I recently had an impactful customer experience when attending an INMA conference in Dallas. I stayed at the host hotel, The Joule. Upon arriving at the hotel via Uber, I was immediately greeted by a dapper and friendly gentleman named Gus.

Typically, you’d describe someone in Gus’ job as a bellhop. However, being assisted by Gus was unlike anything I had ever experienced in all my years of my travel.

The customer experience has become increasingly important in developing a successful corporate strategy.
The customer experience has become increasingly important in developing a successful corporate strategy.

Before we had reached the front door, Gus warmly shook my hand, introduced himself, picked up my luggage, and ushered me into the lobby. Gus not only knew my name, but also the city I was traveling from. As he escorted me through the hotel lobby, he pointed out all the hot spots, knew where I needed to register for the conference, and walked with me to check-in.

He then introduced me to the agent who located my room, explained the reason for my stay, and, lastly, accompanied me to the elevator bank. Before I could even get to my wallet to tip Gus for his outstanding service, he had quietly departed.

With the meetings and conference concluding, Gus assisted me again by hailing a car. He knew the exact rates to the airport for each of the transportation options and helped me get on my way, telling the cab driver my name, destination, and airline. 

Needless to say, Gus left a lasting impression — a great one — that will be hard to top by other bellhops in the hospitality industry. I have already shared this story multiple times and recommended The Joule to friends traveling to Dallas. I have become a fan, an advocate, and all the things a business wants when measuring its net promoter score and consumer perceptions.

While working on my goals and plans for this new year, I knew that learning more about trends in customer experience and marketing technology would be high on the to-do list. Although the martech space is fascinating, it can be all-consuming. It is very easy to be lured into the complicated details of tech and forget to focus intently on the customer experience. We have a responsibility to ensure the work directly in front of us creates meaningful value, for our customers and for the business.

Like Gus did for me.

So, this year we’ve decided to define and address customer experience in a new way, starting with the important recognition that it is more than the role of the customer service department.

We need to be thinking of the customer experience from multiple vantage points with the end-to-end customer journey in mind. We need to holistically recognise where decisions can negatively impact or delight the customer and align our priorities, initiatives, and resources accordingly. These decisions end up tying back to how we deploy our martech stack and optimise the right tools for the jobs to be done.

I recently sought to identify what the experts in the field view as emerging trends in customer experience for 2018, and the martech that enables it. Presented below is a consolidated summary of 11 key trends as reported by the sources noted. Much of the language used is drawn directly from the sources cited. 

1. Brands will fight for bigger pieces of the customer ecosystem pie. Technology will continue to commoditise products and services that are core to many organisations’ business models — like news, of course. This trend begs us to answer how we can “own” more parts of the customer journey through our brands and deliver content-based experiences in new ways.

2. All employees will become customer engagement agents. Advances in Artificial Intelligence and robotic automation will blur the lines between service agents, salespeople, and marketers — and will continue to erode the line between the front and back offices. All customer-facing employees will be able to service, sell, or do anything the customer needs in the moment. The organisation will move with the customer, as opposed to the customer having to move across different departments within the organisation.

3. Companies will open the “black box” and be more transparent about AI. Transparency with customers is especially imperative when AI is being used — and how it is making decisions — even when a system is designed to perform in a way that makes consumers think they are interacting with people. Ultimately, this transparency will build more trust between companies and their customers while also dispelling common fears about AI.

4. New regulations will raise the customer experience stakes. In May, the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will give European citizens the right to ask businesses to delete their personal information. Other countries may follow suit with similar regulations. This will force businesses to put even greater emphasis on CX, because poor experiences could not only cost them sales, but also lead to requests that they give up their data.

5. Customer empathy will become the new customer personalisation. Companies are collecting new data signals in real time from all kinds of digital inputs. This data gives businesses the ability to demonstrate new levels of empathy toward their customers on a broad scale. It gives them the power to assess a customer’s state of mind in the moment, including emotional, motivational, behavioural, situational, and environmental factors affecting their moods. The ability to understand and cultivate empathy is a vital job skill for CX leaders and data scientists.

6. Robotic assistants will be available to just about everyone. Robotic software, including chatbots and robotic automation tools, will come of age in 2018. They will become commonplace across sales, service, and marketing desktops. Devices and systems powered by Siri and Alexa will talk to business-created bots to solve customer issues, and that will ultimately improve employee productivity and customer satisfaction.

7. Consumer demand for personalisation will continue to increase. Digital interfaces are no longer an excuse for impersonal touch points and transactions. Customers already expect to be treated as individuals with specific preferences, and that trend will only become more evident over the course of the next year.

8. Data continues to be as good as gold. It’s no secret that consumer data is a very valuable thing to have, and that will only become more evident in 2018. Data analytics will continue to be ground zero for driving better customer engagement and providing a more personalised brand experience.

9. The Internet of Things (IoT) will create new challenges and opportunities. In a nutshell, the IoT refers to the ever-increasing number of devices connected to and communicating with one another over shared networks. More connected channels mean more opportunities to collect data and improve brand interactions.

10. Seamless customer journey becomes the norm. Executing omni-channel sales models is hard. Bridging channels and creating a seamless customer journey will no longer be limited to industry leaders; it will become the status quo. Customers will increasingly expect a more organic transition from one channel to the next, all the while enjoying a consistent, uniform experience interacting with the brand along the way.

11. Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM) closes the gap between CX expectations and reality. Consumer demands are high and are only going to increase. CIAM facilitates more personalised brand interactions by gathering valuable data at every touch point to create more personal engagement strategies. It offers customers the products, services, and promotions that best suit their needs at any given moment.