2017 Biggest Trends in Customer Experience ft. @Wootric

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazdesky).

As we enter 2017, what trends are shaping how companies are treating Customer Experience (CX)? What obstacles, challenges or blind spots will Marketing, Customer Success and Customer Support leaders likely run into when trying to improve CX? And, how can they do CX better?

These are the questions we asked people who live, breath and develop CX for companies around the world. We also sourced trends from places like UserIQ and Forrester, for a more holistic view of what 2017 has in store for us.

How will Customer Experience develop over the next year? Here are their answers, predictions, and suggestions.

Emotion emerges as a dominant trend

Feeling a little… emotional? Emotion is emerging as the dominant trend in CX, and if you’ll forgive the pun, we’re feeling it.

According to Rick Parrish, Principal Analyst at Forrester, in a response to our email query,

“The single most important thing that companies that are already well along on their CX transformations can do is to understand and embrace the importance of emotion in CX.
You can create the easiest, most effective experience in the world, but unless it has the right emotional quotient — unless it leaves customers feeling the way they need to feel — customers won’t walk away saying the experience was great.”

In Episode 73 of Forrester’s CX podcast, they recapped the highlights of Forrester’s annual CXSF forum, in which a key theme was how CX pros are using technology more and more to deliver emotionally engaging experiences. Don’t underestimate the link between emotion and customer loyalty.

Customer Service becomes Self Service with the help of AI

The Product team at Freshdesk shared some very interesting insights into CX and CS, from the customer support angle.

Karthik Kalyanasundaram, Director, Product Management, sees self-service as a rising trend —

“People are more inclined to resolve their own service/product-related issues than reaching out to an agent.” And, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are hot buzzwords for a reason. The chatbots they drive will help customers by doing a better job of predicting what they are looking for and serving up potential solutions to their issues.
Thus, Kalyanasundaram predicts (and is not alone in this) that customer support will be increasingly automated: “The whole ticketing/case system is shifting towards a conversational type (ie. chat over email). With ML/AI implementations, not just the end user, but also the support rep will be talking to an intelligent AI assistant (like on Allo). Everything will be automated via NLP (natural language processing), and it’s safe to say that, at the end of the day, everyone will be chatting with a machine.”

And, like in so many futuristic films, that AI support will follow us everywhere “as more and more companies become social and start supporting customers in native environments like Messenger, Whatsapp, etc.” This trend is all about convenience for the customer, being wherever they want to engage.

No, we haven’t reached Westworld-like AI yet — in 2017 machine learning will most likely just help businesses prioritize conversations with customers and engage more intelligently with users, as they become more context-aware. But increasing sophistication is on the horizon.

Customer Support agents shift to Customer Success

What are agents to do as the chatbots take over? Become more proactive, more human — essentially, move into Customer Success. Not an easy transition, it turns out.

In UserIQ’s The State of Customer Success and Trends for 2017 webinar, they predicted that Customer Success teams will get a better handle on being proactive (versus reactive) as they improve their customer health data-gathering and analysis.

Kalyanasundaram predicts that the companies who are already on top of being proactive this year will push it even further next year: “Reactive and proactive will evolve to preemptive. For example, with preemptive tech, companies will be able to predict the problems that a customer might have and solve it even before he raises it as an issue.”

“As bots and machine learning make life easier for support reps, they will get to spend more time solving customer issues with empathy, ultimately delivering a superior CX. Quality and impact of human agents will make a bigger difference in CX in turning around customer experiences — rather than sending link to FAQs, or looking up data that should already be available to the user.”
This handily solves the current problem Chakravarthy Srinivasan (Global Support Manager, Freshdesk) sees, that “agents are sometimes focused so much on the problem-solving that we forget constant communication/updates and human connection.”

Could the bots actually help us improve human connection? Looks like it.

Videos are also gaining steam, and spreading further into social media marketing. Brent Summers, VP of Client Success at TVPage predicts:

“In 2017, we will see a huge increase in video production and consumption. The rise of new video services from Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitch will empower everyone to share authentic, personal stories about the products and brands they love. These services will drive even more demand for video. Smart retailers will capitalize on this trend with shoppable video players and video commerce experiences.”

Sounds like the most effective social media videos will be those that not only leverage moving pictures, but also authentic, moving stories from brand advocates. Companies that are already identifying their promoters will have the edge.

Emerging Challenges

Rick Parrish at Forrester says companies can expect a few challenges that come along with advancing technology in the coming year. He cautions that CX efforts can go wrong in three ways:

1) Hero-Dependent CX: That’s when a company has no discipline around the way it manages CX but does have some employees who have great empathy for customers. These employees will work their fingers to the bone and battle their own companies to provide great CX. This is totally unsustainable, very inefficient, and burns out your best employees.
2) Rigid CX: This is the opposite of #1. These are the companies that have a rule and a pigeonhole for everything. They are so proud of their detailed scripts and massive process maps. These companies have sucked all possible empathy out of the customer experience and can’t deal with any CX eventuality that falls outside their predetermined processes.
3) Haphazard: These companies have neither discipline nor empathy, but they are running around doing an awful lot of CX stuff. These companies have mistaken action for progress. They are just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. And — to mix my metaphors — even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Even if these companies do hit upon good CX from time to time, they have no idea how they did it and their successes are drowned out by their overwhelming failures.
But, if 2017 represents nothing else, it represents hope — hope that things will improve, that we can take our mistakes of last year and turn them into learning opportunities. And, in that spirit, here is straight-from-the-experts advice for improving your CX in 2017.

Advice for Improving CX in 2017

Srinivasan says the most important improvements will be founded in better data. “Measuring support quality with customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys and measuring standard KPIs (First Call Resolution (FCR), Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for response and resolution times, Average Response times) will give an idea on where we stand and provide insights for improvements.”

He also suggests getting in on improved self-service now. “Self-service is a vital area for growth next year. Develop Self Service help with collateral (FAQs, solution articles, troubleshooting guides) to help ticket deflection and in-product videos/tutorials for intuitive onboarding. Also focus on building community forums for self help.”

Moving forward, Parrish says he’d like to see more mature CX programs that have both discipline and empathy:

The biggest bang for the buck is time and money spent on the quantitative and qualitative research necessary for understanding customers and then disseminating that information throughout the company.
A real foundational understanding of your customers that is shared by everyone is the essential foundation of everything else. All the technology in the world won’t improve a company’s CX without this foundation.
The single most important thing that companies that are just starting their CX transformation can do is to understand that they need to improve their CX systematically along two main variables: discipline and empathy.
For customer experience management, discipline is all about making great CX standard operating procedure. And companies must do this in ways that also deepen customer empathy.

Empathy and emotion on one end, AI-driven “bots” on the other — they seem like they couldn’t be more different. But all serve one common purpose, improving the customer’s experience. Giving customers the tools to do more for themselves, but supporting them with genuine, empathetic human interaction when they run into trouble. We’re far from perfecting human interaction, but 2017 will evolve our ability to grow and retain customers through seamless customer experience.

This article originally appeared on Wootric — the Net Promoter Score℠ platform for boosting customer happiness.

I’m available for a limited number of SaaS consulting retainers, writing engagements, and I offer Twitter curation + growth (500–1,000 or more followers / mo.) with an authentic approach so that your feed doesn’t look like everyone else’s.