Five Years of Customer Experience Reflections. Five Strategies to Consider for 2023

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I published my first thought piece on CustomerThink.com back in April 2017, over 5 years ago. I was lucky enough to be asked to become a regular article writer and adviser later in 2018. As we draw towards the end of a turbulent year in the UK, I thought I’d reflect on my messages over those 5 years and look ahead to what we might expect to see in 2023.

Reflection, 2017 to 2022

When I reopened my 50+ blogs and articles on the site, I found that the topics could be categorised into 12 broad themes. I did try and precis these further, but there has been a considerable range of topics to discuss in the past 5 years, and 12 seemed about right. The 12 topics were not solely in the world of customer and customer experience, they covered:

  1. The importance of a North Star and customer ambition
  2. What it means to be customer-centric and organising around the customer
  3. Silos as blockers for CX, and the importance of collaboration and shared ownership
  4. Customer obsession and focusing on what matters most to customers
  5. Being human in a virtual world, and balancing and blending the phygital experience
  6. Appreciating customer emotion and not over-processing customer journeys
  7. Use of technology as an enabler, both as a cost saver and an enhancer
  8. Insight-driven growth, customer data, and listening strategies and ecosystem
  9. From multichannel to omnichannel to integrated experiences and channels
  10. Moving from transaction to relationship to drive customer lifetime value
  11. The role of employee engagement in delivering better experiences for customers
  12. New go to market models – the rise of subscriptions, memberships, direct to consumer, ‘servitisation’

Today – November 2022

According to a Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, 54% of consumers rate having a live agent as Important/Very Important when shopping online. We saw customer service levels plummet during the pandemic with long wait times. Fleet-of-foot organisations switched on the likes of conversational AI and live chat solutions.

Personalisation and relevance demands were responded to by investing in AI and machine learning tools that aim to enable organisations to better understand the needs, wants and expectations of their customers and create more human-like experiences within an ever more digitally orchestrated environment.

We have gone such a long way when it comes to digital products and emerging technology that seek to overcome many of the old customer pain points and that unite the customer’s entire experience across the growing plethora of touchpoints. Few have yet got the right blend of physical, virtual, human, and artificial in a seamless and connected way.

When I check the news headlines from The Telegraph in the UK (other broadsheets are available), they read:

  • US midterm elections | Donald Trump, the former US president, hailed a “brilliant” Republican midterms campaign
  • ‘Tacky’ | SNP MSP criticised for wearing pro-independence poppy
  • ‘Aggressive games’ | China planted spies in Canadian parliament
  • Ebola outbreak | 500 set to die as response repeats Wuhan mistakes
  • Meghan | Calling women bitches points to ‘awesome qualities’
  • The big story: Two million more pensioners to pay tax
  • Brexit blow as ministers find 1,400 extra EU laws
  • ‘Ding dong’: Carry On star Leslie Phillips dies aged 98
  • Around the world: Donetsk is ‘littered with bodies’

What a mixed bag of (largely depressing news) but it’s the reality that we and our customers find ourselves in today. There is no doubt that 2022 has presented not just the UK, but the world with many challenges, as well as economic turbulence, and political disruption. Irrespective of the challenges we have faced, customer expectations still grow and are grounded in today’s expectations, not the experience that they may not even remember from 2017 and before.

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Looking forward to 2023

It looks certain that the macroeconomic conditions will continue to be challenging in 2023, given concerns around energy, inflation, supply chains, geo-political tensions, and economic uncertainty.

A recent headline from Forbes, read “In 2023, 1 In 5 Customer Experience Programs Will Disappear.” I think the point here is that customer experience efforts (like many others) need to deliver on both brand & business ambitions and be grounded in evidence and data to prove themselves the best funding decision in order to survive this environment, in the short-term at least.

The constant from 2017 to today and to carry forward to 2023 is that customers need to feel heard, supported, and valued. Appreciating and acting upon this with contextual relevance is vital to not only meet the expectations of tomorrow’s customers but to capture their attention in a progressively noisy world.

Being ever hopeful that as a customer-centric community, we will continue to focus on the customer, making sure that they are heard, supported, and valued, here is part one of my list of things to consider for 2023. I will save part two (another 5 points) for my next thought piece:

1. Listen & Empower With Customer Insights

We know that most enterprise data remains scattered across silos, despite huge investments to connect organisational dots. It will become ever more imperative to connect customer listening, knowledge, and insights from all relevant channels and touchpoints, across the organisation. The convergence of primary and third-party data will serve to enable and empower across organisational levels and its departmental organisation. With this capability, the organisation can then begin to analyse customer interaction in real-time, predict likely behaviour, including churn and finally become proactive rather than reactive.

Something close to my own heart is human-centric experience design which considers both the rational and emotional context of consumers. The experience should be powered by these insights on a continuous basis to ensure that customer-oriented improvement and innovation become an everyday way of working.

2. Show You Know & Understand Customers With Personalisation

In 2020, Accenture published a study to show that 91% of customers are more likely to transact with brands that provide relevant “offers and recommendations.” However, the average organisation uses 976 different applications, many of which are poorly connected. The same study showed that the resulting data silos are a barrier to creating integrated customer experiences for a staggering 90% of organisations.

This resulting proliferation of views of the customer within the organisation can make it challenging to reclaim ownership of customer relationships and responsibility for orchestrating experiences across journeys. Platforms and data repositories can disintermediate direct customer relationships and are a weakness in creating more personalised customer experiences.

I have seen too many times that marketing is dogged by a concentration of important first-party customer data in a handful of third-party platforms within the company’s ecosystem. The data that is shared by customers is carefully limited, in part to preserve data privacy which has meant that experience improvement and innovation has been restricted to the capabilities of these platforms and the nature of the organisation’s consent strategy.

With the right data infrastructure in place, organisations can use the research and behavioural insights and segmentation they have, to target content and experiences that demonstrate that they recognise and value their customers. These insights are discernibly fuelled by customer data. These experiences need not only to demonstrate understanding and recognition, but they need to be personalised, relevant, and consistent across all touch points.

3. Invest In Relevant & Real Customer Engagement

Over the last year I’ve experienced the increasing scramble for customers’ attention and time in a very cluttered communication landscape. Active engagement is king. Engagement should be over the course of their life cycle with you and not at certain times to trigger a specific call to action at a single moment in time. Demonstrate to customers that it’s worth it for them to engage and show how they can get the most out of their investment in your brand.

Organisations need not only to meet customers where they are, but they need to be interacting with them in real-time, in a genuine voice, in a relevant way and proving that they are not only listening but considering what they need, rather than what the organisation wants. Moreover, how about considering the factors that are driving disengagement? When it comes to investing in the fusion of tools and content to engage, you’re more likely to resonate and hit the mark – and make them want to continue building a relationship.

4. Think About The Value You Provide To Customers In Exchange For Their Data

Still within the sphere of customer data (as it is going to be ever more key to customer experience transformation) organisations need to consider what value they aim to provide to their customers in exchange for their data. What are the use cases for the data at the outset? The key will be to understand and articulate what they want to do with their customers’ data then prioritising, building, having a transparent data dialogue with customers and ultimately delivering against it.

There is already a shift towards leveraging the value of first-party data, where organisations can cultivate these direct relationships with customers that they so desperately need. Technology (whether within its own ecosystem or via partners) is not the panacea. Organisations need to set out on a data journey that has a clear hypothesis related to the data (engagement, personalisation …) problem they’re trying to crack.

5. Leverage Additive Emerging Tech If It Has a Role in The Ecosystem and Builds Capability

Where to start with technology? There are too many facets to mention but let’s focus on a few that are often talked about or are on the horizon and which could irreparably impact the customer environment.

  • Cashless payments: Becoming the norm. Digital wallets appear to be the gateway for consumers to embrace cashier-less shopping in the physical world. According to Bridges 2020, 78% of consumers who made their most recent purchases using digital wallets are interested in making purchases via unattended channels. As new payment technologies improve, consumer attitudes toward innovation are likely to become more commonplace.
  • The metaverse: Largely underperformed against expectations. A Prosper Insights & Analytics survey showed that 46.5% of people have heard of it but don’t know what it is. According to Gartner, the adoption of metaverse technologies is still nascent and fragmented. They expect that it will take at least a decade before metaverse reaches mainstream adoption and it’s too soon to understand the roles the metaverse will play in the customer journey – so let’s revisit that one if I’m still writing on here at the beginning of the 2030s!
  • Web3: This is “a new stack of technologies built on blockchain protocols that support the development of decentralised web applications and enable users to control their own identity, content, and data to enhance the customer experience, whether through NFTs, virtual outfits or virtual experiences”. To what degree and when this will begin to materialise, remains to be seen.
  • Digital Twin: Digital twins of physical products and infrastructure have been transforming how the world of manufacturing operates for some time. The original digital twins were toasters, ovens, or cars i.e. they were digital replicas of real-world products, placed in hypothetical environments. Manufacturers could use these twins to respond to changes, and predict problems in advance. Gartner predicts that digital twins of a customer (DToC) could transform the way companies deliver experiences in the near term. I am having more and more conversations about the use of digital twins or digital personas with clients – how could they use data and machine learning to simulate customer behaviour to tackle use cases or problem statements that are encountered. Forrester claims that these personally curated twins will act as a ‘buffer’, delivering only interactions and services that are actually wanted by the individual customer at that specific time. Our customer experiences in our personal ecosystems would be constantly and continually optimised – this moves personalisation onto a whole new level.

What Now?

Having revisited the themes from the last five years, my messages over time have not been that dissimilar. What is different today, is the pace of change, the development and adoption of new and better technologies, the availability of data, and the ‘cloud’. We can then throw in cybersecurity and data integrity issues, with a not insignificant smattering of a global pandemic which has been a catalyst for a more digital world for us all, and that has made us (arguably) more resilient and adaptable.

I do believe that much has changed for me as a customer for the better – I’m thinking not least of email becoming an outdated customer engagement solution, now having (too) many useful apps, access to web portals and beneficial online communities.

Direct customer relationships should be a key imperative for every organisation in 2023 – in the right and relevant way for both customer and company.

My final thoughts: Keep being customer-obsessed, make sure everyone in the organisation knows and focuses on what matters most to your customers, and together you will have Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.

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