It’s a common misconception that customers want to be dazzled with magical, over-the-top customer experiences. Matthew Dixon’s excellent book "The Effortless Experience" debunks that myth, providing exhaustive research demonstrating that customers don’t actually want to be “wowed” — they just want easy, frictionless service at every interaction.

That sounds simple, but it presents a big challenge for most IT and customer experience leaders. Truly frictionless customer experience (CX) means offering around-the-clock access to an ever-increasing array of services. It means connecting channels to create smart, context-aware experiences across the entire customer journey. And, increasingly, it means being able to anticipate and act on new needs in real time.

How are some of the world’s biggest brands preparing, and what investments and upgrades are they making? Let’s look at five trends emerging across the customer experience stack — from substantial shifts in the way companies are designing their architectures to new tools they’re using to keep employees engaged.

Design Architecture Around Journeys, not Just Touchpoints

All too often, CX initiatives are still hatched in silos. They focus on improving one or two individual components of the experience, like billing or front-line customer support. But they overlook the bigger-picture customer journey — what happens before customers contact support, or where they go afterward. Since as many as 25 percent of customers will defect to a competitor after just one bad experience, companies can’t afford to have any customer touchpoints that underperform. They must understand and optimize the entire journey.

The key to getting it right starts with the right underlying architecture. To support seamless, real-time, multichannel experiences, companies are moving toward plug-and-play technologies that make it easy to quickly and dynamically add new applications, tools and workflows. Many are now standardizing around centralized customer experience platforms that let them design, deploy, monitor, and even measure entire customer journeys from end to end.

Upgrade Your Monitoring to Keep Up With Constant Change

Customers expect effortless, personalized service around the clock. To deliver, most companies are moving toward highly dynamic infrastructures designed to react in real time to changing needs, resources, and even market demand. But here’s the catch: Many are still relying on outdated monitoring systems that weren’t built to handle this level of complexity and change. These legacy tools are great at monitoring point products or single touchpoints in a customer journey, but they quickly crumble under the ever-shifting array of services, applications and data points that create the best customer experiences.

That’s driving a noticeable uptick in “monitoring modernization” projects, and rightfully so. Companies don’t have time to deploy new monitoring tools or manually extend the ones they have every time they add a new application or service. They want comprehensive, automated solutions that can scale as the rest of the customer experience stack does. To get there, look for tools that automatically discover all the systems involved in your business processes and can continually track and monitor each of them to spot anomalies. And pick a system that doesn’t just spot problems, but also helps resolve them and prevent them from happening again through root-cause analysis.

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Tap the Power of Big Data, and React in Real Time

Customers create treasure troves of data. Each time they interact with you, the data they generate can unlock valuable insights you can use to create better experiences. According to McKinsey & Co., customer experience leaders can achieve revenue gains of 5 to 10 percent (and reduce costs by 15 to 25 percent) with the rapid insights uncovered through analytics. To achieve those gains, it’s crucial to aggregate and analyze all of the data from your various customer-serving systems in real time. Powerful correlations and intelligence can then be used to trigger automated actions that improve engagement and customer satisfaction on the fly.

Embrace Invisible Design

Today’s best experiences are so seamless that you often don’t notice them. That’s the goal of invisible design, a “less is more” approach to CX. Uber is a perfect example: It uses analytics to anticipate areas where demand will surge, and dispatch fleets of drivers in advance. Riders never see the sophisticated technology and coordination that makes it possible — they just enjoy consistently fast service, even at peak times. To reduce the integration effort (and costly professional services) required to build seamless customer experiences on that scale, companies are turning to best-of-breed systems that combine messaging, workflow and process integration to provide everything you need to model and build transformational CX.

Happy Employees, Happy Customers

Of course, the customer journey begins — and often ends — with employees. A Gallup study found that businesses in the top quartile of employee engagement achieve customer satisfaction ratings that are 10 percent higher than those of companies where employees are less engaged. Overall, only one-third of U.S. workers report feeling engaged in their jobs but, according to Gallup, that figure soars to better than two-thirds (70 percent) at top-performing U.S. companies. The difference? These leading companies are making proactive investments in technology designed to boost employee engagement and satisfaction, which translates to better customer experiences.

One popular approach is to swap out static legacy intranets for modern, interactive platforms that allow employees to better connect, communicate and collaborate. Thousands of the world’s top employers have made a similar switch, including Citigroup, NBCUniversal, Pearson and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. For example, Cox Automotive is using a single collaboration platform to create a common culture and foster closer working relationships among 30,000 employees, many of whom came from 24 companies that Cox acquired, including Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. These collaboration tools provide a gateway of sorts that keeps everyone informed, aligned and, most importantly, engaged.

Three years ago, Gartner predicted that by 2018, “more than 50 percent of organizations will implement significant business model changes in their efforts to improve customer experience.” Since then, customer expectations for effortless, real-time and multichannel experiences have only grown. But thanks to major innovations across the entire customer experience stack — from how experiences are designed, deployed and optimized to how employees stay engaged and eager to serve — many companies are finally achieving the frictionless CX their customers demand.

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