Customer experience has been a buzzword for several years and is only heating up. Many companies experience numerous challenges in the area of customer experience transformation. We talked with the leading customer experience experts to find out what CX professionals should pay attention in the coming years.
“CX transformation is no longer a nice-to-have, it's a necessity” – states Forrester, one of the most influential research and advisory firms in the world. It’s predicted, that by 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator when making consumer choices.
Let’s find out what the field professionals actually experience.
We asked 15 experts these three questions to figure out what direction industry is taking:
How do you see the future of customer experience?
What are, in your opinion, the top challenges in customer experience that companies should be aware of now?
How to overcome those challenges?
Now, luckily for everyone and especially for the customers, more and more brands put more and more effort into developing its customer experience.
So, what should we expect in the nearest future?
More brands will (and should) bring up customer feedback to the decision-makers in the company, and with the help of some new amazing technologies, we’re changing the way businesses see their customers.
Read the full answers of the experts below. Our guests have multiple years of experience in managing and consulting customer experience management in global companies and now lead their own businesses helping companies make customers happier.
Some hints: big data, omnichannel, personalisation, AI and organizational culture.
Ian Golding, CCXP, CX Consultant and Trainer
“CX is at a very interesting point in its evolution. There is no doubt that across most industries, the end-to-end CX has improved over the last twenty years. Much of the improvement has been driven by advancements in product innovation and digital technology. However, I also argue that despite that, too many consumers continue to endure ‘random’ or ‘unexpected’ experiences as a result of the inconsistent delivery of the end-to-end customer journey.
Too many organizations are still focused on ‘making money first’, with the customer coming a distant second. That is why although CX is evolving, it is doing so far too slowly – hence the need for CX Professionals and anyone with a passion for CX, needing to continue building a revolution within companies to get those business leaders who still do not understand the fundamentals of CX to wake up and smell the coffee. As more industries continue to be disrupted by smaller, more agile, niche specialists who are better able to meet the needs and expectations of customers, larger, legacy businesses are at serious risk of losing relevance with their customers and potentially ceasing to exist.
In my opinion, three things that are essential for CX include:
Restoring trust – 2017 has seen more examples of organizations continuing to fail to meet basic customer expectations. In Europe, the Ryanair debacle is the most prominent case of all. In 2018, all brands across all industries are going to have to work hard to restore trust with the everyday consumer.
Value for Money – we live in a world where disposable incomes continue to be challenged on an annual basis. Consumers will continue to look for brands that offer the best value for money for the ‘end to end’ experience. That includes how much it costs to deal with things when they go wrong.
Honesty and transparency – the brands that continue to do what is right for their customer, when things go right and wrong, are the brands that will continue to flourish in 2018 and beyond.”
James Dodkins, CX Revolutionist, Keynote Speaker and Author
“I see the future of customer experience being ‘hyper-personalization’, moving away from process standardization and towards experience personalization. Understanding that each customer and each experience will be different every time and creating your business to incorporate, embrace and excel at this.
The biggest challenge, in my opinion, will be trying to meet all of these new customer demands within industrial age organization structures, structures that were never designed to deal with ‘customer experience’ let alone the customer experience of the 21st century.
How to overcome those challenges? Stop organizing by function and skill set, start organizing by ‘ability to deliver customer success’ create ‘experience teams’ of people with different skills and different core competencies that can manage the entire customer lifecycle and reward them together for the achievement of customer success, not completing tasks and activities.”
Blake Morgan, Customer Experience Futurist, Keynote Speaker, Author
"The future of customer experience is around providing tailored and personalized customer experiences. Customers want you to know them. At this point, we have the technology and data prowess to actually know our customers - and predict their needs - but we still aren't there yet. With advanced data and personalization, we should be able to provide truly personal and omnichannel experiences to customers. As more companies figure out how to do this, in the future customers will demand it or leave.
The first challenge is the focus for most companies on quarterly profits. Once we stop obsessing over wall street and quarter to quarter how we are perceived - we will be able to achieve transformational growth. But that requires being misunderstood for long periods of time. Consider the words of Laurence Fink, co-founder and Chief Executive of BlackRock with 4.6 trillion in assets recently said, “Today’s culture of quarterly earnings hysteria is totally contrary to the long-term approach we need."
How to overcome those challenges?
Talk to your board. Find someone to champion customer experience at the c-suite and give them influence and resources to actually get things done”.
Chip R. Bell, Customer Loyalty Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author.
“We will continue to struggle with the proper balance between technology and people. Many organizations are currently enamored with the promise of technology and big data. However, research shows most customers still value an emotional connection with the people fronting the organization.
With rising customer expectations, good service is no longer good enough. Customers want unique, special and innovative. Organizations will want quantitative justification of their investment in great customer service. Organizations will continue to look for more effective ways of gaining real-time customer intelligence rather than rear-view-mirror methods like surveys. All will take leadership deeply committed to customer experience as a significant marketplace differentiator.”
Adam Toporek, Customer Service Expert, Speaker and Author
“The future of customer experience will involve finding ways to use technology to create and maintain positive emotional connections with customers. Despite the human brain’s remarkable inability to distinguish the artificial from the real, organizations will still need to find the magic balance between technology-faced and human-faced experiences.
The shifting sands of artificial intelligence will keep many organizations on unsure footing in 2018. For larger organizations, the top customer experience challenge will be figuring out how to strategically invest for the present while staying nimble for the future. For smaller organizations, the challenge will be figuring out how to gain and sustain competitive advantage in the face of larger competition that is able to use technology to deliver faster, more personal experiences at significantly less cost.
For larger organizations, the best path is to focus on the current experience while keeping an eye on the future. You don’t need to worry about being left behind in five years if you can’t keep your customers for the next five weeks. Smaller organizations need to maximize their competitive advantage by delivering experiences that larger organizations can never truly emulate, no matter how good their technology.”
Diane Magers, CEO at CXPA
“Customer Experience has been a catalyst for organizational change. As we understand the customer’s varied interaction with our brands, their needs and wants, it has shaken the foundation of many organizations – the way they work, how they make decisions, how they collaborate, how they use data, how they build products and services. The focus on acquisition, scores and fixing issues has been replaced with outside disruption, market ecosystem expectations (i.e. Blockchain, GDPR) and coordination. This will push more aggressive change driven by Customer Experience professionals.
Organizations will have to rethink how work gets done. Organizational alignment will be most critical – both internally and to the market and customer expectations.
A talent shortage will be evident. Not just talent in general, but workers with cross-functional skills, collaborative and design skills.
Data, digital and technology transformation will be critical and many organizations have only scratched the surface to keep from becoming just a functional utility.
Successful organizations will drive deep, orchestrated transformation rather than just fixing customer issues or tracing scores. It will require experienced professionals to help drive more collaboration and alignment of operations, measures, metrics, processes, governance, workflow – true and real strategic organizational transformation.
Aggressive action will be required for many organizations – business model changes, more extensive rigor on digital enablement, the acute awareness of customer behavior in the market and knowledge of ever-changing impacts on organizations (i.e. data security, gig economy, AI, machine learning).”
Rüdiger Pläster, Executive Managing Director at ORT Medienverbund
“I do see a bright future of all facets of CX. Never underestimate the customers’ expectation in CX. It will be growing and growing. Once the customer had a positive CX, it will set a new benchmark. It will also be thrilling to see how UX, customer centricity and empathy will be connected to the field of AI. 2018 will be the year of CX and AI.
Finding talents that understand the challenge and will be able to work on the ongoing convergence of analog and digital, will be still the top challenge. Also, companies really need to transform their structures to reflect customer centricity. This includes breaking down silos, which is still an issue. Let’s think in customer touchpoints instead. As I often refer to in my presentations: CX is not a package tour, it’s an expedition.
Don’t underestimate culture. Plan transformation, reflect what business case makes it necessary, and take your co-workers and customers with you, that’s what we are doing. Start experimenting, build your hypothesis, fail fast and learn – and start all over again. A lean and agile culture will definitely support you in that matter. We call it a discovery and delivery track – internally we call ourselves the “dual track agency."
Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience at FCR
“Customer experience doesn’t begin with awe and delight as much as we love reading about this on social media. It’s about bringing all groups within an organization together with a focus on making each experience more effortless for customers. This is hard work but it’s that work that ultimately brings about happy, loyal customers. More and more companies will focus on having top leaders who are instrumental in bringing everyone together.
We will continue to hear more about artificial intelligence and chatbots in the coming year. When it comes to using technology to allow customers to self-solve issues, some companies automate too much and some don’t automate enough. These new technologies are here to stay and we’re wise to vet and implement them carefully, testing frequently to ensure they are truly improving the customer experience rather than detracting from it.
How to overcome those challenges?
Three words: Voice of Customer. With any changes and enhancement to the product or service, it’s critical to keep a finger on the pulse of the customer. Customer surveys, deep dives into customer service contacts, and conversations with key customers are great ways to fuel continuous improvement. I’ve asked many customer service professionals and customers alike for their feedback and have never had a shortage of insights for improving the customer experience.”
Lynn Hunsaker, CEO and Head Customer Experience Consultant at ClearAction
“Customers’ discernment of providers’ motives will continue to sharpen in the future. Customers are being educated about customer experience by providers and fellow customers, and as employees within provider organizations.
Top challenges for providers are (a) to be smarter than competitors about customers’ realities, (b) to rally all functional areas to improve customers’ realities, (c) to make customer-centered management a way of life.
To overcome these challenges:
treat customer experience excellence as a context for every job role company-wide,
foster true outside-in perspectives: not how can more customers recommend us, but how can we be flexible toward empowering our primary customer segment’s priorities? (which leads to more recommendations, by the way),
identify patterns in customer experience data from all sources to create greater insights as the impetus for managers to make changes for the greater good, to motivate collaboration, and to inspire customer experience excellence as context for everything the company does,
facilitate collaboration across functional areas and business units to prevent silos, bridge silos, prevent recurrence of issues for the whole customer base, and create mutual value for customers (internal collaboration is the surest path to strengthening customer trust),
strengthen the momentum of customer experience excellence as a way of life by embedding customer-focus in all company rituals (planning, reviews, capital expenditures, budgeting, succession, hiring, recognition, decision-making, handoffs, etc.)”
Peter Lavers, Customer Experience and CRM Expert
"Customer Experience is here to stay! Companies do marketing, sales and CRM – the customer does the experience! If your business isn’t interested in CX then it’s effectively saying “we don’t care who buys our product, as long as somebody does” – this WILL find you out in today’s connected, empowered world.
One main challenge for the next year is short-termism. It distresses the market, resulting in oversupply and brand devaluation; it leads to bad decisions for quick sales that ultimately damage trust; it educates the customer on how to ‘beat the system’ e.g. only buy when there’s an offer; it can lead to illegal or unethical practices such as ‘pulling sales forward’ to meet targets; it rewards counter-cultural behaviors and makes scorecards meaningless; and it inevitably runs out of steam because there are only so many tactics to deploy!
Short-termism is mostly the result of a product-centric and “numbers focused” culture, which inevitably results in a “race to the bottom”. Customer centricity is the answer, backed with a credible customer profitability lens that gives an alternative view to traditional product sales/market share KPIs.
Another is silos – unless there’s a perfect collaboration they lead to inconsistent or competing objectives, marketing, service and measurement. All too often it’s the poor customer who ends up having to stitch together the disconnects in their experience by re-keying and re-explaining their requirements or situation.
Silos are often the result of the same product-centricity as above, this needs to be fixed from board level downwards, with equal accountability and collaboration between the heads of customers, product, and omnichannel.”
Jane Treadwell-Hoye, CCXP and Managing Director at epifani
“The future of CX is at a crossroad. There are many organizations embracing a people-centric approach to business (be it employee engagement on CX or on developing strong CX programmes) but there remains a large number who fail to fully grasp the need for change. Many of the traditional ways of doing business are under threat from smaller, faster, more agile disruptive businesses so organizations need to be more focused on truly understanding their customers, delivering better experiences and engaging in new ways.
The top challenges that companies should be aware of, I see are:
That senior leadership teams view CX as a passing fad or a short-term campaign and do not truly understand the enormous value a customer-centric approach to business brings – be it engaged employees, retained customers with an increased share of wallet or new customers.
That few seem to understand that CX is a long-term programme of transformation that cannot be measured in 12-week quarterly financials. Any organization taking on a CX programme needs to recognize it’s hard work and will take time – it’s worth it and you need to celebrate the wins along the way – but there is no magic quick fix.
It’s too easy to overlook the employee engagement and try to deploy CX outside of a holistic organizational approach. Your people deliver the customer experiences so organizations need to look at how to ensure everyone is brought along on the CX journey and understand the role they play in the customers’ experience.
It’s more than just digital. Digital is but a channel to the customer but a truly customer-centric approach embraces the customer at all touch points in the journey.
It’s not about software or a number – if you focus only on the NPS score you will never deliver the game-changing customer experience.
How to overcome those challenges?
Recognize your business is about the customer and not you. Listen more, understand their pain points, validate ideas and co-create with your customers.
Be prepared to pilot new things – try, fail and learn fast before trying again.
It starts inside the business - communicate, communicate, communicate and educate, educate, educate. Get everyone to see their role through the customer’s lens.
Celebrate small successes and share stories. Become better storytellers – we are, after all, people dealing with people.”
Melinda Gonzalez, CEO at Melinda Gonzalez Advisors, CX Consultant
“I see the future of CX as bright, vast, and continuously evolving. Technology advances will continue to inspire new innovations in customer experience. But, most companies will still continue to struggle with CX fundamentals.
CX is a tough business. It requires patience and the ability to maintain a “long view” on business results, especially in solving larger systemic issues. It will continue to be challenging for CX advocates to get meaningful organizational and executive support if customer centricity isn’t already a part of the value system.
Ensure strong C-suite investment & buy-in (exhausting as it can be). Customer experience starts with a strong customer-centric culture, and that tone is set from the top. Assess the business to identify the people, process, & technology/infrastructure blockers. Is customer centricity already part of the company DNA and culture? Are there efficient processes in place for analyzing customer data or communicating customer insights? Is the ecosystem of customer engagement tools and technologies integrated and seamless, or are they siloed? Always leverage quick wins wherever possible, but a strong operational framework for CX management is critical to long-term success.
Also, new tech solutions such as AI and machine learning have been getting a lot of attention. And why not? They have many great CX applications, and it’s always exciting to work on cutting-edge solutions! But if not applied to a strong operational CX framework, technology can distract and actually move leadership and employees farther away from understanding customer emotions, motivations, and expectations.
Customer engagement technologies should be introduced once an operational model for managing the customer experience has been established and embraced. If the basic program investments aren’t in place, tech solutions will only be a hindrance. What are the basics of a CX program? Understand customer needs, measure the right things, identify the root cause of challenges and opportunities to improve, and, most importantly, take action!"
Matt Dixon, Keynote Speaker, and Author, Global Head of Sales Force Effectiveness Solutions at Korn Ferry Hay Group
“I see the end of the traditional customer survey as we know it. AI and machine learning make customer listening and Voice of Customer analysis—at scale—suddenly possible in a way it wasn’t before. This means two things: (1) CX leaders will need to shift their teams from “survey administrators” to true internal consultants responsible for identifying and rectifying CX issues and (2) we will see break-through advances in CX happen with greater regularity as companies embrace these new technologies and their CX teams take up the mantle of CX reengineering on a large scale.
I think the biggest challenge is that CX has revolved around a set of assumptions—for instance, that customers will reward them for moments of delight, that customers want a relationship with the companies they do business with, that customers prefer live interactions over self-service, that customers want empathy when things go wrong, that customers want choice, etc.—that have rarely, if ever, been called into question. They are sort of the “pillars of faith” in CX.
While there’s been plenty of research in recent years to suggest that many of these assumptions are misplaced, CX leaders still refuse to acknowledge that they may have gotten it wrong—perhaps because there is so much pressure to embrace the conventional wisdom within their own companies or because they’ve lacked the data about their customers (thereby falling into the “we’re different” trap).
Stop surveying your customers and start listening to them. You have more Voice of Customer data at your fingertips than you could possibly imagine—and it comes in the form of recorded phone conversations between your frontline staff and your customers. Voice data—analyzed by AI—is the next great frontier that will enable a level of customer understanding heretofore not possible and will equip CX leaders with the insight they need to overturn many of these age-old assumptions and achieve CX break-throughs that will deliver significant improvements to customer loyalty.”
Vicki Amon-Higa, CCXP, CX Coach and Consultant at Amon-Higa & Associates
“Customer Experience will be a key driver of growth for companies going forward -- it will continue to be an 'and' game of great products that deliver the outcome customers need AND a great experience end to end so that customers can find and buy those products as well as easily start using them and get the help they need to continue to get the benefits from them.
A delightful customer experience alone is not enough and great products alone won't get found and purchased. Marketing and Product Organizations need to play well together to create these experiences and be the catalysts for this growth, together.
The top challenges I see are that everyone wants Customer Experience to be the latest and greatest ... it is a continuation of the quality journey started in the USA after the historic 'If Japan can, why can't we' wake up in the late 1970s. It is an evolution of more and more aware customers who are influenced by their B2C experiences and expect the same, if not better from other experiences as a customer.
To overcome these challenges, we need to stand on the shoulders of those giants before us and continue to play with each other, it truly is a team sport! “
Raul Guillermo Amigo, CEO and Founder at Umuntu CX Design, Speaker and Author
“CX is called to be one of the strategic pillars of modern business administration.
Marketing, Customer service. Market research, Customer understanding, Service & process design, Brand positioning, and Revenue generation will be functional to this new area of the company.
In my opinion, the next big challenge for CX are:
To step forward from the basic Customer understanding, and take it to an ongoing flow of insights feed Customer Operations and Marketing,
To build a unified vision inside the organization about what customer experience is,
To ensure CX turning it into an actionable area of the company
To create a culture where all employees are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
To overcome those challenges, you have to have an experiential framework per customer segment to explain the meaning attribution process, enriched with an AI tool to update it. Create an internal CX certification program to ensure the common understanding of what is and how to manage the customer experience. Apply design thinking to turn voice of the customer into design input and involve upper management to create a corporate strategy around CX.”