Cantrell, Retail Transformation Officer at Aptos

 Mobile is never-ending and never finished

Mobile has been an initiative for retailers for years and has come a long way. In 2017, 29 percent of sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday occurred on mobile e-commerce websites and apps.

Mobile is an extension of the store, and retailers must be able to facilitate rapid delivery of everything available in-store on mobile devices, and then some. In 2018, retailers must continue to improve their mobile platform capabilities so that it works seamlessly or risk losing sales. This goes for mobile applications and in the mobile web browser.

Retailers will shift their organisations to be truly customer centric.

How a retailer is perceived by consumers and the experience that consumers have in stores and online, is critical to success and retailers must include empathy and emotion to correctly measure the overall Customer Experience.

If a retailer is not organised properly to be customer-centric, they need to take action to realign the company. In addition to the people/work required, they must ensure they can capture and centralise customer data and insights from in-store and online interactions. For some organisations, this will require a complete transformation of their data storage processes and architecture. 

Once retailers have the customer-centric data, they must know what to do with it. Analysis tools that deliver actionable data and enable organisations to correctly respond to changing conditions with actionable and repeatable processes at the point of service – whether instore or online, will be key.

More focus on the customer journey

Retailers must be able to assist customers before, during, and after they enter the store. Before consumers visit a brick-and-mortar retailer, many check online first to ensure the specific item they are looking for is in stock.

If the retailer is not able to provide this information, the customer may look to a competitor instead. Once the customer is in the store, the experience must be as positive and seamless as possible, and the journey does not stop after the purchase. Post sale follow-up in the form of customer experience surveys, review requests, etc. and other tactics are common place.

Promotions designed to encourage repeat sales – discounts, personalised recommendations, etc – are essential. In 2018, retailers must be aware of how they are interacting with consumers and how they are perceived by consumers at all times.

Pop-ups power retailers’ Customer Experience reinvention

For many retailers, pop-ups are quickly becoming a critical part of the store experience reinvention journey. In fact, a recent study shows that pop-up stores now account for more than $50 billion a year in revenue. I

f done properly, these unique stores allow retailers to experiment and find out which consumer experiences work and which fall flat. In many ways, experimenting with pop-ups enables retailers to go on a reinvention journey without making long-term commitments or investments. They also enable retailers to measure the impact of a new physical experience within their complete, omni-channel ecosystem, before rolling out chain-wide.

As retailers continue to figure out the best ways to leverage new experiences and technologies along the shopper journey, I predict that pop-ups will find their way to more retailers’ agendas in 2018.

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