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PHOTO: Wesley Tingey

"We can see the future of customer experience a decade from now in the evolution of technology and the behavior and perceptions of consumers and brands today" ― Daniel Newman, Futurum Research

'Tis the time of year when we look into our crystal balls and predict the future. And some of those predictions are bleak.

In its Top Strategic Predictions for 2020 and Beyond, Gartner estimates that digital transformation timelines will double for large- and medium-sized organizations, with costs far exceeding initial budgets. Forrester projects that customer experience (CX) initiatives will take two very different paths as unsettled markets drive the need for ROI and clear positive outcomes. Successful CX programs will continue to grow and improve, while struggling initiatives may be dropped altogether. The result — one in four CX professionals will be out of a job while the number of CX leaders grows by 25%, and the disparity in customer experiences across this divide will become both visible and inescapable.   

Not every prediction is so dire. There is a clear path forward to avoid many of the negative impacts currently projected for next year. 

Futurum Research, in partnership with my firm, SAS, recently completed a comprehensive survey on the future of CX, which found clear trends inherent in the behaviors of our customers and the technologies we use to shape those behaviors. Trends that if recognized and acted-upon, can help companies shape their digital experience strategies for a decade to come.

Trends to Carry Us Into the Future — CX 2030

In talking to more than 4,000 consumers, marketers and technology executives from across the globe, Futurum found increasingly empowered consumers willing, almost demanding, to embrace technology (primarily digital) to achieve the experiences they want. And yet, in an apparent dichotomy, these same consumers expressed little trust in companies to guard their digital privacy. This is something companies will have to pay close attention to.

On the flip side, most brands reported they understand the changing role of technology in CX and are gearing up to keep pace. That’s good, because adopting emerging and digital technology will not be optional. At its annual IT symposium, Gartner fellow Daryl Plummer, highlighted this point quite well, saying that in the digital age, “technology, and its applications, are poised to affect every aspect of what we call humanity.” This goes double for CX.

The report identified several trends that will shape CX over the next decade. Of these, I believe three are most critical to consider when developing your 2020 digital CX strategy. 

Trend 1: The Future of CX Is Digital

As Futurum puts it, “consumers don’t use digital, they are digital.” As consumers embrace everything from wearables to voice assistants, they are increasingly expecting the companies they do business with to do the same. And the numbers tell quite a story, as the survey found:

  • 69% have two or more mobile phones in the household and 41% expect to increase use of these by 2025.
  • 60% have at least one smart voice assistant in the household and 59% will increase use of these by 2025.
  • 67% have at least one wearable device in the household and 53% plan to increase use of these by 2025.
  • 85% use at least one financial or banking app, 78% use at least two social media apps and 41% plan to increase usage of both types of apps by 2025.

Gartner also feels that companies can accommodate digitally empowered customers, coining the term “Internet of Behavior (IoB)” in its 2020 and beyond strategic projections. They predict that IoB will increasingly link people and actions and that initiatives, such as the telematics used in the auto industry, will continue to expand.

How to Prepare for the Digital Consumer: Work the internet connected devices that consumers are embracing directly into your customer journey mapping exercises. Target those mapping exercises toward understanding how each device will impact both decision-making and the overall experience. Examine current processes, products and services to gauge challenges and opportunities along the journey. And finally, keep a close eye on consumer reactions as both Futurum and Gartner highlight the dangers of digital strategies that become too intrusive in the eyes of the customer. 

Related Article: Online, Offline – Who Cares? Present One Brand Experience

Trend 2: Privacy Isn’t Going Anywhere

Between GDPR, the CCPA and other impending legislations, most companies understand that privacy regulations are not a passing fad. The Futurum report removes any doubt by highlighting consumers' emphatic concerns in this area. The amount of trust a company can garner from its customers will make or break a digital CX strategy. To date, the scorecard on privacy is poor and consumer demands are clear:

  • 73% are concerned with how brands are using their personal data to the point where they feel it is out of control.
  • 71% feel companies should not be able to share their data.
  • 78% want to see what data has been collected and want control over changing, updating or deleting this information.

The trust numbers are equally bad, with only one industry (healthcare) where more than 50% of consumers trusted companies (51% — nothing to brag about) and 9 industries where more consumers distrusted than trusted. Particularly bad? The fact that 50% believe companies are "hiding" bad things they have done with data and privacy, and 61% feel they have no control over the privacy they need.

Forrester doubles down on this issue in its 2020 projections, saying that regulations will increase, B2B customers will start demanding privacy protections and privacy class-action lawsuits will increase by a whopping 300%.

How to Mitigate the Trust Crisis: Left unchecked, the trust crisis will get worse not better. Digital CX strategies that do not account for privacy and security will fail — period. To mitigate this disastrous possibility, develop a privacy strategy regardless of whether you are legally required to do so or not. Base that strategy on either GDPR or the CCPA (the CCPA is more restrictive than the GDPR because it explicitly covers digital data). Ensure your company has both a digital security protection plan and a clearly defined response mechanism in case of a breach. And finally, talk to your customers about privacy; both about what they expect and about how you are responding.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Trend 3: Agility and Automation Must Drive Engagement

According to the report, by 2030 agility and extreme automation will be the “twin pillars of CX, allowing companies to deliver on the promises they have made while also meeting consumers expectations.” This is a trend I can really get behind. My recent CMSWire column “Decisioning — the Only Way to Accelerate Analytics to Value” is about exactly this. Futurum found that by 2030:

  • 82% of companies agree or strongly agree that real-time analytics must drive customer engagements.
  • 86% agree or strongly agree that most customer engagements will be through AI-driven intelligent systems such as chatbots. 
  • 83% agree or strongly agree that personal technology (wearables, smartphones, smart assistants) will play a key role in how we engage customers across the buying cycle.

Both Gartner and Forrester agree. As indicated in my decisioning article referenced above, Gartner has coined the term “continuous intelligence” and Forrester the phrase “the dawn of digital decisioning.” Both advocate for analytically powered automated decisions to increase agility and improve personalization.

How to Improve Agility and Automation: Futurum has some really good suggestions here. Look for ways to use AI powered automation in customer service to streamline processes and improve personalization. Combine customer service agents with automation to ensure empathy and human touch while also improving productivity. Plan actively to use data and analytics from all corners of the organization to drive great experiences; this includes sentiment analysis, use of IoT, journey analytics and contextual analysis.

The future of CX is digital and I for one find it to be immensely exciting. I can’t wait to see CX through 2030 unfold. 

Related Article: The Future of Customer Experience Is AI: Are You Ready?