Last week we took a look at the three biggest customer experience game changers of the past decade, the 2010s; now, we’re going to look into our crystal ball and I’m going to try to predict what the three biggest customer experience game changers of the next decade, the 2020s, will be.
But first, what do we mean by a game changer?
It’s simply something that materially redefines how we look at or execute around customer experience. So for instance, in the last decade, big data was transformative. It completely shifted how many companies understood and interacted with their customers, and it still does to this day.
So without further ado, let’s look at my predictions for the three biggest customer experience game changers of the next decade.
Someone asked me why AI wasn’t one of the big three game changers of the last decade? The reason is that AI has really only began being put to practical use in the last few years. Big data was much more transformative across the 10-year cycle and, quite frankly, is much more a part of customer experience management across industries than artificial intelligence is at this point.
But the thing is, and I mentioned this in the last week’s blog post, big data has created the need for AI.
A study by IDC titled Data Age 2025 — predicts that worldwide data creation will grow to an enormous 163 zettabytes (ZB) by 2025. Now, you don’t need to know what a Zettabyte is, and frankly, it’s a number that our brains are unable to truly comprehend except in abstract numerical terms, this is all you need to know:
The amount of data predicted for 2025 is ten times the amount of data produced in 2017. It simply won’t be manageable without artificial intelligence.
But AI will do more than just help us manage the data, it will help us use the data. From predictive personalization to insights from AI-powered customer analytics to advanced sentiment analysis, AI will increasingly be relied on to make human judgments about data sets that are too large for human analysis.
Past that, of course, AI will actually deliver customer service, starting with chatbots and virtual assistants and eventually, one day, through augmented or virtual reality.
Despite the AI hype, let’s be clear, the robots are not likely to take over customer service any time soon.
That said, artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated and improving at an incredible rate. As AI improves, it will dovetail perfectly with another trend, the increasing preference for digital channels over human channels.
This synergy will come because AI will be better and more convincing, sooner, supporting text-based channels than it will be in trying to replace human conversation.
The end result, as has been widely discussed, is that AI is likely to take over a significant portion of routine interactions, becoming a coworker of sorts and, more importantly, working in a backstage role to provide the backbone for better, deeper, more complex human service interactions.
Now, speaking of humans, I would love it if all three of my predictions for the future of CX were positive, but I’ve got to call them as I see them, and I predict that customers will become less tolerant and less reasonable than they already are in the next decade..
Back in 2015, when I released Be Your Customer’s Hero, I included a chapter that, to my knowledge, addressed a topic that had not been addressed in a frontline customer service book before: the impact of our hectic, modern lifestyles on customer attitudes.
As mentioned in our recent blog post, 5 Tips to Prepare Your Retail Team to Survive the Holidays, this chapter was called Everybody is Rushed, Everybody Is Stressed.
If I re-released Be Your Customer’s Hero today, I would only deepen that chapter now.
Any sober look at societal and economic trends, at least here in the United States, points to a populace with an ever-increasing set of expectations for immediate gratification accompanied by a decrease in the lack of coping skills, social skills and, most importantly, empathy.
A recent HBO documentary by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, One Nation Under Stress, highlights the dynamic. For the first time in 100 years, life expectancy in the United States has declined for 3 years in a row. The last time it did this was during a World War and a pandemic.
The primary causes of this falling life expectancy are overdose, suicide, and cirhossis of the liver — the so-called deaths of despair.
And underlying these poor outcomes is a stressed-out populace, who are also our customers.
I mentioned a decline in empathy a moment ago, and alongside it we are likely to also see a decline in understanding, patience, and similar attributes that we often associate with a high emotional quotient.
And guess which part of the brain stress primarily affects? The part responsible for empathy.
Now, despite this unpleasant prediction, all is not lost, particularly on the customer service front. This is a trend of gradual change, not a seismic shift. It’s easy to be on social media and to watch the news and to think the world is falling apart and that no one is kind to anyone anymore.
However, we all know from our day to day interactions, from the people who provide us services and to whom we provide services that a lot of the functioning world has not yet devolved into the Lord of the Flies-esque state of the YouTube comment section, Twitter, or your crazy Uncle Joe’s Facebook page.
There’s still a lot of good and a lot of normal out there.
However, as transactions become more and more digital and as consumers expect their digital lives to be instantaneous and immediate, we’re going to be less tolerant when they’re not. They’re also going to be less constrained about voicing their displeasure and less likely to be understanding of problems.
These challenges will be particularly noticeable when there is no human connection, no relationship, to set the boundaries of the interaction.
So, be prepared. Create a customer-centric culture and train your teams so that they have the tools to successfully navigate these increasingly choppy waters.
Also, if you’re a social media or brand manager, take heart. You’re likely to have plenty of job security in the next decade.
All right, the final game changer touches on both of the first two: it’s finding the balance between digital and human interactions.
Successfully creating, what I call, integrated digital-human experiences will be crucial in the next decade. Obviously, the industry you’re in will have a major impact on how true this statement is. Amazon will have a lot less need to find a balance between digital and human experiences than say Delta or Marriott, but this idea will still be important across every industry.
There’s a lot of talk about digital transformation, and while I actually don’t mind that term, I prefer to use the term digital integration.
In most industries, particularly those where human touch points not only still matter but are a source of competitive advantage, digital transformation is not the goal; successfully integrating digital and human touch points into a seamless overall customer experience is the goal.
Integration is concerned with not only figuring out how to seamlessly transition between touch points, which is a challenge in any customer journey, but also when a touch point should be digital, human, or a hybrid of both.
Finding this balance will be key in many industries. If you’re a high-end hotel, do you have a check-in kiosk? Probably. But how many? And to what degree do they replace the guest service staff? And where is the tipping point, when the amount of automation negatively impacts the experience?
Conversely, do customers adjust? Does the digital-centric experience become the new normal? And most important of all, at what point does a competitor, who didn’t digitize their experience as much, begin to create competitive advantage through better human connections and experience?
These questions, and many like them, will receive the focus of c-level executives everywhere in the 2020s.
In most industries, the organizations that will win with experience in the next decade will be the ones that use a blend of digital and human touch points to minimize customer hassle and to create rich, deep human connections.
So there you have it! My predictions for the top three customer experience game changers of the next decade: artificial intelligence, customers becoming less tolerant, and the challenge of digital integration.
As we’re formulating customer experience and service strategy into 2020 and beyond, one of the things we want to bear in mind is how these principles are going to play out in our industry and how we can use them to create sustainable competitive advantage and to win with experience.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.