The digital transformation trends that could make all the difference in how your customers experience you.
You’re almost certainly hearing about digital transformation and customer experience trends—which means you’re aware of the importance of digital experience, and you have a handle on the basic building blocks of customer-centric experiences like personalization, relevance, effectiveness, enjoyment and ease. But beyond these, what are some of the trends that can help you truly differentiate in a world where nearly 90% of C-suite executives say “that the current needs of customers and employees are changing faster than leaders can change their businesses”?
Here’s my list of the top seven digital customer experience trends that I see changing how businesses interact with their customers and shaping the future of customer experience over the next five years—and beyond.
- Human-centric digital experiences will be key.
Human-centric digital experiences are designed first and foremost with the customer’s wants, needs and expectations in mind. Too often, businesses get caught up in the technology without considering how it will actually impact the customer experience. With human-centric design, businesses can avoid this pitfall to create customer-focused, easy-to-use and engaging digital experiences. By putting human needs at the center of design decisions and leveraging digital technology for delivery, you can create truly personalized experiences that are highly relevant to each customer.
- Artificial intelligence will become (even more) more prominent.
Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to become less artificial, more intelligent and more commonplace. As customers become even more comfortable with the idea of interacting with AI-enabled bots, a surprising number of them—63%, according to HubSpot research—don’t realize when they are. Including advanced insights and the technology that allows you to find, understand and leverage those insights, AI can enhance the customer experience in many ways: It helps predict customer needs and behaviors, customizes and personalizes content and experiences, automates tasks, boosts operational efficiencies and makes 24/7 customer support possible.
- Virtual reality will change the way businesses interact with customers.
Virtual reality (VR) is quickly becoming more real and less virtual, immersing customers and employees in ever-more realistic, sensory-rich scenarios (sight, sound, space) that can create strong emotional connections with users and provide companies with the ability to observe and record physiological markers as they do so. From “in-store” retail experiences to product demonstrations (think driving a new Jaguar before it’s been released) and from meetings to employee training, VR enables customer experiences that are far more interactive and engaging than previously possible, not only better mimicking the physical world but also enhancing it.
- Augmented Reality (AR) will help bridge the gap between the virtual and real worlds.
Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), which creates fully immersive virtual environments, AR overlays digital information on the real world. Though around for a while—Yelp added Monocle to its iPhone app over 12 years ago—AR is getting better and better at overlaying digital images and objects on the physical world. For example, Ikea Place allows customers to see how furniture would look in their homes before they buy it. Sephora's Virtual Artist lets users try on makeup without ever having to leave their homes. From retail to customer service, the potential applications for bridging the gap between the virtual and real worlds are boundless.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue transforming customer experience.
The IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles and home appliances connected to the internet that can collect and exchange data. By connecting physical objects to the digital world, the IoT enables the integration of the customer journey and proactive experiences across both digital and physical environments. For example, brands can track usage patterns of a customer's dishwasher and offer targeted discounts or reorders for detergent. Printer manufacturers get usage, maintenance needs and ink levels in real time. Smart touchpoints, products, services and objects work together so businesses know when, where and what people buy and consume, and customers know where to find and get what they need, exactly when they need it. The possibilities are endless.
- Prioritizing privacy, data protection, transparency and trust will only grow in importance.
As individual-level digital data increasingly accumulates, it is compiled, stored and shared in often opaque and sometimes unintended ways. Unsurprisingly, there is growing concern about how this information is being gathered, who has access to it and how it’s being used. As a result, businesses are (appropriately) under pressure to prioritize data protection and transparency—which means rethinking and revamping their approach to customer data. By ensuring that customer data is protected and treated with respect, businesses can create a foundation of trust that is essential for success in a new era of customer experience, where privacy is front and center.
- Blockchain will revolutionize customer data.
Speaking of the need to better manage customer privacy, blockchain technology is a new way to secure data. “A distributed database that allows for secure, transparent, and tamper-proof transactions,” it is (thus far) nearly impossible to hack. As customers leave ever-larger digital footprints across channels, markets and media, there are increasing opportunities for forward-thinking companies to give users control over their data, empowering them to determine how their data is used. For brands, blockchain offers a way to securely obtain and transparently share customer preferences in ways that are aligned with customer wants and needs.
Finding the Right Applications for the Right Technologies
The reality is there are myriad technologies—and technology vendors—that will gladly sell you enabling platforms that power the digital experience trends described here. But which are right for your business? While there are no easy answers to that question, aligning digital transformation efforts with customer experience and operational improvements informs the high-level strategies many leaders are adopting. After all, when it comes to delivering better digital experiences, your customers and your business objectives can help guide where, and how, to focus.
First posted in Forbes, August 29, 2022 by Michael Hinshaw, as a Forbes Coaches Council COUNCIL POST