What will customer experience look like in 2025, and what should companies be doing now to prepare? Those are two central questions in a recent discussion we had with Glen Hartman, Senior Managing Director at Accenture Interactive; Harsha Mokkarala, Chief Revenue Officer at the educational technology company, 2U Inc.; and Catharine Hays, co-author of Beyond Advertising: Creating Value Through All Customer Touchpoints.
Here are three key insights on the critical issues that business leaders face when it comes to developing customer experience capabilities fit for the future.
Companies today have powerful technological capabilities at their fingertips to help them create experiences that focus on individual consumers. For example, systems that use machine learning can produce rich insights into an individual’s wants and needs by aggregating huge amounts of customer data and learning from it in real time. These insights help businesses deliver the kind of personalized and meaningful consumer interactions that become a powerful differentiator for their brand.
At the same time, ever-evolving customer expectations make that kind of personalization even more challenging to achieve. Part of the problem is understanding what personalization really means. While some marketers think it revolves around delivering customized and efficient experiences in real time, that may no longer be enough.
“One thing that’s helping us understand how to deliver personalization now is that we’re increasingly seeing people reach for the word ‘useful’ when they look to engage with a brand. They’re saying: ‘How can this brand make my life a little easier right at this moment?’” said Hartman. He gave this example of how understanding a customers’ context in different moments can make all the difference in personalization
“That kind of contextual information is key when you’re seeking to create meaningful experiences. Many companies work to gather data to personalize experiences, but fewer take into account the customers’ context in any given moment. If they don’t understand this, they’re missing an opportunity to really connect and could even end up alienating the customer.
The way customers are gathering information has also shifted significantly. “Consumers don't want to follow the traditional sales funnel anymore,” Mokkarala said. “Increasingly, they want to do the research themselves and find all the information they need, across a million different places on the web. So, we need to aid consumers in that research process.”
To win in this environment, companies must understand how individual customers interact with every touchpoint across the purchasing process — from marketing to sales, customer service, loyalty programs, and more.
Earning and maintaining trust with your customers is another key to building a better customer experience for the future. While technological advancements enable extraordinary levels of innovation and efficiency, the rapid pace of change is also contributing to a sense of unease.
Hartman stressed that in this new world of connected products and services, there can be no trust without transparency. Companies must be clear about how they will use customers’ personal data and ensure they keep it secure.
“A brand is a promise and trust is a big part of that,” he said. “The way brand promises are kept is with experiences.”
At the same time, with machine learning poised to become an essential element of customer-focused marketing campaigns, customers also want reassurance that the hyper-personalized products and services delivered to them retain a human touch. As Hays put it, “Marketing terminology can sometimes appear highly unthoughtful: think of phrases like ‘acquiring customers’ or ‘customer conversion.’ Nobody wants to be acquired or converted. Words matter if you want to build trust. Put people at the center of the experiences you design, not consumers or customers.”
If your 2025 goal is truly reaching customers at the right time and on the right platform, what’s the first step to achieving that?
Our experts agreed that companies need to embrace a business model that entrenches customers’ needs as the central orientation point. “Companies must move away from a transaction mentality and focus on thinking about the voice of the consumer in every aspect of what they do,” Mokkarala said.
At the same time, success metrics need to change. In Mokkarala’s words, “Companies should broaden the definition of success to include what the customer would see as success, bringing value to their lives.”
Being a strong customer advocate positions chief marketing officers to play an active role in reshaping operational models. “It’s not enough to go back and try and do a better campaign, or have more effective email conversions, or better connections between sales,” said Hartman. “As the CMO, as the voice of the customer, now is a great moment to inspire your company to do something new — something that will both inspire your customers and set your firm well apart from its rivals.”
This article is part of a series on the future of customer experience, in partnership with customers, Salesforce executives, and other thought leaders. For more insight, check out this piece on why customer experience begins with understanding human nature; these insights on the power of empathy in creating personalized customer experiences; and this five-point checklist for exceptional customer experience.