Five Trends Shaping The Future of Customer Experience In 2017

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It’s that time of year! The 20-somethings drink too much at the holiday party, you book your ski season Airbnb, watch Elf and The Holiday, and reflect back on the year behind you. And as is custom here on Forbes I look at the year ahead in customer experience. In my customer experience predictions for 2015 I highlighted multi-channel customer experience, self-service, social customer support tools, how-to content, and increasing c-suite attention on customer experience. As for my customer experience predictions for 2016 I discussed video customer service, mobile CRM technology, on-demand agent technology, internet of things, and big data. Guess what? All of those things are still hot! In fact customer experience has never been hotter. CEOs now want to be involved in customer experience and generally someone in the c-suite has been allocated to lead it. Social networks became even more powerful in 2016, with Microsoft purchasing LinkedIn and Snapchat valued at $25 billion.

Facebook made a huge customer service push with the launch of Facebook chatbots offering customers the ability to make simple transactions. However some say that these chatbots are not making the cut because the level of personalization isn’t there. We’re all waiting for Snapchat’s API to configure customer service applications, and the world waits to see what will happen to Twitter. The gap between the high performing companies and those that are waiting around to be disrupted grows in 2017.

The people like me who study this stuff bang our head against the wall when we’re re-routed with terrible phone tree technology. We want to shout from the rooftops when we call our bank and repeat the same 30 questions every time, with every department. In contrast we sing for joy when we shop on Amazon and in less than 30 seconds are presented with an item that perfectly meets our needs and is validated by 100′s of other trusted shoppers.

Looking back, 2016 wasn’t exactly an easy year for consumers. Brexit, a tumultuous and surprising U.S. presidential election, and the immigration crisis has left many with a bad taste in their mouth. No matter what is going on in the world practitioners must continue to show up for work every day to bring the best experience possible to their customers, and there is no better time to reflect on the next year than around the holiday season. That’s why I’m bringing you my top five customer experience predictions for 2017. What can we expect to see more of in 2017?

My Top Five Customer Experience Predictions For 2017

1. A Whole Lot Of IoT (No Eye Rolling Allowed)
I know you are so sick of seeing these three letters, aren’t you? But seriously this stuff is pretty amaayzing. Don’t you want to wake up in the morning, look at your phone and get your coffee brewing? Check out Spinn coffee.  IoT will completely change the game for companies – all of our products and devices will soon be connected, and this is good and bad. It’s good because companies will have much more data to personalize our experiences. Our lives will be made easier through improved user experiences. But IoT devices must be made secure. Why do I mention this? The unthinkable happened! This year a hacker brought down the internet causing extended outages on Twitter, Spotify, SoundCloud and many other networks, and did so using hundreds of thousands of internet connected devices such as web cameras and routers.

Not to ruin the party but IoT presents a security threat and IoT devices in the future can actually kill people. Yah, I know–pretty scary. Security researcher Brian Krebs blamed “super-empowered individuals who have been quietly building extremely potent cyber weapons with transnational reach.” Pretty scary for any company today thinking about the security of its customers. Hire those security experts!

Since I’ve probably bummed you out with the IoT fear factor let’s remember recent highlights of IoT. In the last few years we’ve seen a Barbie that listens and responds, a smart Absolut Vodka bottle, a wearable band that offers you tailored experiences around Disney World, and the ability to unlock your doors at home with an app. At home I enjoy my August Smart Lock which allows me to open my front door from my phone. Are you feeling better about IoT yet? Are you on board with the fitness IoT craze? Are you OCD about your steps like I am? I use a FitBit Blaze which looks stylish and tells me information about my work-outs. My IoT Fitbit Aria scale sends information to my phone and computer about my weight and body fat. Thought you’d heard it all? Not a chance. Now even Crockpot offers a slow cooker that you can turn on and off remotely. A Tesla car gets a remote update just like the iphone. IoT is a huge customer communication opportunity for companies as well. At no point in history did brands have the opportunity to talk to customers all morning and night. If I’m awake my Fitbit is on my wrist, and Fitbit could conceivably send me a message at anytime. That’s a pretty exciting proposition for companies, but they need to handle it wisely.

2. Machine Learning Can Improve Most Customer Experiences

Watch Westworld? How about the show Humans? In the HBO series Westworld, these robots are given consciousness and the question is addressed, “are robots heroes, villains or just appliances?”Machine learning is a kind of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Our main frustration as customers with tools like chatbots, or even phone trees, is generally they aren’t able to effectively listen and interpret customers. For now robots like Pepper—a robot that is used by Pizza Huts in Asia to take orders, provide nutritional information and accept payments—isn’t everywhere, but eventually they will be. In fact Amazon just launched its first register-less store. Customers can swipe their phone upon entering the store and simply take what they want and leave the store. They’re using a mix of technologies including machine learning to make this happen.

Machine learning is a powerful way to access information about your customers in order to personalize the experience to meet their needs. Machine learning can access huge data sets through the cloud, including data your company might not collect itself, such as social media analytics and information from retailers. The cloud allows users to aggregate huge amounts of data to give instant insights and predictive analysis. Microsoft customer Real Madrid (beloved soccer team) uses machine learning to analyze all their passionate fans who come to their website or connects with them on social media and breaks them into sub-groups. For example, some people are fans of a particular player rather than the whole team, so that sub-group gets messages about player news, uniforms, and appearances. Fans who have never been to a game get information on how to watch the games online and can even get product recommendations based on what team gear they have purchased previously. By breaking their fans into micro-markets, Real Madrid can provide personal experiences to each fan that best meets their needs. Machine learning can be a hugely powerful tool for brands. You might not be building a human-like robot, but you can leverage machine learning to provide more tailored content, experiences and more.

3. Data Defines Your Customer Experience

Data is hugely important to your ability to transform your business, and every company today needs to be in the process of some kind of business transformation leveraging its data. There are many types of data you can put to work for your company. Even data from your brand’s chatbot. But brands need to do a better job of enabling their chatbots and other forms of artificial intelligence to do work based on all the data from the customer including real-time and behavioral. Switching gears here, let’s think about ways you can leverage customer data from your CRM to create more tailored experiences. I went to Sephora the other day and got my make-up done. The make-up artist took three pictures of my face with a technology product created by Pantone. I was then provided with an ipad that listed the complimentary products for my skin tone. I later received a follow up email with more suggested products. Sephora matched this information about my skin tone with my VIP account, and they now have that information in their system forever. Companies are starting to get smarter about how they leverage their customer data to improve both online and in-person experiences. For example some brands are even leading the charge of cognitive analytics, which use facial recognition software and security cameras to detect who a customer is when they walk into a store. The system can then provide customer service and sales recommendations to associates in the store. That makes for a much more personalized experience for the shopper. For example let’s say I walk into a store and through facial recognition technology that store knows I am Blake Morgan. The sales associate learns I have a preference for A-line skirts, a baby girl at home and my husband’s birthday is in August. That information would be hugely beneficial to that sales associate when making suggestions. Of course there is a fine line between helpful and creepy, but the technology is there to provide those tailored experiences. It’s up to the brand to leverage them in a tasteful way.

4. Smart Diagnostics

I recently had my entire family stay with me over the Thanksgiving holiday. Did you brave that one too? It’s always a fun time but feels a little like a hurricane moved through my house – in a good way of course! Visitors means a lot of sheets and towels to wash. Needless to say I broke my washer. I have a new LG washer, and—together with the customer service agent, I used the remote diagnostic button on the washer. I held my iPhone up to the washer, the washer made some beeping sounds and sent information to the agent. Unfortunately for whatever reason it didn’t work-and they had to send a guy named Steve! But I’m sure LG and other companies will improve their Smart Diagnostics technology in the near future. Increasingly we will see more companies leveraging remote diagnostic tools, helping products diagnose and fix themselves. Content can also be tailored to information sent to the agent from the product. For example with IoT devices agents can use that information to provide more value to the customer in real-time. For example, if I’m a customer and I call a bank from my car and the agent at the bank sees that I’m driving and where I’m driving, they can make small-talk with me about my local weather. They will know to only give me information over the phone knowing I can’t read or go to a website while I’m driving. As more of our products are connected, agents are better able to solve customer problems without having the customer submit extensive amounts of information.

5. Mobile Everything
This year over black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, one third of all purchases made were transacted over the phone. Why are we still even calling it a phone? No one is talking! But back to the point, Black Friday became the first day ever to generate over a billion dollars in sales from mobile devices with $1.2 billion, a 33% increase over 2015, according to Adobe Digital Insights. And this is what the research says as well. According to the recent Salesforce State of the Connected Customer Report, customers have heightened expectations. Over a third of millennials have researched a product online via a mobile device while in a store (38%), and nearly one-fourth have even purchased a product online from a mobile device while in a store (23%). All companies today need to have a mobile first approach when it comes to their customer engagement practice. Mobile cannot be an afterthought.

As it stands, even focusing on customer experience at all will be a stretch for the brands that still don’t value it. As some companies leverage technology to compliment business transformation strategies, and others continue to do what they’ve always done, the gap between the greats and the not so greats continues to grow. What would you add to my list?

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This article was written by Blake Morgan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Blake Morgan
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Blake Morgan

I'm a customer experience adviser, writer and speaker. My book is called "More Is More: How The Best Companies Work Harder and Go Farther To Create Knock Your Socks Off Customer Experiences" coming out in the Spring of 2017. I've worked with Intel, Verizon Wireless, Clarabridge, Pegasystems, Zendesk, Sparkcentral, go90, Misfit Wearables, One Medical and Newmark Knight Frank Retail, among others. I live with my husband, daughter and two dogs in the Bay Area.
Blake Morgan
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