2012 was certainly a busy year for customer experience managers. Web access turned into a pervasive part of life for the average consumer, meaning they “went online” differently than in the past and also had much higher expectations of the quality and convenience of their online experience.

For organizations that proactively responded to the changing online customer environment, there were substantial advantages to reap in terms of collecting customer data, refining and optimizing messaging and site design, improving customer satisfaction and conversion rates and generally providing a superior level of customer service. Let’s take a brief look at nine key customer experience trends that developed during the past year.

Online Anywhere, Anytime

As mentioned above, the Internet has become so pervasive that people don’t think they are on it anymore, even when they are. An online study by Forrester Research of 58,000 U.S. adults found that in 2011, people were spending an average of 21.9 hours a week online, while in 2012 they were spending an average of 19.6 hours a week online. According to Forrester, this figure does not reflect a decrease in the time consumers are spending connected to the Internet, but the fact they always have connected devices and are always online, even when they don’t really realize they are -- such as when they check in at a location on a mobile phone.

The customer doesn't think like most organizations. They are just doing stuff; keeping in touch with friends, solving problems, living their lives, trying to get some work done. Neither online nor offline, neither content nor apps. Companies had to start responding to this mindset by eliminating internal silos and adopting a true “cross-channel” mentality where customers could seamlessly continue their experience across desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and even personal entertainment devices, or even have a simultaneous experience via multiple channels and devices at once.

responsive-grid.pngLet Your Site Design Respond to Consumer Devices

In response to pervasive online access, particularly the rise in consumers using mobile devices to go online, the responsive design methodology of designing websites picked up traction in 2012. As explained in a May 2012 CMSWire webinar, "Optimizing Mobile Customer Experience with Responsive Design," responsive design is a way of creating a digital experience that adapts to seamlessly deliver content suited to the device context of a user’s screen size, operating system or orientation.

In responsive design, site layout adapts to multiple screen sizes and morphs, changes and rearranges content in a way that is optimal for device resolution. Responsive design involves designing a site at different “break points,” or standard screen sizes, that allow designers to accommodate many different devices at once.

Based on the strategy of using only one codebase, one content platform and one URL to manage user experience across all devices, responsive strategy tailors content to a range of screen sizes using a flexible grid system that allows content to contract and expand based on a particular device’s resolution. In addition to providing an optimal experience to customers regardless of how they choose to engage with a site, responsive design is much easier to manage and update on the back end and by using a single URL provides improved SEO results.

It’s All Just Semantics

Semantic Web data is represented using a technology standard called Resource Description Framework (RDF). RDF is a graph (web-like) structure that links data elements together in a self-describing way. The meaning of RDF data, in contrast, is part of the data itself. This means that wherever Semantic Web data goes, details about it (i.e. metadata) are always immediately available.

For the customer, this provides a richer and more intuitive online experience as semantic links enable them to quickly discover relevant content and have relevant content automatically served to them. As the Internet became more of an extension of the “real world” and less of a separate entity in customers’ minds during 2012, it became more important for enterprises to semantically link customer-facing data elements, and this importance will only continue growing in 2013.

Live From Your Website, It’s Chat

Live chat became a must-have customer service option for companies looking to maximize customer satisfaction in 2012. By allowing customers to immediately engage with a customer service agent, live chat offers a more convenient and streamlined experience than phone-based customer service. In addition, customer live chat questions can be automatically routed to higher-level subject matter experts, expediting correct answers to customer complaints and inquiries. No wonder 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is highly important, according to Forrester Research.