In an all pervasive world of apps, consumers will have no hiding place. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

As brands increasingly look to differentiate themselves from the crowd, an obvious area of focus is the customer experience (CX). But providing that differentiated customer experience is not a simple task.

The increasing proliferation of technologies that influence customer experiences means what is good enough for the customers of today will not necessarily be good enough for tomorrow. To understand where CX is going, it is important to realize there are two sides to customer experience: the experience that a company provides and that the customer has.

This is where things get tricky, as the company has little control over the customer and can only control its own actions.

Historically, companies have focused on making their organizational culture more customer centric or on improving their communications channels. But as important as these practices are, the impact of technology has eclipsed them as the primary means for improving the customer experience.

Do it with apps

As customers, we have invited brands into almost every aspect of our lives – through the devices we use, the apps we install on our mobile phones, and the smart devices that are taking over our homes, cars, and workplaces. When a company promises exclusive discounts and special offers for downloading its app onto a device, it should not be mistaken for a random act of kindness.

In return for these benefits, they receive a significant amount of valuable data that can be used to further engage with the customer, both through that device and through others. And as these brands become more entrenched in our daily lives, the dramatically increasing amount of data they are able to collect is enabling them to understand our purchasing habits and intentions better than ever before.

Data about what, where, and when customers buy can be overlaid with other data including weather, lifestyle habits, and real-world events. This is accomplished through the use of both direct and indirect technologies that gather information about customers and open up additional channels for engagement.

More subtle interactions

The vast majority of potential customers now own a connected device of some kind. And as they continue to place these digital touch points in their pockets, cars, offices, and homes, brands will begin to use these channels to engage with customers beyond direct interaction.

For example, listening to a morning flash briefing on a smart home device may include an ad specific to something that was added to a list on the smart refrigerator last night. An ad for that same product may then show up on the music stream played in the car through a link to a mobile device and again on the treadmill the consumer signed into at the gym after work.

AI’s looking on

Leading brands are increasingly experimenting with artificial intelligence and big data analytics to improve experiences throughout the entire customer journey. The application of such technologies allows companies to tailor their customer experiences so they align perfectly with personal preferences.

But beyond this, they can also be used to anticipate customer needs, generate real-time triggers, and capture micro-moments of intent that can be serviced with much greater precision.

Given these benefits, IDC forecasts that by 2021, 10 per cent of companies will be integrating personalized brand promises into the experiences their customers receive. The growing adoption of technologies like AI and big data analytics will be central to driving this trend.

Each stage of the customer journey provides an opportunity to provision brand experiences through the application of these technologies – whether it’s attracting customers through intelligent ad placements, converting sales through timely and targeted offers, or increasing satisfaction through anticipated service needs and automated self-service.

Ultimately, it is the culmination of all these experiences that will set brands apart from their rivals and enable them to build closer relationships, authenticity, and advocacy with their customers.

- Jyoti Lalchandani is regional Managing Director at IDC.