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Analysis

7 Mighty Customer Experience Trends for Retention in 2018

Is your business intently focused on its customers? Discover the key CX trends every brand must consider for maximum retention this year onward

Sam Hurley
November 27 2017

The way businesses operate is transforming as environments constantly shift — our digital world is fast-paced, technology-led and even chaotic.

While attempting to keep up with the times and simultaneously scale, it’s easy to become caught up in the surrounding hype of new marketing concepts, innovative software…and the actions of the latest disruptive startups.

Before you know it, you’re (ironically) neglecting the single most important component of success and growth:

Your customers.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts”.

(Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon)

Customer experience is not a new idea — however, the proliferation of ‘digital’ and abundance of choice has empowered customers more than ever before. Selecting (and dismissing) brands is effortless; these decisions are often made without even a glimmer of a second thought.

Similar to the buzz of Artificial Intelligence and its once-naysayers, the many predictions have now met reality. Experience matters just as much as anticipated. Today.

There’s a huge difference between merely servicing customers and ensuring an absolutely delightful experience at every turn…

And ‘delight’ is the ultimate pursuit. (Please observe emoji below.)

Why is such a level of happiness so significant?

“A 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%”.

(Source: Bain & Company)

Retention is a direct result of impeccable customer experience. Both are inherently linked.

Neither exist alone!

‘Customer Experience’ is the measure of a customer’s opinion and sentiment towards your brand and the value it provides based on the customer’s entire journey from first to current touchpoint.

When customers are rewarded with exceptional experiences, the effects on revenue and profitability are undisputed…

“The revenue growth of CX leaders is 5.1x that of laggards”.

(Source: Forrester)

(Infographic Source: CRMAA)

It’s important to remember that amazing customer experiences are driven by appealing company culture and true dedication to immaculate service. All the fanciest tech in the world cannot solve broken principles.

With those words and the above stats in mind, here are 7 mighty customer experience trends to inform your retention strategy in 2018 (and beyond) by ensuring heartfelt customer delight…

Because customers matter as people — not numbers.

Trend #1: Experience Above All

“Good product. Friendly service. A little pricey…”

This nature of feedback would have perhaps been sustainable a few years ago.

In today’s world of choice, the entire customer experience should be one that leaves the customer not even pondering cost for a moment — but instead — relishing the sheer joy they feel each and every time they interact with your brand and its offerings.

Aside from simply being the right approach, there’s no escaping the universal trend.

Experience matters — and customers evidently trust feedback from others:

This is your ultimate aim:

“Remarkable product. Exemplary service. I’ll be a customer forever and I’ll tell all my friends, too!”

Notably: Price (and even product) are now somewhat less of a concern — whilst the value of experience is skyrocketing.

(Infographic Source: Walker)

This ‘2020’ prediction was made a few years earlier — and it could be said we’ve already arrived at this milestone, well-ahead of schedule.

Michael Brenner (a distinguished marketing pro, CEO and keynote speaker) firmly agrees:

“In today’s age, everything is a commodity. Nobody cares about your product, your brand, or the color of your logo. Experiences are the only way to differentiate yourself. Experiences are the only thing we are willing to pay a premium for. So, customer experience has to be the #1 priority for every business, every marketer, every brand. In fact, research from a number of analyst firms proves that Customer Experience is identified as either the #1 priority or the top challenge for businesses today.

BONUS: How do we create better customer experiences? That’s easy. It starts with a culture that encourages your employees to share what they know and what they love. Great supportive corporate cultures create happy, passionate, and engaged employees who deliver amazing customer experiences.”

Michael Brenner: Keynote Speaker & CEO of Marketing Insider Group | Author of The Content Formula

Salesforce Customer Growth Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, also recently stated: “Customer experience beats price and product every time.”

Coming from a senior figure in a $8.4 billion turnover brand, this should certainly turn your head!

(Tiffani on Twitter)

Tiffani described Uber as a perfect example. How often do people wait for Uber rides, while watching countless other taxis pass them by..?

The bottom line

You can dominate your market by offering dazzling end-to-end experiences, even when competitors may beat you on price and/or product.

Trend #2: Proactive Engagement

Customer purchases. Customer is happy. They write a review. Company thanks customer.

Customer buys. Customer complains. They write a review. Customer hears from company.

These are extremely outdated examples of processes.

The way to truly exceed expectations is to get there first — be the swift solution to possible issues before the customer contacts you, or before they are even aware of any problems.

When customers are happy from the start, ensure continual happiness by staying closely in touch throughout their journey, rather than simply reacting to feedback.

The bottom line

Pre-empt what customers are thinking, prior to them spending time and energy reaching out to you. Their appreciation and loyalty will be boundless.

(Infographic Source: Conversocial)

More brands are now implementing proactive strategies like this…

Large retailer, Debenhams, apply a very straightforward approach: Delivery of in-depth content to well-inform customers before they decide to make a purchase.

How? They display a wealth of rich information on their website (and in their presumably segmented newsletters) that answers frequent questions — from guides on wedding attire and size guides, right through to makeup and home furniture…

Not only is this partly-beneficial to their SEO strategy, it has the power to considerably trim the collective costs of support and returns while also saving customers any hassle — maximizing delight.

“89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives.”

(Source: Accenture)

As part of their ‘1Customer’ initiative alongside Capgemini, Anglian Water is sending in excess of 200,000 text messages and emails to customers each year to notify them of outages and problems in their area — based on individual postcodes.

Similar to Debenhams’ guides, the goal of this action is to aid reduction of inbound calls, reported to be saving the company an annual £100K – £200k while also vastly improving their Net Promoter Score.

And NPS matters.

Check out the aims of Orange:

(Infographic Source: Orange)

My good friend Mike (people connector, social leader and devoted philanthropist), accurately explained the benefits of measuring NPS:

“Net Promoter Score(NPS) nurtures growth because it collects detailed customer feedback on experiences. Nobody else is better qualified to tell a brand how they can improve! Using NPS helps any business develop their processes, people, products, pricing, and overall experiences for the long term.”

Mike O’Connor | Founder of Service Professionals Network

I also recently explained a more complex, proactive approach to raising NPS by using automated triggers:

As soon as customers make a purchase (particularly if you use log-in functionality), enough data may be held to:

  • Monitor whether they visit the cancellation and/or refund pages once or X times
  • If SaaS-based — track their usage of your product or amount of log-ins to your dashboard

and

  • Observe any visits to your FAQ section (including any subsequent search terms)

Sending customized alerts like this paves the way to better service; you are able to jump in when necessary, almost reading customers’ minds (which has been proven to be greatly valued).

And going a step even further?

No CX trends coverage would be complete without AI; a relatively-new technology that enables tailored, proactive engagement to all customers — on an individual basis…

Trend #3: Real-Time Personalization (At Scale)

This AI-enabled strategy places immense power in the hands of any brand that recognizes its potential.

The advantage: The more you are able to learn about all your customers on a 1:1 level, the better their experience. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning tech allows granular, automated, on-the-fly personalization without the huge, additional load that 100% manual input would otherwise require. (Even impossible in cases where thousands of monthly customers are the norm).

Customer expectations are more demanding than ever.

“81% of consumers want brands to get to know them and understand when to approach them (and when not to).”

(Source: Accenture)

An ironic price of perception — it’s likely that the larger your brand, the more personalized your customers expect their experiences to be!

And we’re not talking basics:

(Infographic Source: HuffPost | Data Source: Salesforce)

Gartner estimate companies will dedicate 20% of their workforce to management of AI by 2020. This tech may accurately control and optimize (almost) everything in real-time, similar to how programmatic ads function.

You can use AI to apply immediate, scaled personalization to the masses in numerous ways.

The flood of new, AI-based solutions are only testament to demand in our era of everything ‘personal’:

(Infographic Source: Pegasystems)

WayBlazer, an AI brand, develops personalization solutions for online travel shopping platforms. Tech travel company Fareportal recently announced their mutual partnership

Using WayBlazer’s artificial intelligence tech to optimize their hotel offerings, Fareportal have witnessed massive increases in website engagement and an average conversion boost of 10% for online bookings.

And Fareportal’s mission is noteworthy as we head into 2018:

“To be the world’s best flight booking and customer experience company with a human touch.”

A highly-relevant ethos, as Mór Mester (an email marketing maverick, AI enthusiast and people-focused marketer) confirms:

“While automation is gaining more ground in customer interaction, maintaining the human touch is essential. This is where real-time personalization shines. These solutions optimize customer engagement (live) and segment your customer base. So, you can nurture, educate and provide content recommendations relevant to your customers — and that’s key to retaining them.”

Mór Mester | Community Specialist & Marketer @ Automizy

The bottom line

You can’t afford to use a blanket approach when servicing customers. They each have unique needs and they want them fulfilled (now) — or they may leave. AI is the key to make them stay.

Don’t just take our word for it:

“74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized.”

(Source: Infosys)

[NOTE: CX optimization across Social Media presents huge opportunity. This is a whole topic in itself — read more about AI’s role in social CX here.]

Trend #4: Service On Demand

Another benefit of AI is the fact it’s always on, 24/7 — an attribute that wholly suits our progressively ‘mobile-first’ state of mind.

Self-servicing is becoming the norm. Particularly among millennials and generation Z, dealing with humans on the phone (or at all) is so 2010!

Despite our evermore reliance on mobile tech; 72% of millennials said a call isn’t the best way to solve their problems.

Chatbots, virtual shopping assistants and voice-enabled technologies can provide Social Media users, website visitors and customers with rapid, intelligent support and guidance that beats human input hands down — due to the big data that is instantly utilizable.

However, any tech is only as good as its holder

Adam Fout produces spectacular, thought-leading content for CEOs and marketing professionals (plus, he writes regularly for PostFunnel). Here are his pertinent thoughts on the topic:

“Self-service technology should be a top priority for businesses focused on retention because most of it is substandard. The firm that can refine these technologies and make them incredibly user friendly will stand out to their customers. Bad tech that worsens user experience drives retention down — solid tech (and its effective delivery) drives it up.”

Adam Fout | Founder of adamfout.com

And although staggering advancements in technology are colossal and seemingly recurrent on a monthly basis, we’re still in the very early stages of AI development.

“By 2020, 40% of commerce transactions will be enabled by cognitive/AI personal shoppers and conversational commerce.”

(Source: IDC)

In the same year — 20% of all smartphone interactions will take place via digital, personal shopping companions.

Voice-based user experiences will be available across 2 billion IoT devices…

Even if that wasn’t enough to convince you:

(Infographic Source: Sprinklr | Data Source: Gartner)

It’s vital to remain relevant if you want to achieve steadfast loyalty in 2018 and beyond.

Say2eat positions their company in the food industry by optimizing customer experience via text and voice-powered chatbots. Customers are able to order from their preferred outlets through a branded, personalized chatbot housed on Facebook Messenger and Amazon Echo…

(Video Source: Vimeo)

Speaking of Facebook Messenger and Amazon — be sure to absorb what this renowned content specialist, public speaker and Shopify extraordinaire had to say:

“In ecommerce, you can’t beat Amazon when it comes to selection, price, or speed. What you can do is beat them in customer experience.

Amazon has yet to tap into the power of personalized and predictive recommendations served up via Facebook Messenger in a post-transactional sequence. Once you know what your customer likes, give it to them directly and let them buy natively in the place they’re most used to communicating.”

Aaron Orendorff | Content Marketer @ Shopify Plus

The bottom line

The latest tech can be applied to suit the modern customer journey. However, don’t dismiss the human touch.

Speaking of ‘human’: If a customer is really unhappy, forget automation and bots. Send them a personal video! It’s a thoughtful, memorable action many brands wouldn’t normally bother to take — and it can really set you apart.

Trend #5: Connectivity & Integration

This is directly linked to proactive customer engagement.

“70% of retail decision makers globally are ready to adopt IoT to improve customer experiences.

(Infographic + Data Source: Zebra)

Internet-connected devices (Internet of Things / IoT) and integrated tech provides outstanding customer experience by forming a constant bridge between brand and user.

Simply: When a customer is due to need something, such brands know before it is even required.

This means customers are alerted when they need to service their washing machine, stock up on their groceries…or change their tires.

Yes — Pirelli have recently launched the world’s first AI tire system!

The new Pirelli system is designed for the most demanding motorists and offers customized services localized according to the driver’s needs.”

(Image Source: Pirelli)

Such quotes from these mega-brands are so pertinent to industry trends.

Equally, the entire IoT industry is a growing beast…

“By 2025, Internet of Things applications could have $11 trillion impact.”

(Source: McKinsey)

It’s not only pre-emptive alerts that can be delivered, either — here are some varied examples of usage in retail, for superior experience and upsells:

  • Beacon-activated, automated checkout
  • Store layout optimization
  • Customer tracking (albeit a tad intrusive!)
  • Real-time, personalized discount deals and promotions
  • Inventory optimization (including automated re-ordering of stock)

(Infographic Source: McKinsey)

BMW recently partnered with IBM to offer next generation telematics in their vehicles.

What does this mean?

The infrastructure monitors new BMW cars and how they are performing, much more than owners often do. Whenever issues arise, the customer support team is able to proactively notify drivers and let them know to check in for a service or repair.

The bottom line

The proliferation of IoT to enable proactive engagement is not a trend to be overlooked. CX leaders are already innovating; this tech is used to drive magnetizing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Trend #6: AR & VR Enrichment

Augmented and virtual reality experiences are redefining and enhancing the customer journey as we know it. Fully-immersive tech like this takes customers to their own artificial (yet highly-realistic) 360-degree world.

IKEA shoppers are able to explore new home layouts, just like they would in-store — without leaving the comfort of their living rooms.

It could be said that VR actually offers a better experience than visiting in person! The levels of interaction offered by this wearable tech are both impressive and addictive. Customers are able to cook your own meals in their envisaged kitchens, read magazines and recycle their trash…

(Image Source: IKEA)

IKEA’s leading innovation doesn’t end there.

Using AR, their IKEA Place app overlays products on whatever is showing on the customer’s smartphone camera. The benefits are vast; customers are able to visualize how products fit into their own environment — without second-guessing.

This reduces the likelihood of returns and consequently, all the resource costs to fulfil them.

(Image Source: IKEA)

A new software release from Apple has enabled this IKEA experience — and it’s now set to be a game changer for many other brands ahead of the curve:

“Apple’s ARKit framework will make AR-enabled devices universal.”

(Source: iamwire)

That means no need for devices and headsets required when using VR. It’s a clear indicator to act.

The potential doesn’t stop at B2C companies, either. B2B brands can similarly take advantage of both technologies for improved customer experience:

(Infographic Source: The Longevity Network)

Here are some more juicy stats to entice you:

(Infographic Source: Zion Market Research)

The bottom line

Cutting through any hype — VR and AR literally add new dimensions to the customer experience, strengthening bonds and brand perception. The benefits to both parties are clear.

REMEMBER: As touched on right at the beginning of this piece — the ultimate aim is always to make the customer journey seamless, connected, intuitive and enjoyable across multiple devices and channels.

We’re talking
omnichannel.

Trend #7: Seamless Customer Journeys

The introduction and explosion of mobile shopping and research conducted by users on multiple devices (plus the fast-paced nature of this development) has made it all the more difficult to accurately track and cater for individuals on a personal level, without any error.

However, this intricacy isn’t an excuse to merely disregard one of the most fundamental CX trends of today:

(Infographic Source: Sprinklr)

And customers expect a smooth transition, no matter their choice, time or number of interactions…

“Companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel strategies.”

(Source: Aberdeen Group)

Omnichannel means shifting from a limited, device-by-device, channel-by-channel analysis and optimization to a customer-centric, birds-eye view of the complete customer journey…

This approach caters for users, visitors and customers across every touchpoint as if they were travelling through their unique journey on a single device via one channel.

It also aids the desirable outcome of shortened path to purchase.

Reports estimate 10 billion mobile-connected devices are now active — reaching almost 12 billion by the year 2020 — so, if you’re part of a larger brand that’s not already ahead of the game — it’s time to catch up.

Otherwise, the future of your business hangs in the balance:

(Infographic Source: Oracle)

You must successfully connect the dots and make customers feel special. They feel cherished when everything is tailored to their interests and their time is appreciated.

“72% of customers say valuing their time is the most important action a company can take to provide them with good service.”

(Source: Forrester)

A quick example of poor experience across channels:

Customer contacts brand on Social Media. A whole conversation takes place regarding a complex issue…

Customer then decides to contact customer service via website chat, only to find their social engagement has not been logged between teams.

And a basic example of an experience lacking omnichannel implementation:

Customer visits website via desktop and is greeted with a promo deal…

Customer visits website on mobile — doesn’t see the same discount, and is also met with products not of interest. This single customer is recognized as 2 separate visitors in the company’s analytics.

(Infographic Source: OpinionLab)

Enterprise brands failing to counter this level of experience need to take heed. Budget and resource should be allocated, no doubt.

Here are some top-tier omnichannel solutions to consider:

The bottom line

Individually cater for each person who comes into contact with your brand using ultra-personal, fully-synced messaging and service — no matter their preference of interaction. It’s expected in the age of the customer.

Your retention rate depends on it!

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Sam Hurley

Sam is a passionate 'people connector', Personal Branding expert & Founder of OPTIM-EYEZ. He has achieved success for SMEs, national and international organizations, while being ranked as the world’s #1 digital influencer by Webinale, #2 most influential digital marketer by Onalytica and world’s #3 content marketing influencer by ScribbleLive. Sam loves a high-octane action movie and his all time favorite supercar is the Lamborghini Aventador! Catch him on social for cosmic amounts of Digital Marketing tips.

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