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PHOTO: Phad Pichetbovornkul

Delivering strong customer experiences (CX) ties directly to your bottom line. According to a 2017 study by professional services company KPMG, customer experience leaders achieve higher revenue growth than customer experience laggards, with the top 25 CX leaders bringing in more than seven times that of CX laggards in one year alone. 

Customer Experience Isn't Easy

We all know there’s no “customer experience success” switch you can simply turn on in your organization. Customer experience requires a difficult, ongoing, organizational-wide change to fully meet the demands of customers beyond traditional programs like lead generation and outbound marketing. 

In its Predictions 2018 report (fee charged), research firm Forrester stated, “customers expectations will outpace companies’ ability to evolve or invent experiences, and the deferred transformation in 2017 means that companies can’t adjust fast enough or well enough.” Further, it predicted that in 2018, 30 percent of companies “will see further declines in CX performance, and those declines will translate into a net loss of a point of growth.” Yikes. 

The good news? Many organizations are still doing customer experience right, according to customer experience research firm Temkin Group

With all this in mind, let's take a look at the important customer experience trends you should be watching over the rest of 2018 and beyond.

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

Ties Between Employee and Customer Experience

The trend every company needs to watch is what’s happening with the employee experience, according to Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type A Communications. "Brands," Johnson said, "focus so much on external audiences but they forget about the people who prove or disprove their commitment to customer service."

Johnson finds a strong positive relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. She compared the customer and employee experience bond to buying insurance for a high-end car. "When you invest that level of money," she said, "you’re going to make sure that it’s protected. That’s how giving the experience that you create for employees works." If your company has a terrible customer experience situation, its employees will come to the rescue and squelch the negative attention around it. 

"When employees know what their employer stands for, and what their role is in it, and they see day-to-day proof that the company lives it, it inspires them," Johnson added. Inspired employees deliver "legendary experiences" for customers. Organizations that understand the critical role that employees play truly understand customer experience. "It will be interesting to see which companies get this and take action now, rather than trying to do a 'me-too' catch up down the road."

David Clarke, global chief experience officer for PwC, agreed excellent customer experience starts with superior employee experience. He sees a lot of focus on automating customer service. If done right, it allows employees to focus on other things. "Make no mistake, the employee experience is the most important element of customer experience," Clarke said. "Employees are often the ones interfacing with customers and creating the experience, whether it’s behind the scenes or face-to-face. Get employee experience right and they will in turn create a better experience for your customers, and keep them coming back."

According to PwC’s latest report, "Experience is Everything: Here's How to Get it Right," 59 percent of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. The report also found employees are not meeting customers’ expectations: only 38 percent of U.S. consumers said the employees they interact with understand their needs. 

Clarke suggested using technology, like automation, to relieve employees from repetitive tasks, allowing them to be more engaged with the customer when needed. "Focusing on innovation, fostering a corporate culture of empowerment and equipping employees with technology and the information they need to best serve consumers can help close the gap between customers’ expectations and the experience employees deliver," Clarke added.

Related Article: How to Build an Employee Experience That Rivals Your Customer Experience

Voice of the Customer Programs Grow in Importance 

Wikipedia defines Voice of Customer (VoC) programs as marketing techniques designed to understand and facilitate the wants and needs of customers by organizing them into a prioritized hierarchal structure. The goal is to gain an understanding of what customers expect from your business and what they prefer, as well as the things that get in their way or cause frustration.

Forrester reported in March that those who are succeeding in customer experience (fee required) empower their employees with information and autonomy to act. It cited Australian retailer Woolworths, which implemented a Voice of the Customer program, as an example. Woolworths gave store managers access to live customer feedback and aggregated insights. Headquarters aggregated the data, but store managers had license to implement changes when necessary. 

Duff Anderson, senior vice president and co-founder of iPerceptions, wrote VoC data is "one of the most valuable data sets you have." He recommends integrating this data with other data sources to gain a full picture of the customer, and also suggests honing down the insights shared with stakeholders to encourage action.

Related Article: The Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Voice of The Customer Program

Humanizing CX

Bruce Temkin, CCXP, managing partner at Temkin Group, said his organization believes you can’t master customer experience without understanding what motivates people and fulfills their intrinsic needs. But most companies haven’t been focused on this, he added. Only 8 percent of the 300-plus companies earned at least a “good” rating for the emotional component of the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings, Temkin noted.

"But there’s good news," Temkin said. "We’re seeing leaders getting much more comfortable discussing what used to be considered 'squishy' topics, such as emotions, empathy and culture. Without those dialogues, CX has focused almost exclusively on processes and technologies, instead of on people and humanity." Temkin said the willingness to discuss human-centric topics bodes well for the entire profession. Temkin Group believes, Temkin said, that this topic is critical, which is in part why it's labelled 2018 “The Year of Humanity.”

Machine-to-Person Engagement on the Rise

In its “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Customer Experience 2018 Predictions,” the global market intelligence firm said algorithms are beginning to factor into more customer experience decisions. This is because organizations are moving toward machine-to-person engagement. Big data, analytics and AI, and “powerful and nuanced algorithms and business processes” will mean experiences will be “wholly managed and delivered by a machine" in the near future. IDC officials gave chatbots as an example, stating AI engines will learn and over time deliver experiences without the intervention of a person.

Related Story: 8 Tips for Blending Physical and Digital Customer Experiences

Engaging vs. Transactional Mobile Apps 

With two-thirds of the world's 7.6 billion people owning mobile phones, of which roughly half are smartphones, mobile apps should still be part of your customer engagement strategy. IDC officials predicted that by 2020, 30 percent of mobile users will experience engaging, rather than transactional, end-to-end interactions with primary interaction mobile apps. The move to digital self-service “delivers more power and control for the customer on-demand, which results in more customer satisfaction while reducing the provider's cost to serve.” Transactions on mobile apps will become real-time conversations with the help of AI and bot technologies, and, ultimately, these engaging mobile apps will become the primary web portal for the mobile customer. 

Related Article: Mobile, AI and IoT: Old Buzzwords Are New Again in 2018

Where are other customer experience practitioners focussing their efforts? Hear what they told us at CMSWire's DX Summit: