by Dominic Stinton, partner at Open Reply

If the latest business forecasts from the likes of McKinsey and Gartner are anything to go by, customer experience seems to be the hot topic for businesses wishing to compete on more than just brand, product and price. But try buying a rail season ticket online, or booking a sailing holiday in the Med with a villa option at the end (that’s me), and you’ll soon discover that brilliant customer experience is still tantalisingly out of reach for the most part.

Whilst we thankfully don’t live in the early 2000s anymore, when most companies insisted on communicating solely by snail mail, there are still lots of irritating creases to iron out before demanding consumers can enjoy customer experiences that are more ahhh than arrrgh.

Here are my top five trend predictions for how customer experience delivery will evolve in the near future:

1. When digital overpromises, but the real world underdelivers

We appear to be in the middle of a gold rush where any spare room, car or driveway can be re-appropriated with a handy app to provide cash for household entrepreneurs. The app feels seamless- “look how quick and easy it is to use!” – but the experience itself, often managed by ordinary members of the general public, is lacking. Whilst Uber, Airbnb and those like them have lit a flame under some lazy industries, we predict that the professional businesses they have threatened will come back with a vengeance. They ultimately have the people and processes to make a core experience enjoyable and seamless.

2. Blockchain: Say goodbye to controlling interests

Whilst Blockchain’s true potential awaits a full and satisfactory explanation before it gets marketers excited, we know enough to start envisaging what new digital networks might look like. These networks will be designed to be open and consensual. It means that transactions within them don’t need to be verified by any controlling third parties such as banks and local councils, or even spoiled by rogue agents like ticket touts, but can happen instantaneously and cleanly, rather like Bitcoin transactions. We believe the implementation of Blockchain will have a profound effect on customer experience. Buying and returning goods will become even easier, it will be harder for counterfeit goods to get into the system, and arduous tasks like switching car insurance will become simple and instantaneous.

3. How do you do: New partnerships and the protection of core competences

Whether it’s Morrison’s signing up with Amazon, or eBay getting into bed with Argos, more brands are recognising that it’s time they played to their strengths – rather than trying to be something they’re not, and annoying their customers. This is of course good news for brand builders and great news for the consumer. Challenges will remain as different organisations have to synchronise their systems to work with one another. Deep linking, for example, which allows for seamless transition between different branded apps, still has a long way to go to be optimal.

4. Parallax paralysis

Someone once said that the web is the ultimate meritocracy. I’d suggest that Ferrari’s website doesn’t feel that different to Peugeot’s, and this is a phenomenon that contrasts with the offline experience of walking into their showrooms. There are too many websites that basically all look the same (yes, those Parallax-designed websites). We believe this meritocracy has been created by the job of brand differentiation historically happening somewhere else other than the website, primarily by advertising. By the time we arrive on a brand’s website, all we want is to get on and buy what we’d like. Yet the growing trends of a younger generation not watching traditional commercial television, the rise of ad blockers, and the surge of time spent browsing and researching online vs. purchasing, means that websites will need to try harder to do their persuading there and then. This is creating a conundrum for traditional UX designers, who often view ‘brand’ as an irritation that gets in the way of simple navigation towards a transaction. UX and brand designers need to work more closely together to create customer experiences that are not only intuitive and seamless, but aspirational and emotionally engaging. I believe this is the only way that good customer experience and premium-sustained pricing can live side-by-side.

5. The future of customer experience… lies with our children

Apparently classical Greek education was built on encyclopedic principles. A pupil was expected to be proficient in sports, sciences, philosophy and the arts – it wasn’t enough to be good at just one element. Yet today we seem split between the arts and the sciences, as if education has drawn a line in the sand, like the the pointless war between Blur and Oasis in the 90s. I strongly believe that great customer experience lies at the apex of technology and a deep understanding of the human condition. As long as we support the stereotypical model of ‘geeks’ designing technology and ‘creatives’ designing ideas, we will be stuck in the twilight world of poor customer experience. This means a good idea comes undone in execution, or a robust digital application is launched which no-one understands. So this last trend is a difficult one to navigate, as it’s rather out of our hands. The very least we can do as agencies or brand owners, is to hire from as broad and diverse a base as possible, until that day arrives when we are all properly proficient in the arts and the sciences, and there is no such thing as a BA or BSC.

Interesting links:

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