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Gazing into the Future of the Customer Experience: 11 Observations

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on January 16, 2014

This is a 12 minute read.

Gazing into the Future of the Customer Experience: 11 ObservationsSo, what's ahead for the customer experience?

Having just participated in a thought-provoking conversation on SAP Radio's Coffee Break with Game Changers on customer loyalty and retail, I feel an intense need to share with you my observations about what I see when gazing into the future of the customer experience.

I came up with 11 observations and would love your reactions...

1. Time Pressures are More Intense Than Ever for Customers 

I consider time - or the perceived lack of it - to be a critical influence for all of us. There's more to do in the same amount of time - more email to read, more social updates to react to, more obligations. We have less time off and away from always-on devices. Even my 12 year old daughter is feeling pressured by homework, sports and life. Having 'free' time is the ultimate luxury. If we're feeling time pressure, we know our customers are, too.

Creating a memorable customer experience must address saving time for our customers. In other words, we must figure out how not to waste their time with unwanted or irrelevant messages, spam, complexity, obfuscation... You know, all the stuff that drives you crazy when you're on the receiving end.

>>See How Not To Get More Business: 7 eMail Retail Experience Horrors!

2. Stay Focused; Avoid Multi-tasking; Deliver a Memorable Experience

Staying focused not only allows us to do more with time, but it also means being better able to listen and learn from the information (and data) customers share with us. As we have more (text messages, emails, calls, interruptions, demands, etc.) thrown at us, it's oh-so-easy to lose concentration and get sloppy.

Multi-tasking is perhaps the biggest culprit - and fallacy - given that it's impossible to do multiple things without one suffering. Think driving and texting... Multi-tasking while interacting with customers not only leads to mistakes, but it also signals disrespect and a willingness to waste their time. That means having to stay focused, managing distractions and priorities and knowing when to get yourself out of rabbit holes. 


3. Be Sensitive to your Customer's Mobile Experience

Mobile is redefining the notion of ubiquitous, especially smart-mobile. Not only is it with us wherever we go, but it is changing how we make use of technology to save time, to socialize, to be productive, to do work, dare-I-say-it... to multi-task. 

For our customers, mobile means personal protection against being taken advantage of. It can your business ally if you make use of what it offers - access to information, images, reviews and social proof. Don't forget that mobile is also a direct communication device; if you can establish your value, you may be invited to make direct contact.

>>I've embedded Mary Meeker's insightful State of the Internet 2013 presentation below. 

4. No Matter What, Offer a Human Customer Experience

This is a big deal. The more systems we have in place, the more we use technology to solve problems, the greater the likelihood that - as businesses - we forget the human touch and fall back on looking at the customer experience only from a data perspective.

Business can't exist without relationships. Relationships fall apart when the human element disappears. Customers have become even more attuned to this as their expectations continue to be shaped by online experiences such as Amazon where the human touch expresses itself through thoughtful attention to past purchase patterns, an intuitive user experience and responsive customer support systems.

For your business, spend time walking in your customers' shoes. Ensure that your IRL experience - be that a store, a showroom or a business office - is welcoming and consistent with the experience you've created online. Is your website content helpful (think blog) and relevant to your visitors? Is it written in an engaging and conversational way? Are you human when you interact on social networks? Do you respond? 

By the way, the more attention you pay to this, the better off you will be as search algorithms (think Hummingbird) evolve toward how people actually speak and ask questions. Ultimately, you are looking to connect with customers. What better way to demonstrate trust and build relationships than by showing how much you care and truly helping prospects make the right decision.

>> See How to Lose IBM Customers: Preposterous Verizon Customer Experience.

5. Figure Out How to Offer a Visual Customer Experience

With the smart mobile trend comes an unprecedented opportunity to visually record what's happening around us not only with snapshots, but also video. And then we can share them via email or -even better - social networks.

Look at how visual networks are growing: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest... Even the traditional social networks have become more visual: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and notice how Infographics bridge the gap between visual and abstract data.

As humans, we respond to visual images. We like to share images, too. Images help convey meaning to different forms of content. Think how important it is to see images during a PowerPoint presentation, how valuable it is to include a face on your LinkedIn profile, how choosing the right photo helps your blog article make its point. Visuals are part of storytelling.

How can you do more? How might you use visuals to communicate what you do, what your business does and how you help customers in a fun, compelling way?

>>For ideas, explore how companies such as Urban Outfitters use the different visual social networks to share ideas. Note how they customize content for each network.

>>See How Visual is Your Online Customer Experience?

6. How Can You Anticipate Your Customer's Needs and Questions?

That said. Don't ignore the data. Do be smart with it so you can identify patterns which enable you to better meet the needs of your customer. Spend time truly understanding who your customers are, what their needs are and how you can help meet those needs.

Think about the journey your customer takes before actually purchasing your solution. What questions come up? Which pages on your website matter? Which blog articles attract the most views? How much time does the process take? Figure out how to stay connected with visitors throughout that purchase path with useful information. Don't be shy about using automated marketing which has been fine-tuned to your personas.

>>See How To Develop a Buyer Persona for Content Marketing and Why Bother With Social Media Marketing Strategy? 

7. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Your Customer Experience Data

At the same time, don't let all the data paralyze you. Let the data guide you; let it help you validate assumptions about customers. The better you understand your customer personas, the more meaningful the data will be and the better you can implement it in your content online and your interactions offline. If you can't find meaning in the data, go back to your customers and observe what they are doing. Be practical and focused on what your ultimate goal is.

This healthy, grounded relationship with data will serve you well when the data disappears. For example, have you noticed how "keyword not provided" now represents the majority of the organic traffic to your site? Customers may choose to do the same.

>>See When Keyword (not provided) is 100 Percent of Organic Referrals, What Should Marketers Do? - Whiteboard Tuesday from Moz' Rand Fishkin.

>>See TrendWatching's Trend Briefing "No Data" below and the Kroger article.

8. The Physical Retail Experience is Evolving. Are You Evolving, too?

Retail is about the customer and creating an environment where a person can fall in love with an item. It involves the senses; it requires trust; it must be convenient and pleasant.

The online retail experience is rapidly changing expectations: search makes finding specific items easy, not to mention not physically demanding. Comparison is possible; it's available 24/7 at the convenience of the shopper rather than the merchant. A good online experience educates, entertains, builds credibility and speeds up the buying cycle; it also remembers and learns from past shopping.

What that means is that the physical experience must evolve. It can't duplicate what's online. However, it can address what is currently impossible online: a physical experience that delights and adds value. Look at the Apple store: it is experiential, filled with serendipitous juxtapositions including learning spaces and collaborative areas.

>>See How IKEA Creates an Apple-Like Retail Experience and from Arnold Waldstein Shopping redefined…mobile popup stores.

9. Be Your Customer's Experience Advocate

Part of being human is being intensely focused on your customers and their experience. Be ready, then, to be your customer's experience advocate. Constantly look to streamline and improve. When attitudes deteriorate, be there to refocus associates on the greater mission. Show respect for customers; don't abuse your access to their information; protect their data; walk in their shoes. 

>>See How To Create Email Marketing Customers Welcome? Show Respect!

10. Deliver One-Unified, Integrated Experience to Your Customers Across All Channels

When customers interact with your business, they expect to encounter one unified and integrated experience. Whether they leave a message on your phone, go to your website, walk into your store or office, interact with you on a social network, they expect to deal with the same company. That means: the same look/feel, the same voice, the same policies, the same commitment... even if the person dealing with them is not an employee.

When they don't, they become suspicious, irritated and not as likely to do business with you.

>>See Retail Experience Issues & Paco Underhill.

11. Do Good! Life Is Short. Time is Limited. Have Fun. 

Yes! There's so much more of this taking place. Take Tom's (see ‘Buy One, Give One’ Spirit Imbues an Online Store) or how Converse shoes sponsors aspiring musicians in a Brooklyn studio, building a studio named Rubber Tracks. Or Zappos revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Organizations committed to a vision and sharing its passion with customers. 

Not only is this fun, but it makes for great storytelling and the creation of strong customer loyalty.

>>See 7 Customer Experience Insights from Charity: Water

Trends Resources Which Have Added Fuel to My Consumer Experience Observations:

Ford Social Trends Study Speaks To Our Behavior - details the following trends:
  1. Romanticizing the past
  2. Concern about water issues
  3. Disintermediation and a backlash against the "faceless middleman"
  4. Awareness that "the idea of multitasking as a virtue is a fallacy"
  5. "Ostentatious ownership of stuff [is] an encumbrance... Real luxury nowadays is time."
11 Web Marketing and Social Media Trends That Will Shape 2014
  1. Mobile is about to go mainstream
  2. Niche sites will make an impact
  3. Blogging will remain the #1 way to generate new business --> Yes!
  4. Spammy content will be eliminated everywhere
  5. Google+ will grow faster than ever
  6. Triggered emails will increase sales
  7. Ambassadors and influencers will hold the power
  8. Image-centric sites will continue to rise
  9. Video consumption will increase
  10. Sharing will be more important than ever
  11. Marketing will be about adding value
Internet Marketing Trends and Tactics for 2014 [INFOGRAPHIC]
  1. The move to mobile
  2. Better retargeting
  3. The rise of paid social ads
  4. More visual content
  5. Better assessments
  6. Includes 33 Digital Marketing Facts and Statistics Infographic
Trendwatching's Trend Briefing covering "7 Consumer Trends to Run With in 2014"
  1. Guilt-free status
  2. Crowd shaped
  3. Made greener by/for China
  4. Mychiatry
  5. No data **
  6. The Internet of caring things
  7. Global Brain
Kroger Knows Your Shopping Patterns Better Than You Do
And, the amazing Mary Meeker Slideshare 2013 Key Internet Trends Presentation - note comments about mobile 

KPCB Internet Trends 2013 from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

I'd love your take on the 11 observations I detailed about the future of customer experience. What are you seeing with your own customer experiences as well as how you see your customers behaving? 


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Topics: customer experience

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