Building a relationship with your customers through multiple touch points has become a critical business practice as market forces raised the status and value of customer experiences. In 2014, this shift manifested itself through organizational changes across industries and advances in technology. As the year comes to a close, here are four lessons for business leaders to keep in mind:
1. Customer Experience is the New Battlefield
Competing on price and product features is no longer enough. Growing competition and consumer demands are forcing organizations to shift to a new battlefield: the customer experience. Eighty-nine percent of companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016, according to a survey of 315 marketing executives by Gartner. The survey also found that the highest marketing technology investment in 2014 was for customer experience, just edging out product innovation.
2. Improved User Experiences are in Vogue
Companies looking to differentiate themselves based on the quality of their customer experience are snapping up design and user experience consultancies. Last year, Accenture bought digital design firm Fjordnet and Deloitte acquired consulting company Monitor and its subsidiary, the design firm Doblin. The trend continued with Capital One acquiring Adaptive Path in 2014. "The land grab has already begun," note Forrester Research analysts Michael E. Gazala and Harley Manning in a report, "Predictions 2015: The Race From Good To Great Customer Experience Heats Up."
3. Customer Service is becoming Robotic
Being served by a robot is no longer a far-off goal. Two of the newest "employees" at Lowe's Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. are robots. Named after their place of employment, the OSHbots are 5-foot tall white mobile robots with screens and natural language processing capabilities. The robots can greet customers, ask if they need help and lead customers to products in the store. Amazon is also forging ahead with its plan to eventually introduce deliveries via drones. The retail giant is reportedly testing drones in experimental flights in Cambridge, England.
4. Customer Info is greatly Susceptible to Data Breaches
This year was marked by data breaches across a wide swath of companies, including Sony, Target, J.P. Morgan Chase, AT&T, and The Home Depot. As data breaches continue to multiply, companies are looking for ways to guard against these digital risks. The influence of IT risk management data on board level decisions grew from 46 percent in 2013 to 70 percent this year, according to Gartner. It remains unclear, though, whether organizations can protect their customers' data. "The challenge for companies now," writes Gartner Research Director John Wheeler in a blog post, "is how to equip themselves for future threats and protect their most vital digital assets."