The Customer Experience Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2013

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Now that the holiday decorations have been put away, the champagne has been drained, and New Year celebrations given way to somewhat dreary January days, customer experience experts look into their crystal ball and tell us what to expect from 2013.

Attempts to predict the future are dangerous. But having an idea-even a vague one-of what the next few months are expected to bring is crucial for business leaders to plan ahead, secure the funding required for necessary investments, and make the essential changes in their organizational structure.

2012 saw customers become increasingly savvy in using social media to talk about brands, smartphone use kept skyrocketing, and organizations continued to grapple with the gargantuan amounts of customer data. According to several experts who spoke with 1to1 Magazine, the rise of mobile and online interactions will continue to be reinforced in 2013 as increasingly connected customers become choosy about the information they receive and what channel it comes through. Companies will strive to find new ways to communicate with customers and prospects and more customer service organizations will oversee social media and monitor the channels to resolve customer issues.

A major challenge that will continue to confound organizations is the necessity to change quickly and effectively. "To meet and exceed their goals, they'll need to rapidly adapt to an ever accelerating pace of change, from new rules and regulations to new customer segments with new expectations, not to mention the next best thing when it comes to 'disruptive' technologies," says Steve Kraus, senior director of product marketing at Pegasystems. Carrie Scott, director of product and direct marketing at Message Systems, says traditional notions of how companies interact with and engage consumers "need to be reshaped for a new connected era and millennial movement."

A More Informed and Powerful Customer

Consumers are changing, and so are their expectations. "One of the big changes that companies will need to account for in order to meet the needs of their customers is a rapid evolution in the customers themselves," Kraus notes. Putting customers behind the steering wheel and allowing them to choose how to interact with brands will serve as a differentiator between competing companies as customers become more empowered to be their own advocates. Sid Banerjee, CEO of Clarabridge, says that although it used to be enough for businesses to listen to customer feedback and then act on the data internally, nowadays they have to go beyond that. "If a business wants to not only survive, but thrive, in today's fiercely competitive market, it has to take its customer experience initiative to the next level," he notes. Banerjee believes that 2013 will be "The Year of Intelligent Customer Experience," seeing businesses access data from increased sources, leverage more powerful analytics, and intelligently use and operationalize customer feedback findings to improve their businesses and promote more meaningful customer relationships.

Duke Chung, chairman and co-founder of Parature, notes that social, mobile, and search have become a "collective, massive force" that is shifting the balance of power in customer service. Chung says today's customer is in greater control of interactions with organizations, and this phenomenon will continue to solidify throughout 2013. Kevin Bottoms, vice president for business development at TELUS International, notes that given the availability of information, consumers will increasingly ask more varied and detailed questions when speaking to customer service agents. "This even includes bargaining over price or asking agents for their own personal opinions," he says, adding that there is a real opportunity for companies to approach customer experience in a new way, with agent training evolving to handle these conversational, trusted advisor type interactions.

Matt Kearney, product manager of CSG International's product management team, agrees. "In 2013 we expect to see companies offer, and consumers exercise, more options around the kind of information the consumer receives from the companies they do business with, and on what devices," he notes. "It's a great time to be a consumer!"

According to John O'Hara, president of Pitney Bowes Software, in 2013 the marketing community will attempt to address opt-out problems. "Marketers are going to need to adapt and find new ways to increase the relevance of each and every communication they send," he says. The cost of not doing this will be customers speaking through their actions and blocking communications from brands which adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. O'Hara says relevance will involve obtaining permission and communication preferences from customers, then monitoring the frequency, timeliness, and repetitiveness of communications to them. "Targeting your best customers in ways that they prefer to be communicated with can make a dramatic impact to consumer ad fatigue and opt-out, increasing the opportunity to drive conversion and greater customer lifetime value," he says.

Getting Personal With Customers

Companies are jostling to be noticed by customers but an ever-decreasing attention span is making them work harder to stick out from their competitors. "Companies will need to grapple with how to maintain their customers' attention and loyalty beyond the flicker of the eye and a click at checkout," says Loni Kao Stark, director of product and industry marketing at Adobe Systems Incorporated.

With more interactions and transactions moving online, businesses are being pushed to create an intimate connection with their customers by delivering relevant content in the right context, allowing interactions to be "immersive, both intellectually and emotionally," Stark says. Adam Blitzer, vice president of B2B marketing automation at ExactTarget and co-founder of Pardot, says more organizations will be replicating the success of dynamic personalization in email and use it to customize website messaging. "With websites playing a key selling role today, serving up the right message at the right time can really increase conversions and sales," Blitzer says. Doug Wheeler, CMO of Optify, says more companies will be using cookies, logins, or machine-based identifications to personalize the experience for each of their customers.

Because the customer of today and of the future is more powerful and savvy, he requires companies to speak to him directly and individually and stop addressing him as a demographic. "Make everything more personal," Pegasystem's Kraus stresses. "This year it's important to not only take advantage of your data through advanced analytics, but to apply those analytics through a customer-oriented process, ensuring you're always doing the right thing at the right time for a true one-to-one customer experience."

Connecting With the Mobile Customer

Smartphone penetration continued to grow throughout 2012. According to research carried by Nielsen in July, 55 percent of mobile subscribers in the United States owned a smartphone, with young adults leading the growth. Tim Moynihan, vice president of product marketing at Empirix, says the proliferation of mobile devices and multichannel solutions are changing the way people interact with companies. "The smartphone has become pervasive, if nearing ubiquitous, among U.S. consumers," notes Dave Meeker, director of emerging technology at Roundarch Isobar. "The challenge is that users rely on their devices to provide them what they want, when they want it, and they don't appear to like to be distracted from their content snacking behaviors." Meeker stresses that mobile marketing must grow up. "It needs to shift from a carry-over of television and Web tactics to something new, relevant, and valuable to consumers," he says.

This shift to mobile opens up major opportunities for organizations. Martin Hayward, director of marketing at Mirror Image Internet, says marketers can truly personalize content based on device detection and demographics. "This helps bring an end to predictive targeting, delivering relevant ads based on a group to which customers elect to belong," he says. David Petersen, CEO of Sense Networks, believes that instead of depending upon retailers to promote new products on their store shelves, brands will embrace mobile ads to target customers directly with information.

Laura Marriott, CEO of Neomedia, says QR codes will continue to increase in popularity as more companies recognize mobile barcodes as a cost-effective opportunity to deliver content to customers. "It's imperative to find easier ways to access content through QR codes, but you also need to deliver high quality content after the scan," Marriott says. She also predicts that mobile commerce will become an integral part of payments in 2013 as more business leaders try to find ways to improve customer service at the moment of purchase.

Another hot trend in 2013 will continue to be geo-location, with more businesses leveraging mobile technology to reach out to customers with geographically relevant content. A report by JiWire found that a staggering 80 percent of consumers prefer locally relevant advertising while 75 percent are more likely to take action after they see a location-specific message. "The ability to target an ad to an in-store customer with a relevant product or service will be the future of targeting core customers," says Mirror Image Internet's Hayward. CSG International's Kearney says apps will get smarter in terms of pushing relevant notifications and geo-targeting consumers.

Going Beyond the Social 'Like'

Several organizations are recognizing the major benefits of leveraging social media both for marketing and to improve customer service. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast at the end of October, a number of entities, including New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, took to Twitter to keep citizens informed of what was happening.

Ian Truscott, vice president of product marketing at SDL's Content Technologies Division, believes that in 2013 social media communication will become a core component of the enterprise and integrated within the overall strategy. "At the moment it's at the periphery, but it will become more ingrained and part of the organization rather than something they do on a part-time basis," he notes.

Message Systems' Scott predicts that this year retailers will take cues from social networks to engage with customers on their terms and according to their contact preferences. Paul Terry, general manager of Blackboard's professional education division, says more customers are expanding the use of social sites from personal to professional by making purchasing decisions and even engaging with salespeople socially.

Richard White, founder and CEO of UserVoice, expects more companies to realize that the trick to scaling Twitter support is actually to improve traditional channels, for example, making it easier for users to self-serve.

Customers are often starting their buying journies online, either pursuing company Websites or making inquiries over social channels. This phenomenon is expected to persevere and Mandy Emel, account director at Metia, believes that there will be a rise in the online recommendations culture. "The way that people consume content has shifted, and the desire for a customer review or reference is on the rise," she notes. Michael Baldwin, vice president at C3|CustomerContactChannels expects to see companies using social media even for learning and sharing purposes.

Big Data's Soaring Effect

Organizations are already collecting enormous amounts of information about their customers and rather than slow down, Big Data will continue featuring among business leaders' priorities this year. But having data does not automatically translate into the needed insights. "Data-rich but insight-poor organizations will be working to effectively harness the power of their customer information," says Parature's Chung. Len Dubois, senior vice president of marketing at Trillium Software, highlights the importance of timely data, adding that customer service leaders will make efforts to demonstrate how delayed and low-quality data has an adverse effect on both brand reputation and new sales. "These days, one customer's experience has far-reaching influence with word of mouth amplified through social media channels," he says.

Bretislav Beranek, solutions marketing manager at Nuance Communications, believes that more organizations will be leveraging voice biometrics to improve their customer experience. "One of the biggest trends that we saw over the past 12 months and believe will continue into 2013 is the usage of voice biometrics for authenticating customers to the call center," Beranek notes.

One of the concerns that companies have been facing is that data tends to be siloed in different departments and they need to overcome this problem and give visibility to people across the company who can use this information to improve the customer experience. "Many companies have difficulties integrating data from new sources into customer engagement efforts and delivering relevant, engaging experiences across channels," notes Message Systems' Scott. She says businesses will consolidate customer data into one holistic view, allowing them to communicate with customers more intelligently.

Cliff Dobbyn, director of marketing strategy at Quaero, expects more organizations to invest in integrated and multichannel dashboards to share both qualitative and quantitative metrics across the enterprise. Joe Cordo, CMO of Extraprise, says organizations will continue striving to bring together structured and unstructured information to gain a more holistic view of their customers and their preferences. "Full support brings together the transactional and behavioral interactions of customers, enabling 360-degree visibility," he notes, adding that this will allow organizations to embark on marketing campaigns that are personalized and contextualized to the individual. Pitney Bowes' O'Hara agrees. "Companies will accelerate their efforts to capture the benefits of Big Data in marketing," he says, noting that one of the highest potential areas for return is nurturing existing customer relationships more carefully, something he believes companies will invest more throughout this year.

Whatever organizations do and however they deal with emerging trends and a changing environment, one thing is certain-companies need to focus on their customers. "Your customers should always be top of mind," says Alan Trefler, CEO of Pegasystems.