When I look at the astonishing speed at which communications in general—and customer engagement specifically—are advancing, I start to realize what the fictional Rip Van Winkle must have felt like when he woke up from his 20-year slumber. It seems like only yesterday that we in the communications world were marveling at the benefits of integrating voice and data. Now it's all about the multi-touch customer experience and mobile everything.
This prompted some thinking around what the next few years may bring for the future of customer experience in, for example, 2025. A few key themes emerged:
The Nature of Service Will Change
In the future, we won't be talking about a device or media type. It will be all about what smarter consumers expect as outcomes, starting with what they want to do, followed by how they want to take action. The customer will be able to initiate contact any number of ways and seamlessly move from one action to the next in pursuit of resolution, knowing that a business will instantly know whom they are, what they purchased (or anticipate what they want to purchase), what previous interactions they had, what the outcomes of those interactions were and then respond or, better yet, proactively address their needs. Everything will be integrated at the point of interaction for the particular desired outcome at that moment.
It's Not Just Smarter Consumers
The customer of tomorrow already did their own research and attempted to fix their own issues. They require smarter, better equipped, and frankly, happier customer service agents and experts. To meet customers' increasing expectations for fast, effortless and personal service, employees need to be empowered and more knowledgeable, have the right tools, and be better motivated. Increasingly, employees expect better work-life balance, more flexible scheduling, the latitude to work from home and the freedom to use their own devices. All of this, on both the consumer and agent side of the equation, means having seamless, adaptable, integrated, and responsive contact center infrastructure and applications. Organizations will be required to have an even smarter enterprise.
Loyalty Is Dead
It will not be revived. As the post-digital world unfolds, the only loyalty customers will have is to whoever can make it easiest for them to do what they need to do. It won’t matter if its retail, banking, cab service, travel, prescription drugs, whatever—simply the comfort derived from having interacted with a business before won’t be enough to keep customers coming back. The next company that comes along, and makes it faster, easier and cheaper will get their business.
Customer Segmentation Is Key
Driving in-the-moment loyalty will require customer segmentation that goes far beyond age groups and other demographics, and customer profiles. It will include behavior analysis and an up-to-the-minute understanding of what customers are doing (or anticipating next) so their experience can be personalized. It doesn’t matter that I fit into a certain age bracket, or that I am a platinum customer of this financial institution or of that hotel chain. I have different preferences and pain points, and a company needs to know those about me so they can create anticipatory engagement. That is, the company anticipates what a customer will need, perhaps even from adjacent industry analysis, which then drives knowledge of the next best action, as well as proactive outreach with product and service offers that meet an expectation that is only just starting to materialize in the consumers mind.
Extreme Analytics Will Power Customer Experience
Analytics will be driven by context and supported by workflow automation, while working with machine learning and feeding artificial intelligence. These are what will be needed to aid customer segmentation and drive highly customized personal experiences. For example, natural language processing with analytics running in the background will make consumers feel that they are receiving a unique personalized experience, even though they may never talk voice to voice or face to face with anyone from the company.
No matter what means—digital or otherwise—the customer uses to initiate contact, the technology will be in place to translate, interpret, understand behaviors and anticipate needs, even if it's a first contact between the customer and the business. If a customer chooses to visit a store or other location in person, there are still means, such as GPS, geo-targeting, the Internet of Things and other technologies, that sculpt a highly personalized experience in real time. It will no longer be a digital interface alone. It will be about enabling interaction and personalization no matter where a customer wants to conduct business.
Consumer expectations are already headed in the direction suggested above, as are the technologies that are beginning to enable those capabilities. It's only a matter of time: The future is now.