The customer experience is central to the success of any business. Without happy customers, a business would have a difficult time surviving in today’s competitive, global business environment. So important is customer experience, the American Marketing Association refers to it as “the new battleground.”
The customer experience begins and ends with expectations – if a consumer expects a certain level of service, or a certain benefit of a product, companies must work to meet and exceed this expectation. After all, today’s consumer is advanced – he or she is often able to tune out the extraordinary noise of marketing buzz to find products and services that have everything s/he expects and wants. And, as technology grows and enhances product and service experiences, these customer expectations will also rise.
Understanding the customer experience – from what factors impact consumers, and therefore set the stage for customer expectations, to the ideal point of customer contact – is key to success in 2017. As an executive, the below five factors will likely affect how you and your business shape the customer experience in the upcoming year:
1. Growing Adaptation to the Internet of Things
Business Insider defines “Internet of Things” (IoT) as “the connection of devices (other than typical fare such as computers and smartphones) to the Internet.” While the Iot is no longer considered a technological novelty, it nevertheless will play a major role in shaping the customer experience this year. In fact, Forbes indicates that the IoT will completely change the game for companies, as products and devices continue to become increasingly connected.
How exactly will this shift affect the customer experience? Most importantly, consumers will increasingly rely on their devices to direct them to sales, discounts, and products. As the IoT expands its scope beyond devices such as fitness trackers and smart thermostats, customers will expect and appreciate seamless transitions between online shopping and brick-and-mortar establishments.
For companies, these changes will allow a more direct, fluid reach to the consumer. When people are connected nearly every waking moment, brands can easily send messages to and collect data on their customers. Strategic marketing is thus necessary to ensure that this reach is used well.
Additionally, this increased role of the IoT will amplify the demand for security. As exhibited by 2016 DDoS attacks, people are learning how to effectively breach current internet security measures, which has far-reaching implications for the IoT. Companies that wish to provide a connected experience to their customers must now prioritize security.
2. Increasing Focus on the Customer Journey
While technology and connectivity are critical to reaching customers this year, attentiveness to the customer experience as a whole will also prove important. The customer journey, from initial contact with a brand to the point of purchase, will be an important marketing focus in 2017. Thus, it is time to understand and leverage this customer journey, according to the American Marketing Association.
Advances in technology will also likely play a major role in this area. Journey analytics, which help marketers get a picture of where their consumers stand at any given moment within the customer journey, are poised to become indispensable. The right technology not only will help keep customers moving forward on their journey through to the point of purchase, but also will provide companies with insight into the individual preferences and habits of their consumers. With such insight, a company can ultimately improve their bottom line.
3. Growing Demand for Post-Purchase Smart Diagnostics
Not only do consumers want a smooth process during the time they shop for a good or service, but they also want an outstanding experience after they own the good/service. In shaping the customer experience along the latter dimension, smart diagnostics are the key, according to Forbes.
So, why do consumers wants smart diagnostics? Imagine a scenario where your dishwasher stops working. Rather than calling a repair professional to visit your home and perform an onsite inspection, you can hold your smartphone up to a sensor on the front of your dishwasher, which instantly sends data to the manufacturer suggesting the source of the malfunction. This type of smart diagnostics helps improve the customer experience after purchase.
Additionally, smart diagnostics don’t just beam data about problems with a device. They can also improve the customer service experience by providing real-time data about a consumer’s locations and activities. If a customer calls with an issue with their product/service, advanced diagnostics can give businesses the ability to see the customer’s location and activity. While assisting, a business could, for example, make the experience more personal by talking about the local weather or a local event. Ultimately, this type of data will help companies personalize, and better, the customer experience.
4. Increasing Need for Conversation
According to The Huffington Post, one of the biggest trends of 2016 was the “chatbot,” a program that, when coded into a website, starts a chat with customers. While initially helpful, chatbots have become less effective as consumers continue to push for a more personalized experience. Today, exchanges with robots no longer suffice.
This need for genuine conversation has created demand for better artificial intelligence systems that can respond to customers in real-time, similar to a human response. Technologies that are able to learn and adapt will be in high demand in the business world.
So, 2017 will be the year that brands attempt to become more conversational. Rather than forcing consumers to adapt to computers and apps, consumers now want computers and apps to adapt to them. While automated chats won’t disappear, technology will grow and adapt so that chatbots become more interactive and conversationally fluent. This trend will also help personalize the customer’s interactions with brands.
5. Growing Personalization Through Data
Data will be king in 2017. Not only will brands need data to better target their consumers, but this data will also be put to use to make for better customer interactions. For example, creating VIP accounts to track and store data about consumers will improve the customer experience as well as the company’s sales volume, reinforcing all aspects of the business.
Forbes highlights the following as particularly critical for success: using data to create a personalized shopping experience for customers, with the help of mobile and beacon technology. In the coming years, even the idea of facial recognition software that identifies customers by name and helps associates make personalized recommendations is not too far-fetched. At the heart of most technological innovations is data; thus, the demand for data, data collecting technology, and data analytic software will be great in the coming year.
It is important for every individual in the business world – from the seasoned business professional to the entry level salesperson – to understand the needs, wants and expectations of customers. If you are working in the business world and are interested in learning how to leverage important trends to further expand your business and personal opportunities, an Executive MBA degree can be a valuable first step. Learn more: visit Washington State University online.