“The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it is a part of everyday life.”

― Bill Gates

When asked by MIT SMR Connections about the most pressing CX trends, SAS CMO Jennifer Chase said this: “We’re seeing the largest shift in consumer behavior in a generation. People are living digital-driven lives and creating an increasingly dynamic and data-rich world. We have more insights into our customers than ever before. Customer expectations for the brands they buy from have evolved. Consumers want to have an emotional connection with the brands they invest in.”

Opening up New Visual Windows for Brands

Brands have to keep up — eMarketer says there is little question that consumers punish companies that fail to meet their expectations, citing a study that found over 80% of all respondents will avoid companies that provide poor experiences.

It’s no secret that digital activity and the technology that fuels it have an outsized impact on how customers feel about those experiences. I have written several times before about what we at SAS call the new hybrid digital and physical engagement model, which we firmly believe is here to stay.

From AI powered video chats and voice assisted technology to augmented and virtual reality, the customer experience environment today is defined by a continuous state of rapid evolution. Augmented reality and other similar tech is making its way to more and more households — primarily through applications on consumers’ mobile devices, and there is considerable value to this.

The ability of a consumer to video chat with a brand-sponsored focus group or with their doctors, to “try on” apparel or eyeglasses without actually physically having the items, to see how furniture or appliances might look when placed in a home ... these all leverage the power of immersive tech with devices most of us already have. And it opens up a new visual window for brands to engage with consumers and make customers a part of the experience.

Related Article: How Augmented Reality Will Impact Marketing in the Metaverse

Adapting Martech Models to Become More Agile

And we are not the only ones that believe that the future of customer engagement is a hybrid digital physical model. Deloitte predicts that 75% of companies will be investing in the development of these kind of hybrid digital physical experiences with 43% doing so in order to increase personalization and 40% aiming for better customer connection.

The catch is that these changes are now being driven at breakneck speed. The pandemic was the obvious catalyst; however, things are not slowing down; 90% of the IT and business executives surveyed by Accenture said that to be agile and resilient, their organizations need to fast forward their digital transformation with cloud at its core. And a full 63% also said the pace of digital transformation for their organization is accelerating.

The catch here is that brands who want to be successful in customer experience will have to adapt their martech models to become more agile, rely more on automation and find ways to incorporate the smart and immersive tech that so many of our customers are telling us is here to stay. In fact, a whopping 89% told Accenture that their ability to generate value will increasingly be based on the limitations and opportunities of their tech stacks.

The View From the Top — How CX Champions See Technology

If you asked me four or five years ago if I thought that a martech stack would carry more weight toward value generation for a company than products, services or business strategies, I probably would have said no. But digital native companies, (the Amazon’s, Wayfair’s, Warby Parker’s, etc.) have clearly raised the bar for everyone else. The fact that they never had to deal with the aging legacy applications, data siloes and modernization complexities that most of us struggle with doesn’t matter for customers who want the same top-notch experiences from everyone else that they already get from the digital natives.

Today, the martech ecosystem is so critical that MIT SMR Connections included the level of ROI for CX tech as one of only three factors that determine where a brand falls on the CX maturity scale. And highly mature CX brands are a rare breed; only 15% of respondents to their survey ranked as CX champions with 70% classified as followers and 15% as laggards.

So just how different is the view from the top? Well, to start with, virtually everyone who responded to MIT realizes the value of technology. More than 20% plan to boost their CX technology investments by 50% to 100% in the next two years while 50% are looking at up to a 50% increase. Only 5% of brands plan no increase at all.

Learning Opportunities

There are measurable differences though that distinguish the CX champions. MIT found that committing “random acts of technology” — implementing technology tools absent a clear strategy and measurable goals — doesn’t create value. In fact, the quality of customer experiences varies widely among organizations that are using some of the same tools with the champions at the top of the scale.

Related Article: 5 Insights Into the 9,932-Marketing Technology Landscape

Where the CX Champions Play

That’s not to say that CX champions don’t make use of more sophisticated CX tools in their martech stacks. MIT highlights the critical need for top-flight technology, pointing out that with the right technology and capabilities, ROI on personalized marketing can leap eightfold, and the CX champions do not disappoint in this regard.

In fact, there are some marked differences between the CX champs and everyone else in their expectations of CX tool usage over the next two years:

  • Immersive experience — champions 71%, everyone else 50%.
  • AI assistant embedded in products and services — champions 76%, everyone else 56%.
  • Smart assistant in phones and tablets — champions 79%, everyone else 57%.
  • AI-powered chatbot — champions 81%, everyone else 65%.
  • Edge computing – champions 79%, everyone else 60%.

The gap narrows a little bit on some of the more pervasive CX tools, but the champions still hold a distinct advantage:

  • Real-time data collection — champions 84%, everyone else 73%.
  • Personalization technology — champions 86%, everyone else 73%.
  • Connected omnichannel experiences — champions 72%, everyone else 60%.

Where the CX champions really excel though is in the use of AI. They are three times more likely than other organizations to use analytics to a “great extent” to manage each dimension of CX, from product/service discovery through post-purchase engagement.

For example: 63% of champions use analytics to a “great extent” to manage the research and discovery dimension of a customer journey while only 16% of followers and 18% of laggards do the same. And 52% of champions leverage analytics to a “great extent” in the adoption dimension, where customers choose or adopt a product or service versus only 15% of followers and 16% of laggards. And last, 52% of champions rely on analytics to a “great extent” for engaging customers in ongoing ways after purchase or adoption while only 17% of followers and 17% of laggards do the same.

Conclusion: Embrace First-Party Data, Customer ID and Recognition Tech

In the end, CX champions are far more likely to gain better returns from the same tools because of their distinctive approach to managing CX across the enterprise. These companies are the most likely to make customer experience strategy a part of their overall digital strategies. They’re also the most likely to make extensive use of analytics and AI.

They are more likely to have developed a solid first-party data strategy, to have adopted advanced customer identity and recognition technology, and acquired high quality software for governing and protecting data and ensuring customer privacy.

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