The Digital Direction: Customer Experience of the Future

Customer experience

On the back of the Adobe Summit 2020 – The Digital Experience Conference – Courtney Devereux hears from marketing thought leaders on how current and forecasted digital trends are helping marketers better navigate the customer journey. 


 decade after the first Econsultancy and Adobe Digital Trends report in 2009, the two partners again explored leading businesses who are taking advantage of digital transformations to see what sets them apart from the mainstream. Adobe and Ecosultancy’s findings in 2019 out of a surveyed 12,000+ business leaders highlighted the major shifts in the industry for the year ahead. Seán Donnelly, senior analyst at Econsultancy says that a decade on from the first report, they have been able to see first-hand the cycles of digital trends and what they mean for marketers now.

Seán Donnelly, senior analyst at Econsultancy says that a decade on from the first report, they have been able to see first-hand the cycles of digital trends and what they mean for marketers now. One of his biggest touch points is the customer experience (CX) and how digital trends have had to change to keep up with growing consumer expectations. 

“Starting in 2014 we saw the emergence of customer experience and we were debating what it meant and who should own it. By 2016 brands were starting to compete on CX, and realising that assessing and understanding data was critical to unlocking value. Now, we’re talking about CX leaders and the gap between the business performance of those who prioritise CX, and those who don’t,” Donnelly says.

He goes on to say that CX surfaced as a strategic priority about six years ago, and since then has grown in importance for marketers. “CX is very much vital for competitive differentiation, and increasingly for sustainability… One of the things that our research showed this year was the comparing of high-performance companies against the mainstream. And, it turns out the differences between those companies is a trend worth examining throughout.”

The report showed that CX leaders are three times more likely to have significantly exceeded their business goals, saw a larger ROI for digital strategies, and were much more likely to have invested in customer experience management technology.

“With high performing companies, we found that there were very clear commercial incentives for customers experience,” says Donnelly. “We’d observed that customer experience leaders are three times more
likely than their mainstream peers to succeed their top business goal buy a significant margin.” 

While CX has been a growing digital trend for a few years now, it will continue to evolve as the consumer does. “Our view is that the next stage of CX is to move beyond effortless CX to what we would call empathic customer experience. And that means thinking about the customer journey in terms of what customers are feeling. So, there is a chance for us to map the customer journey and understand emotional stages throughout.

“This was something that marketers recognised as their top priority. At the heart of CX management and data-informed marketing is the ability to respond in real time and in context… marketers are seeing the importance to recognise and reorganise around the customer.” 

No data delusions 

Econsultancy’s study highlighted the next trend as being, unsurprisingly, data management and data analysis. Donnelley notes that CX and data management go hand-in-hand and should be treated as such. 

“Data can be difficult to refine, and it requires thinking about how we architect our technology stack and data flows. We asked marketers what best describes their organisations approach to marketing and CX technology. What we found was that the customer experience leaders are more likely to be making use of highly integrated cloud-based technology stacks.”

A big part to the way modern marketing operates is the ability to understand and utilise data, says Donnelley.

“With digital marketing the scope and complexity of that data has certainly increased a lot in recent times. We’ve also now got regulations setting a high bar to cross, but for companies that do, the hard work, there seems to be a lot of benefits.”

Jason Heller, president of Persado said in his presentation, ‘5 Marketing Trends That Will Impact Business Most In 2020 – and Beyond’, that the current pandemic isn’t expected to slow the data trend, but will alter the way it’s carried out. 

“Theoretically the upcoming data trend won’t halt even in this new post-pandemic climate. But realistically, as CFO’s buckle down to conserve cash and prepare for the difficult road ahead, it probably won’t pan out to be the year of the customer data platform as it may have otherwise. 

“That said, the ability to integrate data across channels, and journey stages may be more valuable than ever, as the need to understand new customer segments in this new normal will be really important.”

Make it personal 

Collecting first party data helps marketers customise their offering for each consumer, which leads them to make the call of the next digital trend; Personalisation.

“Personalisation takes importance level three for our marketers. Targeting and personalisation is a content-hungry endeavour, because the customer journey challenges marketers to deliver the right content, in the right format, to the right person, at the right time, or at the right stage of the purchase cycle.” 

The main benefit of personalisation is the ability it gives you to reach specific audiences. By collecting user data from list segments, surveys, or studies you can create more effective email campaigns which target audiences based on their interests or buying habits.

“To deliver personalisation at scale that requires the ability to unlock customer related data across touch points,” says Donnelley. “So, this needs to be underpinned by customer data management which is required to move beyond just data collection to start converting that data into knowledge.”

Tim MacMilllan, product lead of ventures and innovation for New Zealand’s ReachMedia says that marketing has been moving towards personalisation for a long time, yet it’s the driver for the move which has been changing recently.

“It used to be just about getting a better return on investment for marketing spend, but now personalisation is one of the key drivers to improve customer experience. The reason New Zealand marketers haven’t done it to a global level is because it’s quite hard to do, especially at scale, to put the right offer in front of the right customer at the right time. However, recently the technology around it has improved at the cost of entry has become lower, that’s why we’re seeing that focus on it grow.”

He says that to promote brand engagement and grow brand loyalty, crafting and presenting personalised offerings can have a range of both short and long term benefits. 

“There are a few benefits people will see who are using personalisation, the quick ones are more sales and ROI, but really it’s about building that brand engagement, and creating advocates for your brand. Increasing things like brand loyalty and lowering your cost
of acquisition.” 

ReachMedia, as an example, uses personalisation for its B2B offerings, which helps them target clients through offline media channels, online offerings and data services. 

“If we’re sending B2B offers to the wrong clients or even the wrong person within those businesses, we can quickly disengage them and create confusion in the market about what we’re doing, what we’re about, and why we’re talking to them. So personalisation is still relevant in that B2B space and not just B2C.”

MacMillian says that personalisation can be a daunting prospect to begin with, and that between the businesses they work with, his best advice to clients is to first have a really good understanding of who their customers are.

“You’ve got to start by making a plan. However when you make that plan, it can become quite a daunting prospect when you map out the investment required to get to the end of that journey. So what I’d probably recommend is start relatively small and look for some quick wins which will help you generate buy ins within an organisation.”

Artificial intelligence 

Any trends talk these days is required to have at least a nod to artificial intelligence (AI). The introduction of AI saw the ability to offer a boost of ROI by using big data analytics, machine learning, and other processes to gain insight into target audiences which eliminated a lot of the guess work when it came to campaigns. 

Here in New Zealand, AI is seen from international players such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Yet our own market is slow to the pick-up of AI in its own offerings, which Sam Daish, head of AI and data science for Qrious, says can come from a basic misunderstanding of what AI is. 

“It’s a misunderstanding from a business point of view that it’s about robots, self-driving cars and science fiction, instead of being about creating business efficiency and enhanced customer experiences. As with anything that has hype around it, it can be difficult to understand if something is truly AI rather than automation based on rules-based software, and why you’d use it.”

Daish, who has been at the forefront of building Qrious’ AI and data science portfolio over the last year says AI is a fundamental shift in the way businesses operate, and is not surprised of its forecasted growth.

“In addition to changing the customer landscape, AI will increasingly augment the role of marketers in their day-to-day activity. One of the most impactful effects of artificial intelligence is that it frees people from the minutiae, the mundane and repetitive tasks – giving them more time to think, be creative and add value through being a fantastic marketer rather than a competent data analyst.”

Econsultancy’s report highlighted the connection between AI and its businesses that saw a high return due to their focus on the customer experience. 

“We found that a higher investment in AI for CX leaders when compared to their pairs,” says Donnelley. “We also found that top performers and larger companies are already likely to be benefitting from AI integrated into some of the marketing technology tools that they’re using.

“But how is it being applied to our craft of marketing? In a nutshell it’s analysis. Why? Because AI tools can mine huge volumes of data both structured and unstructured generated by campaigns and customer interactions. And if you’re a creative marketer, this can free you up to do work worthy of
your brains.” 

Daish adds that the customer journey can be very complex, yet the proper use of AI can simplify how it is analysed and improved. 

“With solutions such as sentiment analysis or advanced customer profiling you can gain a much greater understanding of your customers. This in turn allows you to provide a more personalised, richer customer experience. AI systems mean this can be done in real-time.”

Yet he warns AI doesn’t remove the need for thoughtful design of the customer experience, but rather amplifies your ability to do that through better data and removing repetitive or time-consuming tasks. 

“There are so many ways that AI can be embedded to improve organisations; from stock optimisation and fraud detection, to content creation and sentiment analysis. Organisations need to work with partners who can build their capability not just deliver solutions.”

Embedding AI into a company needs to be done thoughtfully and executed well, says Daish, if the end goal is to improve your return on investment.

“ROI will always be improved by understanding your customers better and providing them an improved customer experience. If ROI would be improved by reallocating people from tasks that can be automated to focus on more creative work, then AI can help with that. 

If there’s a need for rapid analysis and action from data, then AI can help with that. And if customer care can be improved by providing the operator with deeper customer information or context, then AI can help with that too.

“In this digital world, we’re creating a lot of valuable data. But the volume, velocity and complexity of this data is simply too overwhelming for humans to process and act on quickly. This is where you get AI to do the heavy lifting in terms of data processing, analytics and intelligence gathering, so that your marketing team can focus on critical and empathetic thinking.”

Mind vs. machine

The freeing up of creative minds, although very loosely a digital trend, is an important aspect that differentiates CX leaders from their peers. Donnelly refers to the culture of a businesses as the focal point of properly capitalising on any digital opportunities, including the above four trends. 

“It turns out that this is very important to create culture, but it is also very difficult to engineer,” says Donnelly. “Even with limitless budget, without the support of management and employees, it can be really difficult to elicit change.”

The report showed that the biggest internal struggle with CX came from the executional side or how to foster a culture that would support it. 

“What we found was that the number one internal factor to successfully creating digital experiences was not budget, but internal work flow, or rather outdated workflow.

“So when we asked organisations how they’re manging customer experience, we found that for customer experience leaders, the most popular approach was to put the customer at the heart by creating cross functional teams around the customer journey. This is useful because it can enable more seamless experiences across channels.”

Donnelly finishes his analysis of the report with a few key takeaways: 

1. CX leaders out preform their peers. 

2. This positions marketers as leaders who can educate customer-facing and back office colleges about their role to play in delivering customer experience. 

3. We should be using data to empathise with our customers. So, this means focusing on collecting first party data.

4. Take time to understand AI use cases
and how it can be deployed to support marketing success. 

5. Create a learning organisation by investing in skills and deploying cross-functional teams. Unify data by integrating your technology stacks.

These trends highlight the need for thoughtful design to make the most out of your customer experience. As this paradigm shifts enabling brands to sense, understand, and respond to customer expectations in real time at scale and improve the overall experience, through better data and removing repetitive or time-consuming tasks you can super-charge your ability to delight and impress your customers. 

As we try settle back into the new normal, consumers will be wary of who and where they allow their time. By using the forecasted trends to improve your customer experience, you can position yourself as a brand that knows and cares about the individual needs and wants of its audience.  


This article was originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of NZ Marketing. You can subscribe to the magazine, here.

About Courtney Devereux

Courtney Devereux is Editor of StopPress.co.nz.

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