This is the time of year for holiday cheer, family celebrations, and, of course, listings of annual trends!
To help me identify trends for 2019, I reached out to some of the many thought leaders across Qualtrics and asked them to share one or two of the top experience management (XM) trends they are expecting to see in the coming year.
It was a great exercise. We have some amazing people across Qualtrics who regularly help organizations master all aspects of XM: Customer Experience (CX), Employee Experience (EX), Brand Experience (BX), and Product Experience (PX). And the trends they shared highlight the enormous amount of learning and maturing that’s currently happening in the field of XM. For the sake of simplicity, we organized their trends into four broad categories:
- Humanizing through Technology
- Tailoring Insights for Action
- Expanding Predictive Analytics
- Authentically Living Brand Values
1) Humanizing through Technology
Companies are starting to recognize that their customers (and their employees!) are real human beings, with their own emotions, wants, needs, beliefs, and motivations. Companies are using technology and data to not only deepen this understanding, but deliver more emotionally resonant experiences. Here are some trends from our experts:
- Adaptive, Conversational Listening. “Survey” has a pejorative overlay in the common vernacular in the U.S. today. Customers are over-surveyed with surveys that benefit only the company and not the customer. We’ve come up with a way to change the survey to a conversation, whilst preserving methodological rigor around validity and repeatability. Our method seems simple but is built on a sophisticated process within Qualtrics. First, we identify the conversational aspects of the feedback request before we engage a customer. A conversation is a give and take, a social contract between two people (personas, in abstract) who are exchanging a number of responses that include emotions, meanings, motivations, and memories evoked by current, previous experiences and the cues of the conversation. We identify the main constructs that we are dealing with as part of this feedback strategy: the company, the Feedback Conversation and the Persona who represents the customer, and we adapt the feedback requests based on the customer response. (Carol Haney, Head of Research & Data Science)
- Make It Matter To Me. The advancement and application of artificial intelligence is already enabling more meaningful customer experiences. Whether it’s via chatbot or a truly personalized experience, artificial intelligence has the potential to truly humanize endless reams of data. (Juliana Smith Holterhaus, Ph.D., Senior XM Scientist)
- Quantify & Discuss Customer Emotions. Thanks to rapidly evolving technologies, in 2019, I expect to see more companies measuring and discussing customer emotions. Emotions play an essential role in how we make decisions and form judgments, and consequently, they significantly impact our experiences with and loyalty to different companies. And yet companies have historically ignored emotions – dismissing them as too squishy and unquantifiable. However, recent advances in technological capabilities – such as cloud storage, processing power, machine learning, AI, natural language processing, etc. – are allowing companies to start identifying and quantifying their customers’ emotions. For example, companies can now use speech or text analytics to automatically surface emotions during customer service conversations, and new analytics can infer customers’ emotions based on their digital body language (e.g. scrolling, clicking, hovering). Additionally, machine learning enables companies to uncover patterns in customers’ behaviors and preferences, allowing them to proactively address problems and personalize customers’ experiences. (Isabelle Zdatny, CCXP, Qualtrics XM Institute)
- AI To boost Frontline Productivity. We are increasingly seeing more companies incorporate sophisticated technologies such as virtual agents to enable smarter self-service in order to rethink operational processes and deliver immediate gratification. Contrary to beliefs that virtual agents will start to replace agents in frontend operations, we actually expect AI to help drive adoption of virtual assistants to become the primary channel of self-service while saving effort and time for agents and increasing their overall productivity, whereby they can focus on being a source of revenue rather than be a cost-center by selecting and presenting the best possible solution to the customer when engaged in LIVE calls. But, the focus will need to be maintained on relying on mechanisms which can also distinguish when the customer is confused and can understand and distinguish based on that emotion to engage a live agent – so ultimately the experience is frictionless, yet effortless from all involved. (Arpana Luthra, Principal Consultant, CX Practice)
- Augmented Reality Will Redefine XM. Technologies like augmented and virtual reality will be important in elevating overall experiences and improving decision making. These technologies will make shopping easy, convenient, attractive, and certainly differentiated – enabling customers to touch, feel, discover and explore products to create an experiential environment giving them a realistic feeling of the product or service experience much before they make a purchase decision. This will require businesses to re-imagine their people, process, technological, and service strategies while ensuring they continue to deliver to their brand promise, but do so more effectively. (Arpana Luthra, Principal Consultant, CX Practice)
My Take: Organizations will increasingly focus on the fundamental component of XM—human beings. It’s important to start with an understanding of how people think, feel, and act. How can organizations apply this knowledge? By applying the Human Conversational Model to all interactions, including the growing number of digital touchpoints.
2) Tailoring Insights For Action
While most companies are now fairly proficient at data accumulation, collecting data just for the sake of collecting data is not useful in and of itself. Companies must actually use these insights to drive customer- and employee-centric decisions across the entire organization. To do this, they need to be strategic about how they collect information, how they tailor the information to their separate audiences, and how they use that information to identify and act on improvement opportunities. Here are some trends from our experts:
- Activating Managers’ Engagement Skills. More companies are recognizing that a strong culture and engaged employees are not a result of HR tactics, but on how effectively individual leaders and managers are connecting with employees. I’m seeing more companies putting time into helping managers understand their role in employee engagement and identifying and removing time-consuming administrative tasks that get in the way of managers supporting, coaching, and recognizing employees every day. Companies are also working on improving the feedback managers get so that it enables managers to have more productive conversations with their employees about what’s working and not working on the job. (Aimee Lucas, CCXP, Qualtrics XM Institute)
- From Survey To Strategy. I’m beginning to see organizations ask how the annual engagement survey can best fit into their overall people strategy. Leaders are taking an interest in linking survey results to business outcomes, aligning surveys along multiple points in the employee journey, taking action that will impact the business both immediately and 3-5 years from now. Surveying is no longer an annual look backward, but a strategic tool in moving forward. These conversations are exciting for both the client and Qualtrics. (Kara Laine, XM Scientist)
- High-Frequency Feedback Isn’t Helping. We have had several customers this year pull back from a monthly employee survey strategy to something Quarterly or even Semi-Annually. Their manager report not having the ability to action it before the next survey goes out and they are overwhelmed by the frequency. We find that instead, our successful customers are working to connect with employees at meaningful touch-points, such as during onboarding or on a work anniversary, rather than focusing on frequency. (Austin Nilsson, EX Delivery Services Manager)
My Take: As I wrote in a post earlier this year, the future of VoC is insight & action, not feedback. Companies are increasingly recognizing that they need to drive four different action loops. This requires them to tailor insights to fuel different decision-making processes across an organization. That’s why Qualtrics is so committed to helping our customers deliver role-specific insights.
3) Expanding Predictive Analytics
Customers and employees increasingly expect companies to recognize them as individuals, anticipate their needs, and proactively address their concerns. To meet these rising expectations, companies are using powerful analytics engines to combine rich customer and employee feedback with reams of CRM and operational data, surface meaningful patterns within that data, and then generate predictive models that allow for proactive, personalized experiences. Here are some trends from our experts:
- Hyper-Contextualized, Not Personalized. A positive, consistent experience has long become a table stake. Today’s customers want organizations to respect their time. A good product at a competitive price is no longer the basis for differentiation. Truly customer-centric organizations will increasingly leverage data-driven analytics to spot customers’ buying patterns, behaviors across channels and touchpoints to design experiences and content, at a time customers want it and deliver them proactively rather than reactively. Customers will increasingly look for a unique, customized experience that is memorable and reminiscent of a personal relationship. There will likely be a rise in teams and knowledge centers focused on identifying the experience along these personalized journeys. Closely tied will be the importance of measuring customer emotions and understanding how they feel in the moment because customers who have a negative experience during a brand interaction are more likely not to forgive that company. We expect analytics to not only empower brands to personalize experiences, but also enable them to identify and prevent issues before they would happen, so they can now shift resources not to problem solve but to get ahead of them. (Arpana Luthra, Principal Consultant, CX Practice)
- People Analytics. People analytics involves deriving insights from employee data and advanced analytics to make talent management decisions to drive revenue and growth. Over 70% of companies now consider people analytics a high priority, but only 10% believe they have a good understanding of which talent dimensions drive performance in their organizations. People analytics may be leveraged alongside data captured at every employee touchpoint to develop algorithmic selection systems, dynamic workforce planning models, and social networks informing organizational silos and influence between and within teams – to name a few possibilities. (Brandon Riggs, EX Internal Program Lead)
My Take: Historically, insights have been used to describe what has happened in the past. While this retrospective provides value, the ultimate objective is to use insights to prescribe best actions for the future. As predictive analytics becomes more accessible and companies blend together X- and O-Data, we’ll see a surge in predictive recommendations. Qualtrics is putting a lot of energy into making these advanced analytics much more accessible to business users.
4) Authentically Living Brand Values
People want to interact with organizations whose policies and practices align with their personal principles, ideals, and attitudes. Companies can build trust and emotionally engage both their customers and employees by authentically championing social causes and demonstrating that they share the same values as their target customer segments. Here are some trends from our experts:
- Merging Inclusivity And CX. We’ve seen multiple news articles over the past year surrounding how companies can create better online experiences for customers with disabilities. One of my favorite CX-related stories from 2018 was on the work of the Hearing and Speech Agency in Baltimore, MD. The organization is working with D.C. area restaurants to train workers on how to understand and create enjoyable experiences for customers with speech disabilities and disorders. Starbucks also opened its first U.S. sign language store in Washington, DC this past year. (Stephanie Thum, CCXP Chief Advisor, Federal Customer Experience)
- Maturing Of Customer Journey Mapping. Customer journey maps will sustain their momentum as a popular tool to diagnose and design customer experiences. Successful journey mapping companies avoid the common of mistake of assuming the map itself is the “finish line” but rather bring cross-functional subject matter experts together who use the map’s findings to take action around the key moments of truth that deliver on an organization’s brand promises. In 2019, more companies will use journey maps to highlight the emotional impact of the experience as a way to raise empathy for customers among employees, regardless of their roles. Companies will also shift from using maps solely to capture the current state experience and begin to use them to keep the broader journey in mind while innovating future-state customer interactions. (Aimee Lucas, CCXP, Qualtrics XM Institute)
- Fusing The Concepts Of Ethics And BX. Customers oftentimes look to online reviews and ratings to make decisions, anticipating or expecting experiences that may be based on those reviews and ratings. But what about when reviewers have been compensated to write positive reviews, incentivized to do so with a discount on a future purchase, or reviews are just plain fake? Similarly, what are the CX ethical implications of score begging, when auto dealerships, for example, beg for 10s on a survey, rather than allow customers to provide an honest review that would then possibly trickle out via marketing to other, future customers? How do we consider and think about these things when creating or honestly evaluating the experience customers are having with brands? (Stephanie Thum, CCXP Chief Advisor, Federal Customer Experience)
My Take: For an organization to optimize its CX, BX, PX, and BX efforts, it must have a deep understanding of its core values. Without this clarity around a true north, it’s nearly impossible to align priorities across an organization. We’ve seen companies live their values by translating customer promises into employee actions —and we expect to see even more of this activity going forward. I recently discussed how Starbucks should have used this approach for training after its recent issues.
The bottom line: 2019 will be an exciting year for XM!