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The Future of Customer Experience: An Argument for Continuous Insights

During last week’s CXPA Innovation Exchange, Bruce Temkin presented the five trends shaping the future of customer experience: anticipatory experiences, mobile first, value as a service, continuous insights, and the power of culture.

The fun began when Bruce asked the audience to gather into small groups and argue for which trend they felt was the most important. Many championed mobile as the future. Others defended anticipatory experiences. Some saw value as a service (i.e., sharing economy-esque models à la Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit) as the biggest change affecting traditional business. And, some said none of the other four trends could thrive without having the right culture in place.

Here’s the truth: delivering on each of these trends demands a fundamental change in how we approach understanding the customer. Bruce noted in the opening of his keynote that, for the first time, companies are earning lower customer experience ratings than in years past. It’s not because businesses are doing a poor job at customer experience. It’s because customers are more aware than ever — and have more control — of the experiences they want, and most companies simply aren’t keeping pace with customers’ high expectations. Meeting those expectations starts (and continues) with building organizational empathy for the customer through a steady stream insights.

Most companies today relegate the voices and ever-changing expectations of customers to isolation in the marketing or insights department. Leaders and executives responsible for making strategic business decisions or designing the customer experience are typically left only knowing customers through data dashboards or quarterly reports. Raj Sivasubramanian, Senior Manager, Global Customer Insights at eBay, issued a warning during his CXPA session: if companies treat customers as scorecards, then employees will channel their energy on improving their scores, not on taking the right action to improve the customer experience. eBay has taken steps to break this metric-centric view of the customer by convincing its employees to “be the customer.” For example, the company hosted an employee competition to see who could buy and sell the most on the site. The goal was to build an empathetic understanding of the customer experience, and to inspire innovation by dropping employees into the eBay customer journey.

Empathy enables decision-makers to internalize customers’ behavior and motivations in the context of their whole lives, not simply in the context of where brand-meets-customer. In her CXPA session, Suzanne Ray, Director, Donor Experience Management, ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, showed us how to put customer empathy and creativity into practice. She began by asking questions: Who are our fundraisers, really? Why do they raise money for St. Jude? Can we influence their loyalty to us? Throughout live co-creation events, in-depth interviews, ethnographies, and persona work, Ray and her team got to know their fundraisers, keeping an open mind, remaining curious, and questioning everything. The team looked for patterns in what motivated St. Jude donors to raise money for charity runs, and discovered through empathy what donors truly needed in order to be successful. The result of this work together was an improved giving experience that offers donors greater flexibility in how and when they raise money, something donors said they really needed.

Ultimately, the future of customer experience will be led by customers. How can business leaders be sure they are anticipating the next breakthrough experience without knowing who the customer is, what they value, and what they need at that moment? How can we presume our design and development teams will know what customers want in their next mobile experience without consulting with them constantly? And, how can we build truly “customer-centric” cultures without accessing customers — and weaving them into every level, in every department — continuously?

In a chaotic business landscape that changes by the minute, staying in lockstep with customers isn’t just lip service. It’s the most sure-fire way to understand their needs, deliver on them, and design the experiences they deserve. After all, the most important trend in customer experience will always be the one that brings us closer to the customer.

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