It’s that time of year again, when organizations do a little soul searching on all that went right and wrong with their customer engagement strategies over the last 12 months.  

It’s also a time to place your bets: which tech trends will help you keep customers coming back for more in 2017? How will technology advances like artificial intelligence (AI), robotic automation and chatbots help build long-term customer relationships that drive company growth? And what are the warning signs you need to recognize to know when it’s time to change course?

5 Trends Shaking Up Customer Experience

I recently shook up my CRM Magic 8-Ball and came away with five predictions we should expect to see come to fruition in the New Year. Consider these trends when plotting your customer experience path for the New Year:

1. The Dawn of the Channel-Less Era 

Let’s face it, businesses are still struggling to deliver truly omnichannel customer experiences (CX). Just when they think they’ve caught up, they have to build 10 new channels to address the hot new ways customers are choosing to engage with their organization. 

On this year’s menu: chatbots, virtual assistants and messaging platforms. Facing this, businesses will stop building experiences for each individual channel in silos and start centralizing how they intelligently engage across them all. 

In essence, it will enable a “channel-less” experience where customers seamlessly move from one channel to the next and pick up where they left off on any device, app or other medium.

2. At Least One Incident of 'AI Gone Wild' will Make CX Headlines

Businesses are busily shoving tons of data into AI systems in the hopes that it will generate some meaningful business results. But many are forgetting to add guardrails, in the form of business-configurable rules to ensure their AI systems are in tune with the company’s overall objectives and optimized to drive the right outcomes. 

In customer-facing applications, AI running amuck can produce unintended consequences. Remember Tay, Microsoft’s “AI-driven” Twitter bot? You can bet on something similar happening if businesses jump on the AI for CRM bandwagon without proper business rules in place.

3. Real-Time Data Streams Become the Primary Fuel for CRM Systems  

The static name, rank and serial number of the customer has long served as the bedrock of CRM systems, with huge investment in physical data stores for customer information. 

But with data coming from devices, applications and even appliances, real-time data streams are poised to drive real differentiation in CX. In 2017, marketing, sales and service campaigns will center on leveraging these data streams to proactively address customer needs in the moment.

Learning Opportunities

4. The Line Between Machine and Human will Be Forever Blurred

Customers are increasingly getting comfortable with conversational service channels. Between Siri, Alexa and Echo, we’re willingly engaging with automated channels with human-like qualities. With advances in AI, customers eventually won’t know the difference between when they are chatting with a bot or a human. The key will be for organizations to set a strategy that works for their own customers and seamlessly blend AI experiences into the servicing mix.

5. Operational Excellence and Superior Customer Service will No Longer Be Mutually Exclusive

Streamlining back-end operations is typically done in the pursuit of reducing cost and back-end complexity. But increasingly businesses will be able to expose these operational gains to the customer in order to deliver even better customer service, especially on digital, self-service channels. 

By building their back-end operations with the front end in mind, it will be possible to streamline ops and digitize experience, all within the same initiative.

Bridging the Way From the Past to the Future

Despite all these shiny new objects, legacy IT problems will undoubtedly persist in the year ahead. It’s the massive elephant sitting in the center of the room that can’t be forgotten. 

Most businesses can’t start from scratch, so there will still be lots of time spent on integration issues and leveraging technologies like robotic automation to span the gap between legacy environments and the digital experiences companies want to deliver.

Don’t let existing systems get in the way of turning customer engagement on its head in 2017. Opportunities abound to deliver more targeted, personalized and relevant experiences across all stages of the customer journey.

How will you transform the way you engage with your customers next year?

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