Most of us would agree that last year saw a very distinctive movement toward the customer experience — regardless of industry. Before these significant changes, companies controlled the market place and customers had to play by their rules.
Companies had the luxury of trying to dictate to customers about what they should want, rather than the other way around. This meant businesses could conveniently plan well ahead in the long-term — what products and services they would produce, how they would market and deliver them, and how customers would receive them. There was limited scope for customers to request particular products or services tailored to their wants or needs, since all companies carried the same, or very similar products.
The most important business trends to be aware of this year
This significant change in the business/customer dynamics is one of the most important business trends to be aware of this year. It doesn’t just apply to the sales or front line customer service management roles, but at every level of the business.
From a personal letter of thanks from the CEO, to a friendly greeting to a customer by the company’s cleaner, the customer needs to be made special at every touch point by the business. Consider social media, the website and all other forms of communication you have with your customers.
It’s no longer acceptable to be interested and polite to the customer only during the actual transaction. Every single point of contact needs to be professional, consistent, and stand out as special or remarkable in some way. What will get your customers telling others about their experience, and then keep coming back?
With so much agile competition, customers can expect to find the exact product they are searching for elsewhere — they won’t settle for a similar product just to stay loyal to your business. And if they don’t like it, as Jeff Bezos of Amazon says, instead of telling 6 people via social media, they can now tell 6000.
Previously, customers had far less choice and information so were naturally less demanding. Customer service was considered satisfactory if you simply received the product or service you purchased. The rest wasn’t important. Nowadays, sourcing and purchasing an item you require is the very least customers expect from the transaction.
Customers are more concerned about how they were made to feel during each encounter with a company — whether the company is aware they are actually actively communicating with that particular customer at the time or not. Adequate customer experience is no longer good enough.
Businesses that will thrive this year are those that realise that the quality of the actual product they sell is useless if the customer experience is less than exceptional.
As a result, businesses who excel will have made the customer experience absolute central to everything they do — at every level of the company — and are constantly improving on the details of this process, to include cutting edge technology and the latest and most innovative methodologies.
Experience management, design thinking and the customer experience
Due to current importance placed on experience management and design thinking as an approach to challenges and innovation, businesses are looking for ways to ingrain this process into their very DNA and culture. Up until now, external experience management consultants have been called upon to create and implement plans to facilitate the transformation.
However, I truly believe that the fundamentals of this function needs to be brought in-house to encapsulate the dynamics and genuine culture of the organisation, and to ensure that experience management stays top of mind and a priority for that company.
Management need to actively organise ongoing training for every team member to stay ahead in customer experience management and future trends. Good managers should know when to call in the consultants; it shouldn’t be to do the CX basics.
Experience design education
Unfortunately, at the moment, Australia doesn’t have anything more substantial in experience design education than short courses aimed at career progression or a subject or two as part of a wider degree. There is already a significant need for more formal post-graduate education frameworks and qualifications in this growing industry, to ensure we are actively creating Australian industry professionals of the future.
In the United States, we are seeing the advent of 2 year experience design degrees, such as Center Centre run by industry leader Jared Spool, focussing solely on learning and applying those skills. The graduates of these courses will ultimately be employed within organisations to facilitate this important role.
This year will result in even greater focus on experience design across multiple industries and with countless applications. Every industry and business will be looking at exciting innovative new ways they can engage with, excite and challenge their customers.
Those who don’t prioritise their customer experience and make it the “north star” for all their staff will be left floundering.