Every few years, a business philosophy or mode of thinking magically makes it to top of minds and headlines. If you're a startup founder trying to quickly acquire customers, you likely hear " growth hacker" thrown around more than average when asking around about obligatory new hires. For professional communicators preoccupied with the art and science of it all, "data-driven storytelling" is the term du jour. As of late, if you're remotely close to brand strategy or customer success, you've probably become extremely familiar with the concept of customer experience, or "CX" for short.

From the cultivation of customer loyalty to predictions about shifting consumer expectations, the importance of CX is becoming blatantly obvious, and companies across the globe are starting to integrate it with a broader range of business operations. This has coincided with a reconsideration of what CX can do for a company, including providing invaluable consumer data, reinforcing a brand's positive image in the minds of its customers, and ultimately reducing churn.

According to a few folks who are pioneering everything from CX-related technology to new ways of thinking about the future of customer relationship management, here are five trends that companies should watch closely over the next five years.

Trend 1: Connecting CX to business objectives

While it may seem obvious that companies attempt to modify customer experience in order to improve business outcomes, many professionals believe it's difficult to make this connection explicit. Webb Stevens is the head of CX products at Qualtrics, and he says only 14 percent of practitioners see a direct and intelligible relationship between CX and business results: "This perception is undergoing a shift as technology improves, essentially connecting CX and business outcomes more effectively."

One of the most significant ways CX data can be a driver of increased sales, exposure, and loyalty is as a predictor of future consumer behavior. As Stevens notes, "We need to anticipate the needs of the consumer." He also explains that companies need to develop their CX platform internally: "Those who are outsourcing 'experience management' are being outcompeted by those who are bringing it in-house."

This point was echoed by executives who were surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services last year. For example, 87 percent of respondents said it's essential to have the data necessary to study CX if they want to see improved outcomes. However, three-quarters of executives report that they don't have enough access to the technology that could provide this data. It's only a matter of time before this gap closes, and your company needs to be capable of keeping pace with its own in-house CX data.

Trend 2: Competitive brands will make personalization a top priority

The data companies use to improve CX also allows them to personalize products and services more effectively than ever before. Consumers increasingly expect brands to provide them with experiences that are tailored to their individual wants and needs.

Jamie Thorpe, commercial director of customer experience at Kantar TNS, notes this trend aligns with one of the core concepts of CX: "Because customers believe that brands have access to their data, the power has somewhat shifted to the customer. They expect brands to give them relevant and timely promotions, products, or services based on their personalized data. In other words, consumers expect brands to know them."

According to Segment's 2017 State of Personalization Report, 71 percent of consumers find impersonal experiences frustrating. As companies get better at personalization and consumer expectations continue to shift, businesses should expect this number to get even larger.

Trend 3: Predictive analytics will be used to improve CX

Ryan Smith, CEO at Qualtrics and forward-thinking leader in holistic experience management across an organization explains it succinctly: "At present, CX is mostly post-mortem. Through cross-functional collaboration enabled by technology, we are attempting to give companies the information required to do a pre-mortem in order to better ensure outcomes. But this shift to predictive CX is difficult for many brands, and the industry, to accept."

According to a 2016 Aberdeen Group report, companies that use predictive analytics are almost twice as likely to generate year-over-year customer lifetime value, which Aberdeen defines as the "consistent satisfaction of buyer expectations combined with the ability to grow client spend."

Doug Miller is the VP of customer success at AirPR Software, and he points out that companies also need to start interpreting predictive data in the larger context of their brand's image and reach: "Understanding the power of voice and sentiment about your offering versus competitive offerings will be foundational to more highly predictive churn and renewal modeling."

When a company is capable of anticipating what its customers want, it can adopt proactive measures to keep them satisfied instead of constantly scrambling to respond to complaints and shifting attitudes.

Trend 4: A company's culture and philosophy is crucial

While businesses will be left behind if they don't have the ability to collect predictive data about their customers, technology alone isn't sufficient to provide customer experiences that lead to revenue growth, more market share, etc. CX needs to be an integral part of a company's culture - the technology discussed above will only be effective if it's part of a broader effort to improve customer experience at every level.

Megan Burns is an analyst at Experience Enterprises, and she explains that data isn't helpful to companies that don't know how to use it: "There are so many technologies that are coming out right now - predicting and anticipating needs. In a lot of companies applying those to CX is like tuning up a 15-year-old car. Their basic model is outdated. I hope they will start to see technology as a means to an end, as opposed to the panacea."  

According to Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends 2016, a survey of more than 7,000 executives in 130 countries revealed that only 28 percent of them "believe they understand their culture well, while only 19 percent believe they have the 'right culture.'"

Trend 5: CX is about providing the right experience for each customer

One of the biggest challenges for brands is to identify exactly what their customers want and deliver it. As Burns notes, "CX isn't about luxury or more service - it's about making it the right experience for what the customer is asking for." This is an old principle, but it remains the best guide for navigating the new era in customer experience.

Although many companies recognize the vital role of CX in customer retention, there's still a disconnect between their CX goals and what's actually being done to accomplish them. A 2017 report from Boston Retail Partners highlights this discrepancy: "While 40 percent of retailers indicate they are focused on personalization as a top digital priority, many are not currently offering the personalized services consumers expect."

CXOs should recognize that we're entering a uniquely difficult era for companies trying to distinguish themselves with superior customer experiences.

Smith offers food for thought: "Most fears are with the technology and how to make it work cross-functionally. CX is not a department, it's a way of thinking."

Published on: Apr 24, 2018