Customer experience (CX) has become essential to choose between brands. In 2017, the page you see when you log-on to most large e-commerce retailers’ websites is likely very different from the one that someone else sees. Advertising, product recommendations, and special deals are all tailored to unique customer profiles based on historical browsing trends and buying behavior, due to Machine Learning.
“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
— Jerry Gregoire, former Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Dell Computer Corporation
Now that Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence have finally gained mainstream traction and are a must-have in order for any business to maintain a competitive advantage with regards to customer experience, here are the main customer experience trends to look out for in 2018.
Trend 1: Automated Voice Communication
Throughout 2017, CIO.com conducted surveys in order to determine the communication methods that customers preferred, by age demographics. The communication method that 38 percent of millennial respondents preferred was voice communication. It sounds unbelievable when you consider how much of our current communication is text-based, however, most customers (especially in the 70+ age group) prefer to be on the phone.
This preference can present some challenges for businesses that want to present a cohesive customer experience (CX).
While Google has an automated call extensions programme which automatically pulls phone numbers from its advertisers’ websites — especially if they don’t have call extensions set up, it continues to gradually roll this programme out to more and more advertisers, but it still comes with operational learning curves.
2017’s roll-out of automated chat and the use of chatbots came with some cautionary lessons for many IT leaders, as customers’ use of chatbots frustrates their employees, especially when the organization doesn’t have a strategy (and infrastructure) that would be able to support a newly hybridized workforce.
Customers want to be able to rely on tried and tested methods of communication in 2018, and voice communication comes out on top!
Trend 2: Successfully Converting Customers via OmniChannel
Most successful business in 2017 were utilizing an average of nine customer contact channels — what’s often referred to as creating a “multichannel customer experience”. In 2018, this number will increase from an average of nine to eleven, providing a seamless experience across channels will be yet another challenge that many organizations will have to overcome.
For instance, businesses that adopted a mobile-first approach in their strategy have to scrutinize whether they can handle an increase in traffic, and how that increase will affect their customer experience. Will their channel remain reliable? Do they have control? If a business has a “social media first” approach, they’ve already lost control, because they’re vulnerable to the platform’s algorithm changes, etc.
Next, in order to maintain a still seamless experience, how these various platforms (channels) interact with one another is yet another cause for concern. You wouldn’t want your Social Media Marketer being in-charge of Sales, and vice-versa.
Trend 3: A Hybridized Workforce
This was first alluded to in Trend #1 (Automated Voice Communication), however, for businesses interested in reducing costs in order to scale their businesses, a hybrid workforce will be an essential part of the strategy.
In the wise words of Marshall Luhan, as customer experience becomes increasingly automated, it also becomes increasingly DIY, which can create some risks — anything which requires human intervention comes with risk. As businesses continue to reduce office, contact center, and agent expenditure, in favor of artificial intelligence (AI) the risks multiply.
The agents still employed are thereby expected to perform an increasing number of tasks, as well as overseeing the processes completed by AI, however, the tools that these individuals utilize have not become sophisticated.
Trend 4: Beacon Technology Proliferation
Beacon technology, like Bluetooth, allows your smartphone to create alerts based on downloaded apps. The use of this technology is predicted to increase in use in 2018.
Most customers have already interacted with Beacon technology in one way or another. The tech is used quite extensively in retail, because it allows stores to push timely, customized content to their customers in real-time.
Tech-savvy hotels use Beacon tech as a way to replace room keys and airlines use the technology to improve passenger customer experience in airports. In workplaces, Beacon technology has almost replaced biometric commands for certain individuals allowing access control to be done through work smartphones. The technology has also improved employee communication and collaboration, as targeted messages pop up in employee smartphones in a timely manner, based on tasks.
This is the Machine Learning phenomenon. As customers interact with the content produced by beacon-tech, the more data is retained in order to properly target the customers again. Companies will need to find a means to decipher this data, and that can present some challenges…
Trend 5: Email with an AI Twist
The most things change, the more they stay the same, and customer outreach in 2018 is still email-centric. Not for lack of trying other channels, but simply due to its effectiveness. Interactive emails are how brands are going to take this channel and make it far more interesting for their customers.
The customers’ inbox will transform from a mail receptacle to an extension of a brand’s e-commerce platform. In 2018, companies that embrace disruption will allow users to check their products through options like drop-down menus, tabs and concluding purchases within their email. This is revolutionary!
Trend 6: Specialized AI VAs
That sounds like a mouthful, but 2018 will usher in the dawn of a totally new era in task management — the introduction of the first Virtual Assistants (VAs) powered entirely by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
A growing organization’s reliance on virtual assistants needs no mentioning, however, the increasing proliferation of AI-driven interactions, on the other hand, will completely revolutionize how the average organization metes tasks out to a virtual assistant as a VA completely becomes virtual. These AI-driven VAs are being referred to as Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) and will emulate human interaction while performing specialized tasks that would take people too long to master.
These IVAs will assist a business in better meeting the customer’s needs across omnichannels, instead of having to increase a business’ reliance on multiple VAs.
As this technology becomes more mainstream, people who are knowledgeable on how to properly integrate these tools into a business’ customer experience strategy will be extremely integral in how the business scales.
Trend 7: AI Identifying and Remedying SPOFs
Inversely, as businesses determine where AI is needed in 2017, in 2018 AI will be responsible for identifying SPOFs and then creating a strategy which determines where humans are needed for an interaction.
A SPOF or a single point of failure is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. If a system has a goal of high availability or reliability, SPOFs are extremely undesirable.
“Forcing everyone into the office every day is an organizational SPoF (Single Point of Failure). If the office loses power or Internet or air conditioning, it’s no longer functional as a place to do work. If a company doesn’t have any training or infrastructure to work around that, it means it’s going to be unavailable to its customers.”
― David Heinemeier Hansson, Remote: Office Not Required
In 2018 AI will be used to determine when a human is needed for an interaction, in a typically AI-centric task, instead of repeatedly failing by trying to solve everything without a human. Savvy companies will need help in reverse engineering this process.
Trend 8: Facial Recognition Integration
Thanks in part to the unveiling of the iPhone X, more companies in 2017 are starting to think about the implications of facial recognition on their customer experience, with regards to security.
While facial recognition might be in its infancy in 2017, in 2018, it is predicted to grow in sophistication as users (especially early adopters like iPhone X users) are able to unlock their phones, and authorize actions like payments through Apple Pay. This “pay-by-face” option will be even faster, more secure and more convenient for customers to make purchases, however, the challenge will be managing the applications which will make these sophisticated processes possible.
Behind every well-functioning piece of technology is an even more sophisticated workforce. Businesses looking forward to a productive and profitable 2018, would do well to start thinking about this challenge.
Trend 9: Self-Service Through Speech Recognition
Similar to the “pay-by-face” option abovementioned in this article, is authorization through voice and speech recognition.
In 2017, there has been an increasing interest in digital self-service and how it relates to Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, speech recognition and its implications are only recently being perfected for devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These tools create a new platform (channel) for companies to compete based on customer experience.
As customers have become more comfortable with interacting with virtual chatbots through voice, self-service through speech recognition will become an even more essential part of a business’ strategy. While it frees up a business’ agents to accomplish tasks which require far more complex and high-value tasks, the initial integration of speech recognition technology could be a pain-point, especially if your team has no idea where to start.
Trend 10: Increased Focus on Customer Success
Towards late 2017, the idea of “customer success” which simply means that the company enacts a program which will ensure that the customer has success with the company’s products, especially for products which create a high level of frustration for its users.
For instance, in SAAS companies, providing a coaching session for customers could ease and remove the learning curve for new customers who’ve never interacted with a company’s technology before. This type of focus on customer success will require additional infrastructure and additional team members to oversee this process.
One thing that should slowly become abundantly clear to all CIOs and anyone looking to scale their company in 2018, for that matter. Technology, used well, will empower the business to grow to new heights, but that cannot happen if a technology’s user fails to make proper use of these new tools.
It, therefore, stands to reason that it’s far easier to outsource these functions to a third party to an organization which would understand how to integrate the tech whilst the business maintains its focus on providing a superior customer experience.