In 2015, customer experience (CX) rose to the No. 1 priority for business and technology leaders. In 2016, it will be among the top 10 critical success factors determining who will win and who will fail in the age of the customer. And for good reason: Better customer experience correlates with stronger revenue growth. But this is only true when competitors provide meaningful differences in the experiences they offer and unsatisfied customers have the freedom to jump ship when treated poorly. So in order to reap the benefits that better CX can provide, in 2016, companies will need to get down to the real business of not only providing good experiences but also breaking away from the pack with meaningful internal operational changes.

This won’t be easy, because success in the age of the customer requires shifting to a customer-obsessed operating model that puts customers at the center of all strategic decision-making. In 2016, leaders will tackle the challenge of making this shift; laggards will underestimate the magnitude and speed of change required and will instead push forward with uncoordinated digital efforts and flawed business priorities.

One critical success factor will be the personalization of interactions and experiences, not just offers and messages. Customers will reward companies that anticipate their needs at an individual level and punish those that have to clumsily relearn basic customer details at each encounter. But as companies push toward personalization, they will discover the limitations of their legacy technology more frequently and dramatically. As a result, in 2016, we predict that:

  • Companies will be limited to fixing stepping stones along the customer journey. Years of uncoordinated technology purchases will come home to roost, hamstringing big CX innovation efforts. In 2016, we’ll see glimmers of success — Wells Fargo personalizing its ATMs and Expedia saving travel searches across devices — but short of rebuilding their technology stack, companies won’t be unifying the end-to-end customer journey anytime soon.
  • CX high points will accentuate potholes in the experience. At the same time that new technologies, like Aloft Hotels’ robot butler, provide whiz-bang capabilities in some areas, disjointed legacy technologies will drag down other parts of the experience. And for many shortsighted companies, enhancing their front-end digital experiences to keep up with industry trends will only complicate their back-end technology picture further. To overcome the limitations of point solutions, companies serious about transforming their CX will put their money where their mouth is, like United Airlines did when it spent two years re-engineering its digital platforms to create a single source of truth for real-time travel information for passengers and staff.

Leaders will further distance themselves by learning to operate at the speed of disruptors, shedding cumbersome annual processes for agile ones. Savvy CX pros will get onboard, opting for faster and more practical methods for customer research, measurement, and innovation that won’t break the bank. In 2016, we expect to see:

  • Crowdsourcing fueling CX innovation efforts. Intensified competition from upstarts, coupled with customers’ rapidly rising expectations and compressed cycle times, places growing pressure on incumbents to innovate or risk being left behind. Under this backdrop, we’re seeing a flood of innovation through crowdsourcing from industry, like MyStarbucksIdea, to government, with the Transportation Security Agency’s challenge to design the next generation of PreCheck lines.Taking it a step further, we’ll see savvy CX pros copy organizations like Intuit, Scottrade, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and turn the spotlight inward to drive innovation from employees across their business.
  • New CX measurement tools complementing surveys’ shortcomings. To complement their slow and costly survey programs, this year we’ll see companies invest in tools that promise to deliver faster, deeper customer insights. For example, InMoment’s Active Listening tool analyzes comments as customers type them into online forms to capture richer feedback. JetBlue monitors social media conversations to gather feedback on the quality of its Fly-Fi service faster than surveys possibly could. And with the proliferation of mobile apps, we expect to see more companies investing in location-aware in-app feedback to boost their CX insights.

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