Customer experience management continues to grow in importance amongst business leaders, and in a recent Gartner survey of marketing bosses, 89% predicted that customer experience would be their primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017.
Little wonder, then, that organisations are pumping increasing resources into making improvements in this area. The CX Index by Forrester demonstrates the impact that this is having on overall experience standards – 11% of brands are now rated as ‘excellent’ compared to 0% in 2007; while the number of brands scored as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ has dropped from 35% in 2007 to 11% today.
But with some 80% of organisations now rated between ‘good’ and ‘average’, this makes customer experience a key competitive battleground for businesses in 2015.
So what will be the trends that could determine the customer experience successes and failures of the coming year?
Emotion will become a decisive factor
In a recent study, Forrester found that emotion has a bigger impact on customer loyalty than either effectiveness or ease. As a result, the analyst expects 2015 to mark the year that companies jump on the “emotional bandwagon” to differentiate their customer experience.
“Customer experience is of often thought of as being driven by right-brain practices – making things more effective and making processes more efficient,” says Michael Gazala, VP research director at Forrester. “But there’s a whole left-brain element of customer experience that we think is going to be a greater focus as companies try to understand how to deliver emotionally compelling experiences.”
Indeed, Forrester suggests that companies are already buying into emotion, with consulting firms Deloitte and Accenture buying emotional intelligence in the form of service design agencies Doblin and Fjordnet respectively, while Capital One recently purchased user experience agency Adaptive Path.
Voice of the Customer programmes will look for new ways to measure sentiment
In a further demonstration of how organisations will be concentrating on emotion, Forrester also predicts that Voice of the Customer programme managers will increasingly look for new and improved ways to gather insights about emotion.
“We will see a bigger focus on finding the right ways to measure sentiment from VoC programmes, and there is a lot of work that is entailed,” says Gazala. “Companies will be looking at text and speech, and trying to figure out how you can pull in proof points from the speech and text data as you go through it.”
Forrester highlights that VoC vendors such as Clarabridge and Verint Systems have already started playing to this demand by promoting their ability to pick up the emotive side of customer conversations through sentiment analysis on text and speech data.
Elsewhere, vendors like NICE Systems and IBM SPSS could also be big winners, as VoC programme managers will be investing in predictive analytics to help establish how customers feel during an interaction based on customer profiles, events and unstructured data.
Employee engagement will become a priority
Bruce Temkin, managing partner at Temkin Group and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, has already hailed 2015 as “the year of the employee” and believes that this will be the year that organisations appreciate the importance of employees to customer experience management. He notes: "As companies increasingly focus on customer experience in 2015, they'll recognise the need to make internal changes. In 2015, successful customer experience efforts will realise that the key ingredient to success is their employees."
And Temkin isn’t alone. Matt Candy, European Leader at IBM Interactive Experience, adds: “I think employees will be a major focus in 2015. Companies need to ensure that the customer is at the heart of their business strategy such that they can enable valuable human-to-human experiences - and that means engaging the employee.”
This epiphany will lead to organisations taking a variety of steps. Candy continues: “There will be a focus on creating environments where employees are empowered and motivated to create these experiences. It won’t be about command and control – it will be about creating environments for brilliance – at scale.
“Organisations need to create a culture where employees are empowered to have a conversation and develop a relationship with their customers, not just deal with their queries in the shortest time possible. It will also mean companies will have to address the challenge of how to unlock expertise into their organisations and scale the collective intelligence of the enterprise down to the level of single individuals.”
Greater innovation in experience design
2015 could also be the year that we witness greater innovation in experience design, says Candy.
“I think companies will place a lot of focus on innovating how they approach experience design and management. We will see companies look to change how they go about designing experiences for their customers, they will start to break down traditional organisation silos to enable employees to collectively design meaningful experiences for their customers,” he explains. “This will see the adoption of new methods and ways of working such as agile and the formation of design labs that are made up of cross functional with experts from marketing, services, design, IT, and agencies who will collectively design new models of engagement for customers.”
Sam Keninger, Medallia product guru and director of product marketing, believes that this innovation will go hand in hand with the empowerment and engagement of employees that will happen this year.
He explains: “A couple of decades ago, companies depended on market research to understand how customers felt. This was important information — but it was usually outdated by the time it arrived, and it usually went to a marketing person who couldn’t fix what was wrong. Then the internet came along, and allowed you to collect data in real-time. But people realised you needed to close the loop – so marketing teamed up with the call centre. But even then, they couldn’t fix the underlying problems behind the issues they saw. This is why we’re seeing interest in the operational approach now. Organisations are now going beyond closing the loop, and empowering employees across the entire organisation with the right information right away to develop proactive solutions for the problems they’re seeing.
“The next step from this is innovation testing. In this model, companies can leverage economies of experience and empower all employees to agilely test and substantiate ideas — and share successes across the entire organisation. So I think a big trend will be finding a way to operationalise innovation like this, and to do so at scale. From a branding perspective, democratising innovation can be a big competitive advantage for companies of all kinds. It’s pretty clear now that the impact of traditional branding is shrinking across multiple industries, and that customers are making buying decisions based on the experiences they hear about and receive themselves. From that perspective, it’s a big advantage to have employees all across the organisation engaged in innovating on the customer experience, rather than just having a centralised team focusing on a few pet projects.”
Multi and cross-channel customer service will be the new standard
For the modern channel agnostic consumer, multi and cross-channel service should be a fundamental proposition. We are moving into the omnichannel age. And this means that 2015 could be the year that it goes from being a competitive advantage to a mere ‘table stake’ for brands.
Cormac Twomey, senior vice president, EMEA, for Convergys, notes: “Analytics now make it possible to identify when it is appropriate, even preferable, to move a customer conversation on to another channel in order to better resolve their problem. A better understanding of each channel’s role in the customer journey is essential to this. For instance, 47% of customers will not call when they have a problem, turning first to the internet and then only picking up the phone as a last resort. Companies need to understand this dynamic and adjust their processes and training as part of a unified cross-channel strategy.”
More brands will adopt a holistic view of the customer experience
This transition towards omnichannel service will also herald a shift in the number of brands that are adopting a ‘holistic’ view of the customer experience.
Shaun Smith, founder of Smith+Co, explains: “I take a holistic view of customer experience and so I think the big trend will be in brands being very clear about their purpose and the value they bring to consumers and then acting on this with integrity and authenticity over multiple channels. This means telling their brand story crisply and clearly and delivering a seamless experience to consumers so that they can buy whenever, however, and wherever they choose. The experience will become one. This means moving from thinking about multichannel or omnichannel to thinking about the consistency of the experience irrespective of channel. Having a sense of purpose also means that brands will respect the privacy of customers so that communications are designed to create true value for customer based on their expressed preferences rather than simply assuming that customers are happy to be interrupted with sales messages.
“Brands need to take a holistic view so that marketing and customer experience are seen as one. Increasingly, perhaps because of the influence of MBA programmes over the past decades, marketing has become a noun, a function, a set of processes rather than a verb, everything that the organisation does and how people behave. This means that brands need to stop bribing customers using points and discounts through so called 'loyalty' schemes and engage more deeply with customers by involving them in the brand and showing loyalty to the customer rather than demanding the customer show loyalty to the brand through 'likes' and so on. The best brands like John Lewis, Ritz-Carlton,First Direct, LEGO and Innocent understand that an emotional connection to the brand cannot be bought. It has to be earned.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.