"If you haven't realized it already, you have to understand the binary shift that has happened from the brand being in control to the customer being in control, and it's a one-way street." That's how Ragy Thomas, founder and CEO of Sprinklr, put it as he sat down to discuss the future of customer experience. We had gotten together at the Collision Conference for my Futureproof podcast, and you could tell Thomas gets animated when he's discussing the topic of customer experience management, or CXM. "Customers expect zero friction at every touchpoint. Customers expect value delivered across the life cycle. And every part of that buying journey has changed."

The Future of Customer Experience (ft. Ragy Thomas of Sprinklr)

Thomas explains that these customers are relying on each other, not the brand, to evaluate whether or not a product is any good. These customers also expect advertising to be personalized--so you have to think about all the different variations of an ad based on what the customer cares about. You can A/B test some of those variations, but ultimately, you're getting real time feedback on a customer and their interests. There's no time to run a focus group, or even to send out a survey--and it's not like people are that enthusiastic about filling out surveys anyway. Conversations and reviews drive commerce.

Thomas says that Sprinklr believes that "care is the new marketing," because "if you piss people off, they're going to tell each other." What others say matters more than what you say, and is therefore more impactful than your own direct marketing efforts.

This new reality is what every brand has to be ready for, so winning brands need to continually ask themselves, "What does the customer want?" Winning brands will not only ask customers what they need, they will also hypothesize what customers want and actively try to meet those needs. Often, that will involve personalized, frictionless service at every touchpoint. As a matter of fact, reducing friction is a common topic these days. As time goes on, the customer is willing to tolerate less and less friction; in fact, reducing customer friction seems to be the only way to promote customer loyalty. Given that, I asked Thomas about potential friction points that will be disrupted over the next few years. "Everything, my friend," is how he answers, with dead certainly.

"Brands are trying a lot of things to reduce customer friction points," Augie Ray, the renowned Gartner customer experience analyst, recently told me. Ray cited the example of Amazon, which has reduced customer friction by implementing features and products such as Amazon Prime and one-click buying. He also cites Starbucks's mobile app, which provides a frictionless experience for caffeine-addicted consumers to quickly use the brand's loyalty system and check up on their points. "Lyft and Uber have made on-demand transportation so much easier," says Ray. "Instead of walking to a busy street, standing out in the rain or heat, and waving your hand like a lunatic until a cab stops, you can call transportation to your location, track its progress, and complete the transaction without exchanging cash or swiping a card."

The Importance of a Frictionless Customer Experience

Sprinklr's Thomas challenges us to think about a large company with seven business units--a Microsoft or Dell type--with every business unit operating in somewhere between 30 and 150 countries. In every country, they have at least five customer-facing functions: marketing, advertising, research, commerce, and care. In every function, they probably use somewhere between three and 30 channels to talk to the customer. In every channel, they have another solution focused on that channel alone. Due to all this organizational complexity, a true view of the customer is getting buried.

Where the customer sees that brand, the customer sees the company, and the trust gets eroded when someone lets them down on a channel anywhere in the world. And they're not upset with Sally who sent an impolite or incorrect email or tweet; they're upset with the company. Thomas predicts it will take approximately a decade for brands to mature to the point where they can incorporate feedback across all channels in a seamless manner.

"Embrace being customer-first," Thomas advises. "Implement CXM. I'm not asking you to pick Sprinklr. Go pick whatever is best for you. But just you've got to think everything has been disrupted." Marketing and advertising have been disrupted massively, and the world's largest company got there by simply being customer obsessed. As for the days of being product obsessed or brand obsessed, Thomas says, "I don't want to go to extremes, but I'd say customer-first is beating every other '-first' right now."

"In every industry, with the disruption that digital is bringing, more and more companies are coming with digital business models and really enabling frictionless experiences and resetting customer expectations that will come back and bite everyone in the category and around the world.... These brands are resetting customer expectations, and that's not just affecting their category. That's affecting everyone and every brand."

How much time do you spend on your getting your CXM right? Do you see it as a competitive advantage or a need-to-have? It seems like, for more and more companies, it's impossible to win at marketing if you don't simultaneously embrace CXM.

Jul 31, 2018