Entering 2018, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices have become our new normal. Our homes are connected: We can control the climate whether we are home or away, our devices respond to our voices, and we can order products using words alone.
The convergence of IoT and natural language processing advances have radically changed our expectations as consumers of how we should be able to interact with brands and information. These trends have created new requirements for the customer experience, and in 2018, they will shape expectations for both B2C and B2B buyers. Here’s what to expect.
New Channels for an Interactive Customer Experience
Customer experience is interactive by nature. Even starting that interaction requires being where people already are. Right now, that means messaging. In fact, 91 percent of our digital time is now spent messaging, from texting to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Kik Messenger, and more. Embracing messaging as a channel creates huge opportunities for enhancing customer experience. Unlike oft-ignored emails and voicemails, text messages are read, on average, in under five seconds. Even more impressive is their 90-second average response time, versus 90 minutes with email.
As consumers, we have made a monumental move to messaging as an operating system (OS), facilitated by the power our mobile devices now possess. People hate context switching, and what users were willing to do in the past in multiple places—web browser, email, phone call, separate branded apps—we now expect to be able to do from the comfort and familiarity of our favorite messaging app.
Different Audiences to Target
For one generation in particular, messaging as OS is not simply a preference; it’s an expectation. Millennials, a major driver behind this platform shift, will:
- Number over 80 million in the United States alone
- Represent $1.4 billion in spending power by 2020
- Comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025
Understanding the Millennial rules of engagement will be critical to creating a compelling customer experience in 2018. While Millennials highly value individualism, they possess some shared traits that should act as guidelines for any customer experience.
- Speed: Interactions should be always on and on-demand. Prepare teams to be ready to handle this.
- Personalization: Go beyond tokens and topics to anticipatory content and recommendations based on cues from their communications.
- Bite-size: Create content—and the means to consume it—in ways that are conversational, progressive, and manageable.
- Convenience: Remember the moment and the medium. Reimagine your touchpoints.
- Tone: If authenticity dominated marketing in 2016 and 2017, humanity will emerge as a driver of customer experience in 2018 with the rise of influencer marketing and associated trends. Use a conversational tone at every touchpoint that reminds consumers that there are real people behind the messaging.
Create Unexpected Experiences
While companies in years prior focused on creating personalized, seamless, omnichannel experiences that were based on past purchases and preferences, 2018 will go far beyond that. There’s the recent emergence of a “no channel” customer experience that drives this, one that is fluid, anticipatory, always in context, proactive, and predictive.
Machine learning and conversational user interfaces allow for organic discovery of unrecognized consumer needs and preferences as well as real-time recommendations for products and services that meet them. Rather than fearing a loss of control over the experience, innovative brands will understand the potential of these technologies to unveil what consumers really want and deliver it to them in the appropriate experience.
Unification of Technology and Humans
The last decade has seen two major platform shifts when it comes to user experience. First, 2008 saw us shift from desktops to smartphones as our primary device. Then in 2016, a second shift from apps to applications built on top of existing platforms, in other words, the emergence of bots, also known as chatbots.
Much hyped for both their potential and potential failures, chatbots have quickly become accepted as a major part of the customer experience. Recent statistics reflect this:
- 86 percent of Millennials say brands should use chatbots to promote deals, products and services
- 59 percent of people have or would communicate with a chatbot
- 48 percent would take recommendations from a chatbot
- One-third of people would make purchases from a chatbot
- 80 percent of businesses want chatbots by 2020
- Chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions by the year 2020
- The average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse
Despite fears to the contrary, the prevalence of chatbots will not spell the end for humans in the customer experience, in 2018 or for many years to follow. Instead, expect human interactions to deepen as transactional inquiries and issues get offloaded from valuable human resources and assigned to chatbots. This both increases responsiveness to consumers and opens opportunities for more meaningful (and higher value) interactions between human teams and customers.
As human teams gain the ability to refocus on more strategic tasks, every role in the organization gains the ability to evolve into that of an innovator. 2018 will see this prompting a flurry of collaboration.
- More shared organizational metrics and processes.
- Entire organization involvement and responsibility for customer experience.
- A continued shift to view critical players in customer experience, such as Marketing and Customer Success, as revenue centers versus cost centers.
- Changing company health metrics and customer health as a proxy for overall company health.
- Greater focus on internal customer experience; for example, sales enablement, as a leading indicator of external customer experience.
Are You Ready for 2018?
Capturing these big changes in customer experiences in 2018 will require coordinated efforts between all of your departments, at every level of an organization.
CIOs and CMOs will soon be working side by side with CXOs, in some organizations, or working together to act in the role of CXO. All the functions with an organization must together examine upstream functions to identify any challenges and correct those that would result in a poor customer experience.
Though there is much we still don’t know and unique experiences and challenges we’ll all face in 2018, it promises to be a year that leads to a more immersive and immediate customer experience. And that can only be good for us, and for our customers. We can assume that we’ll see even more crossover and collaboration between teams in the short term. As the year progresses, there will likely be a trend toward defining real ways to measure and improve this new world of customer experience.
About the Contributor Laura Smous serves as VP of Marketing and Client Success Executive at AtlasRTX, an AI chatbot solution. In her role, she blends extensive Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and agency experience, along with a love for marketing and passion for data, to help clients unlock the potential of emerging technologies for their business. The goal? To develop memorable customer experiences that drive engagement, revenue, and loyalty.