CEO Thoughts: 4 Customer Experience Trends That Will Shape 2019

One of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is “what’s next?”. Where is the customer experience (CX) going? In an era of disruption, hyper-digitized economies and value-seeking customers, the pressure to be better and cheaper has been replaced with the pressure to be different and relevant. The leaders of tomorrow will be those who solve problems in a meaningful, memorable and frictionless way. The importance of CX isn’t waning, it’s exploding, but what does that mean?

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Over time businesses have noticed the importance of CX and are acting accordingly to accommodate the shift. In fact, a recent Gartner survey reported that in the span of two years,  81% of companies will compete mostly or entirely on a CX basis. 

This will heavily affect the industry as companies will involve all employees at every level of their organization, accelerate their AI and personalization initiatives, and reward and recognize loyal customers. What’s more, we will start to see businesses combining B2B and B2C marketing strategies. Let’s take a deeper look at these customer experience trends for 2019. 

It takes more than a village

Along with this increased focus in the boardroom comes the introduction of new c-suite roles and job titles. The rise of the Chief Customer Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer is but one trend. Once anointed, however, the chief customer executive soon discovers that the job of customer experience literally takes a village to execute. And it takes more than a village to execute well.

Today, companies are thinking about customer experience in everything they do, from hiring and leadership development to marketing, supply chain, logistics, IT infrastructure, product design and continuous improvement for the entire business.

Companies like Ritz Carlton, Trader Joe’s and Virgin America are known for their amazing customer experiences because they involve every employee in the process. Every person in the organization knows how their work impacts customers and is empowered to help solve any customer issue and provide the best experience possible. Customer experience is truly a company-wide focus, and the results can be startling and game-changing.

AI chatbots take the lead in customer support

AI is working its way into all kinds of industries — from entertainment to transport and education. In the marketing field, we’re seeing the increased use of chatbots in customer service. Their main use is for minimizing customer wait times on support lines by streamlining brand interaction. 

Today’s generations expect immediate results, and companies are adapting to the busy lives of consumers. A Sales Force study concluded that 51% of companies are already using AI in their business model, and more than 25% expect to implement AI within two years. 

But why is immediacy important? HubSpot research suggests that 82% of customers consider responses taking less than 30 minutes as either important or very important when it comes to questions about sales or marketing. Chatbots can be used to answer questions which would generally take away from employee time. As an example, if a consumer wanted to phone in and ask if a certain product is in stock, they could simply open a live chat and ask a bot — providing immediate responses and fluid experiences. 

Chatbots have come a long way. And, if businesses are still questioning the relevance of chatbots for customer interaction, 53% of consumers prefer to use online chat services before phoning in for extra help. 

Personalization becomes increasingly important

Consumers today not only desire better content but also experiences that are frictionless, contextual and personalized to them. A recent study conducted by Everage concluded that 96% of marketers believe personalization advances customer relationships, with 88% stating that ads tailored to each individual helped improve business results. While most companies have already moved to personalize products and CX through data, the reality is that many brands are still struggling to effectively scale personalization or 1:1 marketing. One of the biggest challenges for brands is to identify exactly what their customers want and deliver it.

In a value seeker’s world, reward and recognition are kingpins

Over the last five years and after thousands of interviews conducted across multiple industry verticals, one trend that isn’t going away is the need for companies to reward and recognize their customers. According to The Verde Group Customer Pulse Database, 43% of respondents indicate they have experienced a problem when it comes to being rewarded and recognized. When businesses show their client base that they care, it starts to build an emotional relationship with the brand. And, according to a new study by Motista, an emotional relationship with a company has the ability to increase customer lifetime value by over 300%

This week in New York at the NRF – retail’s biggest industry conference, Kirk Goldman of Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions kicked off a session, “Beyond Millenials: how to attract and retain today’s consumer”. In his session, he presented data from a recent study conducted by Toshiba which found that among this cohort advocacy is primarily influenced by better loyalty programs. But unfortunately, only 18% of today’s loyalty programs are focused on shopper retention. Most (44%) are focused on customer acquisition.

Today, it’s clear that the customer experience is quickly gaining ground as the driving force behind business success. This trend is not abating, 2019 looks to be a big year for continued CX investment and if companies do not adapt, they should clear their desks and make way for those who do.

Chief Executive Officer of The Verde Group.
Paula Courtney