Every end of year, I do two things: I take the time to think about what could be the biggest trends in CX for the coming years (you can read about that here) and I ask my extended network that very same question, which is what you will read below.
The Network Always Wins, as my business partner and friend Peter Hinssen would say, and that is why I hold the trend advice of my friends in Customer Experience in the highest possible regard. I hope their predictions will inspire you as much as they did me.
Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert And Author Of ‘I’ll Be Back’
As I look into the future, I’d love to share two big ideas. One is something I say almost every year. The other is another way to think about how you measure customer success.
The customer’s expectations continue to evolve. Customers are smarter than ever and know what a good CX looks and feels like. They no longer compare a company or brand to its direct competitor. They compare the experience to the best they’ve had from any business or brand. That applies to both B2C and B2B businesses. To remain competitive, businesses must keep up with what customers feel are most important, that includes customer service and convenience. While these were competitive differentiators in the past, they are now basic expectations. When customers interact with the companies and brands they do business with, they expect knowledgeable employees, friendly employees, easy access to help/support when needed, fast response when communicating, and an easy/frictionless experience. Those are more important than ever, and will be even more important in the future.
In another area, companies must acknowledge different metrics. Popular survey tools like NPS, CSAT, Customer Effort and other metrics are extremely important, but realize they are a history lesson. It’s what happened yesterday. They are still important. We need that information to validate that we are providing the service and quality that is expected. If not, we need to fix it. If it’s working, we need to scale it. But, one other measurement worth noting, and this may be the most important, is tied to behavior. Regardless of ratings (ideally positive), does the customer come back? We also want to know how often, how much they spend and more. More and more, companies are recognizing that behavior is the secret to understanding what’s happening now and in the future. It’s more than a satisfaction rating. It’s real, it’s what’s happening now, and it’s measurable. And with AI becoming more powerful, future behavior can be predicted.
Jeremiah Owyang, Tech Analyst @ Kaleido Insights: Brands are using NFTs to Drive Customer Engagement and Loyalty for their CX Strategy
We see more and more marketers adopting NFT (Non fungible tokens) technology to connect to their customers to drive engagement, loyalty and more. NFTs are art, video, music, or animations that customers can purchase to access perks, join communities, or resell the asset.
With quarantine reducing the number of people visiting stores or attending events, humans seek other ways to connect with experiences they are passionate about. If you’re new to NFTs, read this NFT primer from the Verge. As usual, brands follow the latest consumer trends, and NFTs are no exception. The NFT craze has been hot during the last few quarters of 2021, as wealthy crypto investors are collecting rare digital art, that often dramatically increases in value, or grants utility to premium online experiences, and/or is a ticket to an elite community of other NFT holders.
NFTs are part of the Web 3.0 Trend:
This is a trend where the People are in Charge of their Data, Identity, and Monetization. In the former social media era (Web 2.0) and sharing economy, the people were promised they’d have control over their data and monetization, but in reality, the technology platforms became centralized, with power relegated to a few powerful people. Now, during the pandemic when people are rethinking their relationships with institutions, they are using new technologies to get what they want: rather than rely on centralized platforms, the crowd is empowered through decentralized technologies to build, manage, and own the internet they are creating. They are using powerful technologies such as crypto currencies, where they can create their own powerful economies, social tokens to facilitate value among a community or online creators, or creating and trading NFTs, a digital asset such as an image, song, movie or used as a key to access new perks.
NFTs foster customer engagement, loyalty, and shared ownership.
The many large brands who have launched NFTs – from Coca Cola, Clinique, Dolce and Gabbana, Stella Artois to Marvel, Mattel, Visa and Givenchy – are engaging their customers, by enabling them to own a piece of the brand. They also are priming the media, press and influencers to announce the NFT collection pre-launch. Some brands are asking customers to enter their email to receive updates, or the opportunity to win an NFT, which generates leads for the loyalty and marketing database. When customers do purchase the NFT, they are more likely to feel more connect to the brand and become a fan an advocate.
Sydney Brouwer, Author & Keynote Speaker on Customer Experience & Customer-Centricity: The rising value of the customer service hero
In a lot of organizations, front line jobs have often been regarded as low level jobs. Service reps in contact centers, employees in retail shops and staff in hotels and restaurants are just some examples of jobs that usually pay little and have few (if any) benefits. Most organizations never paid attention to the fact that it is these employees in particular who have the biggest impact on the customer experience and the opportunity to turn your customers into loyal ambassadors. The value of these customer service heroes for the organizations they work in is way higher than what is shown on their pay cheque. And now for the first time, the front line is in a position to take a stand.
‘The Great Resignation’ is happening in full force in the second half of 2021 and will have a great impact on the customer experience of organizations in 2022 and beyond. Organizations that haven’t invested in their Employee Experience, now scramble to keep the employees that they have and struggle to find people to fill their vacancies. This already impacts the customer experience in industries across the board. Increased shipping times in ecommerce, long waiting times to speak to a customer service rep, extra services that are cancelled (shuttle services at theme parks for example) and even shops and restaurants that are not able to open. The employees still working at the organizations face increasing workloads, which will make them more likely to also leave.
Never before have we seen such a strong direct link between employee experience and customer experience. Employees are in the driver seat and managers and leaders need to move fast to satisfy their current employees and become more attractive to new ones. Three quick wins:
- Increase pay and benefits for the front line – I don’t have to explain this, I believe.
- Give your front line perspective – In a lot of organizations the front line (contact centers for example) is the first and last stop for employees. Customer service reps can rarely move to other departments. Strange, because their knowledge and experience is very valuable in other departments that don’t regularly speak to customers.
- Continuously improve working conditions – Leaders should ask their teams two questions very often:
- What do you need to serve our customers better?
- What can I do to make your job easier and more fun?
Asking these questions often (and of course doing something with the answers) will make your team feel heard and valued. At the same time it will continuously improve employee and customer experience.
Annette Franz, Coach, Keynote Speaker & Author of Putting the “Customer” in Customer Experience
There are two thoughts I have on CX in 2022 and beyond.
This is already the case, but I don’t believe everyone thinks of it this way: more and more, “best in class” and “world class” will no longer be about your “class.” Your customers no longer base their expectations or measure the experiences with your brand solely on what you do or how you do it. Their new frame of reference is the last best experience, regardless of company, industry, region, technology, etc.
Similarly, curbside pick-up and its non-retail equivalent (i.e., Not in retail? What do you do that delivers a seamless, effortless, convenient, personalized experience for your customers?) are here to stay. These experiences have set the expectation for what a transaction or interaction ought to be. For example, the expectations that Target has set for me with their ordering/pickup experience sets the bar pretty high for every other brand I interact with.
Regardless of what CX looks like in 2022 and beyond, at the root of it all must be a customer-centric culture, where the customer is at the heart of all the business does – all discussions, decisions, and designs bring in the customer voice. By definition, a customer-centric culture is a collaborative culture. By definition, the entire organization rallies around the customer. Also by definition, the entire organization works toward a common goal, to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for the customer. That cannot happen in a fragmented organization. It can only happen when everyone works together. There are no “hero employees” or “hero moments for customers.” It’s how we all do things around here.
Adam Toporek, Customer Service Expert, Keynote Speaker & Strategic Advisor
As we enter 2022 and beyond, CX will be increasingly defined by less-human experiences and more-human expectations. As digital transformation, big data, and artificial intelligence facilitate frictionless, highly-personalized digital interactions, consumers will commit more fully to the technological behaviors they adopted during the pandemic. At the same time, consumers are expecting the brands they do business with to be more human—making sure non-digital touchpoints are empathetic and impactful, supporting the employee experience, and, in many cases, demonstrating social purpose and corporate responsibility.
Jeannie Walters, Customer Experience Speaker, Podcast Host & Consultant
Customer experience in the next few years will continue to need to be intentional and proactive. That is a challenge since the disruptions of the last few years – supply chain interruptions, labor shifts, and other changes will continue. Our role as CX leaders is to prepare as best we can. That means understanding our customers and their real lives.
Too often, our plans for the future of customer experience don’t consider the ecosystem that impacts our customers directly. To plan for the future, we need to consider how the supply chain, partner ecosystem, and distribution channels are connected to the customer’s actual experience. That means our journey maps and service blueprints need to consider what will happen IF…the supply chain is disrupted; there is a labor shortage; our partner network isn’t reliable…
These considerations will help CX leaders plan for better expectation setting and innovative solutions for when things do go wrong. Our customers depend on us to provide a journey that is as easy and convenient as possible. While there might be more challenges to doing so in 2022, there will also be opportunities to innovate in new ways!
Jay Baer, Marketing and customer experience expert advising the world’s most iconic brands
We’ve been talking about the convergence of CX and marketing for years, and it appears that we’ve finally achieved critical mass. New research from Salesforce says that 80%+ of global marketing teams are also responsible for customer experience in their companies.
Is this the best place for CX in a corporate structure? Perhaps no. But that ship is sailing over the horizon. The next question then becomes “what happens to CX in a marketing-led environment?”
The answer is the next few years will see an INCREASE in attention paid to customer experience, especially its correlation with revenue. But we’ll also witness a corresponding DECREASE in freestanding customer experience departments, and even job titles.
Customer experience thinking, taxonomy, and measurement will be absorbed by the marketing department at-large until it just becomes part of the natural state of affairs. The same way marketing departments no longer talk about “digital marketing” because it’s so enculturated that it no longer requires a descriptor, “customer experience” will trod the same path.
Eventually, CX will be like air – always around us, instead of its current situation where it’s water – something you have to purposefully go find.
Stacy Sherman, Head of Customer Experience + Employee Engagement, Author & Keynote Speaker
There is no doubt that customer experience (CX) is a key brand differentiator, and will continue to be a driving force for company success in 2022 and beyond. What workforce trends do brand leaders need to plan for and take action to retain employees and increase customer loyalty?
My Workplace Trend Predictions:
· Closer Partnerships Between Customer Experience and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Departments.
It’s no secret that when employees feel valued, appreciated, and accepted, customers see and feel it too. One fuels the other. The more customer experience and human resource / D&I teams work together, the higher the likelihood company goals will be achieved.
· More Workplace (office vs home) Options.
The global pandemic changed the way we think, work, and collaborate. Company policies are getting flexible and allowing employee choices with less FOMO (Fear of missing out), which in turn drives more loyalty and engagement to deliver customer excellence.
· Increased Empathy and Communications.
Employees are getting better trained to “put themselves in the customer’s shoes,” and gaining soft skills, like active listening. This is a good trend for business benefits and society too. Call center reps reading from a script will become less tolerable to customers. They want personalized service, which means company leaders need to empower their staff to take care of customer needs without delay.
· Better Time Management.
People are embracing a “less is more” mindset. Traditional hour-long meetings are becoming half the time and more focused. Also, people are gaining more efficiency by managing their energy to get daily tasks done versus clock watching. I’m a firm believer in a crawl, walk, run approach to life, and “listening with our eyes.” Listen to my podcast episode with guest, Neen James, about WHO deserves your attention, WHAT matters most, and HOW to increase productivity, accountability, and profitability.
· Deeper Understanding of Customer Needs.
Many managers have solely relied on surveys to gain insights about how well they are meeting customer expectations. Going forward, this will not be enough. Aggregating and centralizing all sources of Voice of Customer (VoC) feedback (i.e. social media, ratings and reviews, website LIVE chat, focus groups, etc.) combined with surveys will be the new game-changer.
· Expanded Business Metrics and Key Performance Indicators.
Customer questionnaires are expanding to include more than the traditional Net Promoter (NPS) rating. Level of Effort and Sentiment scores are increasing in importance to gauge customer satisfaction and future behaviors (i.e. buy again, tell others, etc). Listen to DoingCXRight® podcast about creating Frictionless experiences
· Higher Digital Adoption With Caution.
Technology is changing the way we live and service customers. The key is to not lose the human touch. The brands that win customer hearts and wallets will be the ones that deepen relationships and trust, not replace fully with automation.
· A Rise In Customer Experience Officer (CXO) positions.
You can see a workplace trend happening already. McDonald’s, for example, hired its first CXO, Manu Steijaert, to advocate for customers in every business decision across the customer journey. Similarly, Walmart hired Janey Whiteside, Volkswagen did the same, and additional companies are following the path.
Adrian Swinscoe, Customer experience advisor, author & speaker
I want to offer two trends: one for the short term and one with a longer horizon.
One for next year: Getting Personalisation Right Will Require Brands To Actually Talk To Customers
Both marketers and customers both agree that personalisation is important. However, many personalisation efforts are still relatively unsophisticated and often go awry.
That can largely be put down to two things. One, the quality of data that brands have on their customers and, two, a lack of a shared understanding of what personalization really means for both parties.
Leading brands get this and know that more data is not the answer. The answer is better data and, particularly, data that comes from an ongoing conversation between brands and their customers to achieve a shared understanding of what personalization is.
One with a longer horizon: The Emerging Landscape Of The Agent Experience
We have seen a massive shift to digital and the emergence of new and competitive technologies and channels over the last two years. However, at the same time, we have also witnessed the hugely important part that agents and live channels play in the delivery of a great customer experience.
As a result, we are seeing an emerging agent experience space that will have all of the same landscape elements that the customer experience has…. Assisted Service for agents, Self-Service for agents, Proactive Service for agents, Predictive Service for agents and Preemptive Service for agents. Like their customer counterparts, these facilities aim to improve efficiency, reduce effort, enable agents, and drive better customer outcomes.
Leading organisations understand that interactions with agents are and will remain a critical and important part of a customer’s experience and can make or break a customer’s relationship with a brand if not handled well. Consequently, they are starting to include this dimension in their thinking and the tools that they choose to utilize as they think in a more connected and holistic way about the whole service experience.
Tom De Ruyck, Keynote Speaker & Managing Partner & Head of Insight Activation at InSites Consulting
One of the biggest trends I see happening is the increasing importance of consumer empathy. At our company, for instance, we discovered a growing need for digital 1-1 connections between professionals and consumers. And so we built a new platform to enable that: some kind of dating site for consumers and professionals, if you will, which pre-screened the consumers from our Communities and Panels. The aim is that the companies only see, select and ‘date’ relevant profiles according to their search criteria. The ‘date’ can be physical, in the outside world, but usually it’s an online video call.
I believe that the reasons for this sudden explosion in the demand for consumer connects – especially among the big brands – are these:
1) The lockdowns made the disconnect with the customer’s world a lot more visible. There was a sudden lack of contact that came together with the realization that many of us have long been a bit estranged from the consumer. On top of that, marketing professionals realized that their lockdown and that of their customers were often very different, understanding that the former often were often more privileged and financially comfortable than the latter.
2) The tailwind of the pandemic greatly accelerated certain trends to mature. For instance, we see a lot of engagement around major transformative topics (sustainability, further digitization, …). People truly want to understand this evolution first hand and really feel the need to change. If a consumer confirms what was already stated in 10 reports, it will finally hit home.
3) We need to realize that we think too much in stereotypical target groups, while we live in an increasingly diverse world. It’s important that we understand how diverse our customer base really is.
4) There is a growing awareness of the importance of Consumer Centricity: how this is a culture change and a team sport in which everyone in the company has to participate in. there’s a shift from marketing to consumers to mattering to people. Everyone has to join in: from the CEO to the shop assistant. From Marketing to Finance to HR.
I refer to this as building a new habit of talking to a customer every other month and training the empathy muscles. Just like going to the gym, you have to make it a habit and do it together, otherwise there will be no impact. The impact you should desire is developing a better Consumer Instinct that will help you make big and small decisions every day. It is not a substitute for research that will feed the Minds and Actions of managers. It’s actually a third component that you need to develop: Hearts. This Hearts component is needed to deeply understand consumers and customer feedback and link action to these insights in the right way.
Reading the input of these incredible experts, these are the patterns I see emerging:
- Customer expectations will keep rising and they compare your experience with everyone else’s, not just that of your direct competitors. In fact, CX thinking will become so essential that it will just become a natural part of marketing. COVID-19 certainly accelerated this trend.
- The value of the deeply human experience will also keep rising, on top of the flawless technological experience. But the latter will become a commodity, while the former is a premium. Front line employees are an important part of that story and need to be trained, empowered and cherished.
- Empathy is key for offering top experiences. We need to really engage with and talk to customers to understand their real lives, and the ecosystem that impacts them. Our way of thinking, and of living is not always theirs and these insights are crucial for offering them better experiences.
Always curious to receive input from all of you out there. Let me know what you think are the most important trends for the coming years.