As any meteorologist or sportswriter will attest, there’s little upside in the prediction business. You’re expected to be right. If you’re wrong, however, a legion of followers will never let you forget it. Fortunately, it’s a little bit easier to make predictions in the customer experience space. There’s less variance involved, primarily because a reading of the tea leaves suggests it’s a near certainty that businesses will try to create more and better personalized experiences. The wave of hyper-personalized content is still cresting, and predicting its breadth and depth is more a matter of degree than a binary choice.
As we look into the crystal ball, here are a few predictions for how we see 2019 unfolding.
- The customer data platform (CDP) market will crystallize: Enterprise CDP buyers will have more clarity around which capabilities are required to drive superior value for their specific use cases, and they will have a clearer picture for how those capabilities align with best-of-breed marketing technology. In short, confusion around what a CDP is will dissipate as organizations iron out use cases for turning customer data into actionable insights and business results. The market will be driven by the heightened pace of innovation in the creation of personalized customer experiences. There will be more ways to interact and connect with customers, putting pressure on enterprises to access and make sense of customer data and use it to improve interactions in real time.
- The elimination of marketing silos will become a strategic imperative: It is well understood that marketing silos prevent organizations from providing a customer experience that matches the increasing expectation for relevant and timely content and offers. With the ability to deliver experiences in the right context and cadence of consumers now a competitive differentiator, we see marketing organizations coming to a firm realization that a marketing cloud and a collection of SaaS applications are poor stand-ins for a single system of record. Brands will recognize that not only do they need a single point of control over customer data, but they also need an open garden approach that embraces new technology and touchpoints to effectively deliver innovative experiences that are truly differentiated.
- Consumers will expect deeper personalization from trusted brands: Consumers and brands are in a cat-and-mouse game when it comes to the optimal customer experience. As brands begin to match consumer expectations – with the elimination of marketing silos a key step in that direction – consumers shift into another gear. Consumer satisfaction with a favorite brand recognizing basic expectations such as channel preferences is evolving to a heightened expectation for the brand to recognize consumer lifestyle, major events, and changing patterns. The value exchange will likewise evolve; consumers will expect that deeper personalization before they trust a brand with their personal data. To meet this capability requires predicting behaviors and intent, which requires advanced analytics solutions. This will be an investment brands will eagerly make, as delivering hyper-personalized experiences leads to trust and loyalty. One study reveals that 83 percent of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience. This all adds up to another prediction – that machine learning will reach a point of practical acceptance, driven in large part by the tangible results marketing organizations are achieving today with innovative tools to close the customer experience gap.
- Real-time engagement will be a vital component of hyper-personal engagements: The need to eliminate marketing silos and the expectation for deeper personalization become more important with real-time, multi-stage customer journeys. In the context of a personal customer experience, this means being able to recognize a customer at the point of interaction, understand context as it’s unfolding, and deliver on a personalized, next-best action within minutes, seconds, or even sooner depending on the needs of the business. Because hyper-personal engagements across all touchpoints at the speed of the customer are impossible without it, real-time engagement will finally tip the scale from a luxury to an imperative – an absolute necessity to close the gap between the consumer expectation and experience. This will be a pervasive need, as 42 percent of companies say that a lack of systems that leverage real-time data to deliver relevant, contextual experience is the biggest gap between their CX strategy and execution.
- Reports of the death of the in-store experience are exaggerated: As surprising as it may be to the 45 percent of Americans who view the smartphone as an essential shopping tool, the in-store shopping experience is gaining steam as a key part of an end-to-end omnichannel experience. In-store of course still dominates the retail sector, with roughly more than 90 percent of all retail sales still taking place in stores. But even with e-commerce’s steady gain, retail outlets are pushing back against the Amazon model by leveraging the tried-and-true brick-and-mortar footprint as an indispensable component of the customer journey. Examples include clienteling applications, the smart dressing room and other in-store IoT-enabled experiences, or the “buy online, pick-up in-store” model that melds separate touchpoints into a unified experience.
- Mobile is not replacing all other forms of commerce: We anticipate that while mobile will indeed continue to grow exponentially as a vitally important engagement platform, it is not a substitute for other channels. Consumers view it as an essential tool for research and exploration, yes, but data privacy is one issue preventing its widespread adoption as a preferred transactional portal. A Marketing Daily study showed just 17 percent of U.S. consumers say they’ve used a smartphone or tablet to pay for a product – including through PayPal and Venmo – in the last six months.
- Privacy and compliance approaches will shift from being reactive to being proactive: With GDPR, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, and major security breaches such as the recent Marriott Starwood Hotels reservations breach, the responsible and transparent handling of data will be a core competency for brands and marketers that hope to deliver a true global personalization strategy. A laser focus on protecting consumer privacy will be an opportunity for brands to proactively enhance the value exchange between the brand and consumer. We’ve seen that the majority of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience, and it stands to reason that organizations that can demonstrate they’re trusted stewards of that data will be the beneficiaries of that exchange.
As the 2019 tapestry unfurls, it will reveal marketing organizations strategizing how to effectively deliver a single customer view, real-time personalization, and a seamless omnichannel experience. As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, these are the primary considerations for perfecting a next-generation customer experience.