2017 is going to be a transformative year in many ways but none more so than in the business-consumer relationship. The way in which these two entities connect and interact is undergoing a massive overhaul. Most importantly, the communication now flows both ways. The days of a one-way monologue, at the customer, are over. Instead, there must be a real-time, two-way dialogue with the customer.
Consumers have an abundance of channels at their disposal and can effortlessly communicate with brands – or about brands — like never before. As such, they have more control over how brands communicate and interact with them. They’re empowered, and this changes how businesses approach their customer experience. So, in the spirit of the New Year, here are my top five customer experience predictions and trends for 2017.
1. Brands learn what it means to be conversational
The challenge for brands is that the model for communicating is shifting. It’s moved away from a model where people adapt to computers and apps, to one where the computer must listen, learn, interpret and ultimately anticipate the person’s demands and deliver the desired outcome. According to Forrester Research, investment in artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to triple in 2017. The new conversations will optimize natural language interaction by both text and voice with digital systems powered by artificial intelligence. Chatbots will become less assistants and more advisers. We’ve moved away from pure transaction-based customer relationships. Now, we’re in the age of the interactive customer relationship — those built over time, based on meaningful two-way communication between a brand and the consumer.
The premise of the conversation will be central to customer experience success in 2017. Customer interactions will be focused on engaging interactions that drive value for both businesses and customers.
See also: How to Bottle Great Customer Experience
2. Brands get text-savvy
If messaging is the new channel for customer communication, brands need to learn the lingo to connect with consumers in a meaningful way. Think about it: Data has become the No. 1 use of our smart phones, surpassing telephony. Optimizing this channel extends beyond the premise of what tone a brand uses to engage with users or if emojis align with their brand, and really zeroes in on mobile messaging best practices. Messaging is the No.1 communication method for people to talk to each other.
Here’s a newsflash: Customers are people, too! If brands can’t replicate the same peer-to-peer messaging experience — i.e. short, to-the-point exchanges that respect the consumer’s time — then they’ll likely miss the opportunity to strengthen and capitalize on the interaction. Vibes recently released The Transactional Messaging Consumer Report, which indicated that 70% of customers prefer service-based messages be sent to their mobile phone. On top of that, messaging boasts a 99% open rate. To meet customers in the place where they want to do business, brands must develop strategies that deliver transactional messages that create real value across channels in real time.
3. “Silver-surfers” re-emerge as key target demographic
Just about every brand has its sights set on connecting with millennials. This comes as little surprise — the millennial generation is a massive demographic. They’re growing quickly into their peak consumption years. But amid all the fanfare around millennials, it’s important not to lose sight of the buying power and might of the more mature consumer. Take the baby boomers as an example; despite the fact that they’re no longer the largest U.S. demographic, they still represent a huge chunk of the U.S. population — more than 74.9 million people, in fact (the millennial population is only a touch larger at 75.9 million). But what’s interesting about the baby boomers is that they have the disposable income to spend on what they want — something many millennials can’t do, thanks to the rising cost of living. According to a recent article in BloombergTechnology, millennials will spend more than $200 billion annually beginning in this year and $10 trillion during their lifetimes. But the spending power of baby boomers is predicted to be much higher, with estimates at $15 trillion worldwide by the end of 2019.
And the baby boomer population has a huge potential for growth in the mobile sector. While they may not have grown up as digital natives, they’re making up for lost ground and using their mobile devices and technology more than ever. This means brands need to pay special attention to ensuring their digital and mobile strategies align with the needs of seasoned consumers, in addition to millennials.
4. Big data gets bigger
Remember the big buzz about big data? I’m predicting that big data will get even bigger in 2017! We’ve been furiously collecting raw data and information but have not yet optimized for better business results and enhanced customer interactions. We’ve reached the point where it’s time to put the massive amounts and wide varieties of data to work. We will use the combined power of IoT, a cloud environment and sensors serving up data, increasing the variety, volume and velocity of information — both structured and unstructured — to more evenly distribute the availability. According to Statista, in 2017 the global consumer internet traffic in web, email, instant messaging and other data traffic use, excluding file-sharing, is projected to reach 11,061 petabytes per month.
In the past, we’ve largely forecast and designed based on historical data; we now have expansive access to vast amounts of data in real time that can be used in a predictive way. For large enterprises, swimming in a sea of aggregates and hiding behind the law of large numbers where you can’t see the tree for the forest is no longer a smart strategy. Not only do customers demand personalization, but understanding and leveraging more discrete segmentation can improve processes, product development, service design and delivery strategies that increase profitability for the company.
5. Back to the basics
Predictions pieces always offer up new exciting technologies for companies to take advantage of. But, merely keeping up with the pace of global change and technology advances is overwhelming for many. This is why I think we’ll start to see companies opting to spend some of their limited resources and time toward refocusing on the fundamentals. After all, technology for technology’s sake is never a good idea. And getting the right foundation in place is a prerequisite to the introduction of new technology. Much of what is lauded as the next big thing is often not ready for prime-time — especially in highly regulated environments. Virtual reality is one example that comes to mind. Some time in the future, I’m sure we’ll see immersive customer experiences in the mainstream, but, for now, the ideal solution may be something as simple as introducing a pilot program or creating an innovation lab for testing, adding messaging as a communication channel or fixing broken processes before you automate them. Or the solution may be as complex as designing a solution to connect all those disparate systems.
So, for many companies, especially those incumbents in industries that have traditionally lagged in innovation (like insurance, healthcare and telecoms) and that face disruption, 2017 will also be about exploiting core competencies, mastering the basics and making the incremental improvements that will simplify customer experiences in ways that can quickly scale.
Taking action is the key to 2017 success
Although it is impossible to know the future, it’s clear that doing things the way we’ve always done them or past decision-making practices can’t simply be retrofitted and forced to solve for a completely new set of problems. In this increasingly dynamic, fiercely competitive world of business, we all face new leadership challenges that cut across industries and markets. I believe they affect us all both personally as consumers and professionally as businesses. For me, the secret to success around managing these new challenges is to anticipate them to the point that their inherent complexity is minimized or mitigated.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. It means getting ahead of the curve and not just being a thought-leader, but a do-er. Having a bias to action is more critical now than ever. Those who move quickly will increase their chance of growth, success and survival — those who anticipate and act will thrive.