A Look Back: 5 Customer Experience Trends from 2013Customer experience management has never been more comprehensive or sophisticated. And that's a good thing because customers have never been more demanding, connected or empowered — realities that became exceptionally clear this year.

Nobody puts consumers in the corner anymore — or anywhere else, for that matter — at least if they have long-term plans to stay in business. 2013 was the year customer experience management (CXM) matured and expanded, exploding from websites to mobile devices, brick-and-mortar stores, customer contact centers and more.

In retrospect, 2013 may go down as the year marketers shifted their focus from broad, amorphous groups of customers to targeted, personalized, omnichannel, shared experiences for each one. It was, in many ways, a seismic shift in attitude, powered by five key customer experience trends.

Understanding the Concept

Loni Kao Stark.jpg

Forrester defines customer experience as "how customers perceive their interactions with your company.” Good experiences are useful (deliver value), usable (make it easy to find and engage with the value) and enjoyable (emotionally engaging so that people want to use them). 

The concepts themselves are neither new nor surprising. But in the past few years, they have gained greater status as part of a broader business strategy. Digital technologies and the power of big data have persuaded companies to design, implement and manage customer experience in a disciplined way — to create business value.

"Customer experience has evolved from preventative to reactive," explained Loni Kao Stark, director of product and industry marketing for Adobe's Digital Marketing Solutions and a CMSWire contributor. "The goal has shifted from preventing bad experiences to creating delightful experiences. Companies want to make customers love their brands."

And they have new and creative ways to accomplish that objective, thanks to vast quantities of unstructured data generated by things like mobile devices with GPS and Internet connectivity, aerial sensors and sensor networks and social network interactions. Businesses now have the ability to process this data in real time for just-in-time decision making, as well as plumb the depths of it for insight and predictive analysis.

Adele Sweetwood

Big data, simply, has changed the concept and possibilities of customer experience. In an interview earlier this year, Adele Sweetwood, vice president of SAS Americas Marketing, told me all this data has resulted in  an "intense and very deliberate focus" on customer experience. It has opened doors and forged connections. She noted:

We need to look at all of their points of engagement: How do they react? How do they exchange information with us? When do they engage? How do we leverage what we know about them and use that to provide a better customer experience?”

Key CX Trends for 2013

To answer those questions, let's take a look at some of this year's leading CX trends.

1) Personalization: As big data has ballooned, so have the options to create more targeted and almost intimate messages, in the online world and beyond. Customers not only prefer personalized marketing — they expect it. By keeping marketing relevant — personalized, that is — it doesn't feel like spam to customers.

Personalization isn't new, but experts like Natasha Hritzuk, senior director of consumer insights at Microsoft, said it's still not being used to its potential. “Consumers are absolutely desperate for more personalization during their purchase journey," she said, citing findings from Microsoft’s latest Consumer Decision Journey Research, which it released in September. As analytic tools make it easier to gain insights from ever growing amounts of data, expect to see personalization become even more refined and relevant.

2) Channel convergence: Web chat. Email. Text messages. Customer contact centers. In-store displays. There are more channels and more opportunities to engage with customers and prospects than ever before, Customers are taking advantage of all the opportunities, mixing in-store visits, online product research and other information sources when making purchases large and small. In October, GfK released its annual Futurebuy study of global shopping habits that shows, across 12 categories, 37 percent of US shoppers -- and 29 percent globally -- use both online and in-store shopping when making purchases. The extent of this “omni-channel” shopping phenomenon varies by category and country and seems to be tied to the rise in mobile device penetration, Gfk noted.

SAS's Sweetwood defined both the challenge and the opportunity as the abilities of marketers to converge and align channel strategies. “Marketers need to leverage each channel effectively and take advantage of the data and information delivered from each channel – ‘listening’ to the effectiveness of that channel so that strategy can be adjusted as needed,” she stated in a blog post.

Omnichannel experience implies a consistent purchase or customer service experience across channels. But for now, few customers are "extremely satisfied" with the omnichannel customer experience. According to a recent Zendesk survey, 73 percent of consumers think companies are paying more attention to generating sales across multiple channels than in delivering a consistent and seamless customer service experience.

3) Mobile: Mobile commerce has gone from a theoretical possibility to a practical imperative. Marketers don't have to look any further than the statistics from Black Friday to understand that.

Just this month, comScore confirmed US smartphone ownership reached a new all-time high in the quarter ending October 31. Data from comScore MobiLens and Mobile Metrix, which reports key trends in the US smartphone industry, confirmed 149.2 million people in the US owned smartphones (62.5 percent mobile market penetration), up 4.1 percent from the quarter that ended in July.

As smartphone and tablet use grows, customers are demanding richer and more personalized mobile customer experiences. But they aren't necessarily getting it. Earlier this month, Responsys released the findings a survey that suggests retailers "may be missing opportunities to better connect with their consumers through relevant, real-time and location-based mobile marketing.” The survey found: