… highly relevant mobile messages can prompt consumers to follow through with purchases, particularly when those messages are part of an orchestrated customer experience that unfolds over time, across channels and according to an individual’s behaviors and preferences."

4) Shared Experiences: Brian Solis, a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology, as well as an author and blogger, has a vision of the future that involves shared experiences – the tweets, blogs, posts, comments, photos and reviews that customers share in this age of connectivity.

His message for marketers is clear: Focus on shared experiences because that's what really matters. The collective voice of these shared experiences can often trump your product or service -- and your most clever and creative marketing, he noted. As he explained on Google Think Insights:

As a brand you have to create the experiences you want people to have and share, and reinforce that through positive conditioning, so those are the things people find — over and over again. To get people to share more positive things, you have to first make sure they have a positive experience. This is a renaissance opportunity for brands to look back: ‘Why did we start this company? What are we trying to do?’ Because in the social web, it is those experiences that become your brand.”

Brian Solis shared experiences.jpgImage by Brian Solis/Altimeter Group.

5) Video Everywhere: From websites to retail stores and beyond, video is enhancing the customer experience. Videos on websites are excellent ways to showcase products and services and engage with people. It's also a way to add something extra -- a wow factor -- to the in-store experience. Dharmendra Patel, managing director of in-store digital technology provider PlayNetwork, said, "Live video content is an effective way to engage shoppers. It works by bringing an outside experience into the store and allowing shoppers to feel part of the scene on show."

Just yesterday, Facebook announced that it will start rolling out video ads this week, with a "small number" of users expected to see the video units on the Web and on smartphones. The video ads will run automatically across users' News Feeds but will remain muted by default.

One of the more novel uses of video to emerge this year, though, involves customer contact centers. Richard Snow, an analyst at Ventana Research, estimates less than 10 percent of company contact centers have video in place. However, demand is expected to grow as video quality and best practices evolve. In effect, customer service has come full-circle: progressing from face to face to telephone to email and text chats -- only to return to face to face in a different form.

Last summer, NICE Systems, a telephony-centric contact-center vendor, got in on the trend with the launch of its Contact Center video recording solution. The new tool combines two of the company's existing solutions — real-time audio capture and video surveillance for security — to monitor and enhance the quality of the customer experience.

Yohai West, product marketing manager for NICE, told me contact center video recording lets organizations continuously monitor agent performance, provide additional coaching as needed, and maintain a single standard of performance across the operation. It works much like existing live online chats, with video rather than text messages. Organizations can use video to understand better not only what was said during a customer interaction, but also what was implied through the body language of the agent and the customer, he explained.

Looking Ahead 

There's no turning back. Customers are mobile, app-driven, impatient and eager for new experiences, online and off. They incessantly talk, tweet, email and video chat — in other words, share their experiences. So how can companies refine their customer experiences, differentiate themselves and take their CX to the next level? 

Technology is key, of course. Without it, Adobe's Stark said, "it's like showing up at a horse race riding a rat. It doesn't matter if you have a great jockey. He won't win because he's riding a rat." 

But don't get so caught up in the technology that it overshadows the connection you're trying to create with your customers. As we move into 2014 and beyond, the use of big data will grow exponentially. Through a combination of novel embedded systems and mobile technology, businesses have vast arrays of new sources of data about their customers. Add in text mining of comments made on everything from social media to contact center interactions, and you'll begin to understand the potential of this data-driven future. But slow down.

Listening to the data is important ... but so is experience and intuition. After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?” explained Pulitzer Prize winning technology reporter Steve Lohr.

Trendwatching.com, a global trend research company, stressed that customers have limits to the amount of data they are willing to give up. "The challenge for businesses will be finding a balance between the very real benefits of data collection and utilization (recommendations, cross-selling, personalization, enhanced ad revenue and more), and earning the trust of increasingly hacked off consumers," the company noted.

In the end, CX is not about data or technology. It's about people ... demanding, opinionated, powerful people with the ability to make and break brands.

Colin Shaw, CEO of Beyond Philosophy, a customer experience consultancy, summed it up in a blog post on LinkedIn when he wrote, 

Every customer experience needs to have a focus not only on the rational side of the experience but also the emotional part of the experience … You need to understand the whole experience through the customer’s eyes both logically and emotionally and also use this information to design a customer experience for your organization that reflects the experience you want them to have."

Here's to 2014 — and a new year of delighting your customers in a myriad of ways.

Title image by wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock).