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PHOTO: nrd

Imagine how your customer experiences today differ from your experiences only a few years ago. Customer experiences, along with the relationships between customers and the companies that serve them, have changed considerably over a relatively short period of time. That’s because the standards of customer experience are constantly evolving — an evolution fueled primarily by the juggernaut of technological progress. As a result of the ongoing evolution of customer experience, it’s not unusual to see new trends becoming popular while other long-established best practices fade into obscurity.

As that cycle of evolutionary refinement continues in 2020, I expect to see the three customer experience trends detailed below push their way into the mainstream. Some of these trends, such as personalization, have been around in some form or other for quite some time and continue to improve. All are important for companies that wish to remain relevant in the eyes of their customers.

Trend 1: Inclusive Design Becomes the Norm

Joining the digital world is no longer optional. Until recently, it was quite possible to live a perfectly complete life in the non-digital (physical) world by going to stores, using the phone, etc., to accomplish the basic tasks of life. Increasingly, however, people have the option to do most of those things digitally. You can make doctor’s appointments by app, purchase products via voice and socialize with friends on social media sites. In fact, IBM predicts that 85% of all customer interactions in 2020 will be handled without a human agent.

The digitization of society has progressed almost to the point where living a non-digital life means you’ll be excluded from many things — or, at the least, many life tasks will be made quite inconvenient. You would have to keep detailed spreadsheets of every purchase made and all income, as well as give frequent calls to your bank, in order to reach the level of money management that a free app like Mint can deliver in no time at all. Even personal hobbies like learning the guitar have been impacted by digital. Where you once would have to purchase books of sheet music for each musician you wanted to emulate, you can now use an app like Ultimate Guitar to receive tabs and play almost any song you can think of.

As this digital world evolves and expands, it is quickly becoming more accessible to everyone. Though laws mandate that digital properties be accessible to a degree, it goes far beyond legal requirements. What we’re observing, in essence, is a movement to make digital products easy and enjoyable to use for those using assistive technology. And it’s not just about people with disabilities. There are also other ‘inconveniences’ that can be helped by the digital world — people who are consuming information in a language that is not their native language, for example, or children who are learning how to read and could use some assistive technology. And given the frenetic pace of modern life, we all multitask, which means that anyone’s cognitive faculties can be a bit burdened or impaired at any point in time. 

Given all the above, it’s crucial that the customer experience be made as easy and enjoyable as possible to mitigate any constraints to a positive customer experience. And I predict that in 2020, we’re going to see a leap in making the digital world accessible for everyone. How do I substantiate this claim? UX design teams are increasingly looking to build accessibility into their designs. It’s becoming a standard part of the design routine rather than an occasional afterthought or add-on. 

Related Article: The Demographic Your Digital Practices Can't Ignore

Trend 2: Personalization Lives Up to Its Name

Personalization is nothing new. We’ve been taking small steps toward personalization for over a decade now. Take, for example, those email newsletters that show up in your inbox with your name in the greeting, or recommendations for videos you might like on Netflix, or product purchasing suggestions on retail websites. Much of that is enabled by relatively simplistic code (such as the personalized greeting). But not all of these efforts have been perceived as working very well. They’re often hit or miss, and don’t feel truly personal.

In 2020, we’re going to see personalization raised to a new standard, with the emphasis on true personalization and a focus on the individual. This is made possible when inputs that power the personalization engine are uniquely personal rather than account-based (more personal, for example, than Amazon recommendations for an account that represents purchases for an entire family). This current push in personalization is fueled by advances in AI, such as with Walgreens example of providing ultra-personal, real-time purchasing suggestions.

Related Article: Why Personalization Efforts Fail

Trend 3: Voice Spurs the Next Wave of Omnichannel

Perhaps no area of retail has seen more growth (or hype) than omnichannel. As omnichannel experiences have improved, they have also expanded to include new platforms, channels and technologies — all of which need to work seamlessly together. Brands must continue to move into the digital realm and tie those omnichannel experiences to physical experiences, because the next wave of omnichannel has come along. Customers now have more platforms and channels to interact with brands than ever before.

Going forward, voice could be a big differentiator, especially as multimodal grows in popularity. Pairing voice devices with a screen aspect will be the big story of omnichannel in 2020. Retail, in particular, could benefit from this developing trend. Though voice commerce has seen modest growth in the retail industry thus far, that’s about to change.

It will be the continuation of a trend we saw developing in 2018. According to Voicebot.ai, “Smart display owners were 133% more likely to make voice purchases on a monthly basis in 2018 and 76% more likely to be conducting product searches using the devices.” The ability to preview a product on a screen is an obvious boon to voice experiences, as shoppers tend to feel more comfortable purchasing products they can see beforehand.

Related Article: How to Get the Customer Experience Right in Voice Interactions

And a Trend You Want to Avoid …

As the three trends detailed above continue to expand and refine the customer journey, some unfortunate companies will be caught up in another trend: they'll join the growing number of companies that fall by the wayside as their competition outshines them in providing a more evolved customer experience.

That trend will occur because of the soaring expectations of customers. The average consumer is quite aware that companies are now — or at least should be — capable of providing a much-improved customer journey. Customers now expect companies to leverage technology as necessary to provide that better experience.

And companies that don’t provide that better experience? Salesforce reports that three-fourths of consumers are ready to switch to a competitor that provides a better experience — and more than half of consumers have already made that move. And that’s one trend you definitely want to avoid.