Customer Experience Trends to Expect in 2019

by Maria Marino
December 27, 2018

Over 20 years ago, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma wrote a book called The Discipline of Market Leaders. They described three potential strategies that a firm might follow to achieve competitive differentiation, and argued that that choice must be an intentional one:

  1. Operational excellence: This strategy necessitates a high degree of automation to achieve maximum cost efficiency, allowing the firm to compete on price.
  2. Customer intimacy: This strategy is one that requires a firm to personalize and customize the experience such that the customer perceives an extraordinary level of service.
  3. Product leadership: This strategy mandates excellent research and development enabling the firm to rapidly bring to market new solutions and features that are cutting edge.

Customer experience trends: Planning customer experience strategies for 2019

In 2019, those of us running customer experience (CX) programs will re-learn some old truths, as our 2018 CX reality has been a tough one.

The headline of Forrester Research’s annual CX index was “Customer Experience Quality Languished In 2018.” The report paints a picture of overall stagnation: the number of brands in the index that jumped or fell were about equal—the overall tide did not rise.

If we do this right, we will take the headwinds facing CX in 2018 and create the new trends for advancement of our craft in 2019. Let’s start by re-learning some truths.

Trend #1 – Let’s be honest: Customer experience is not a buzzword, it’s a strategy

Transformation and customer experience have become conference talk clichés. Not a single company doesn’t claim a customer-centric orientation. CX is a deliberate strategy, not a sudden epiphany, as Treacy and Wiersma told us over 20 years ago.

Commitment to CX as a strategy for competitive differentiation is evidenced by:

  1. CX is a CEO mandate.
  2. The firm does not pull back from the strategy during hard times.
  3. There is deliberate investment—an executive owner in the C-Suite, a dedicated team and budget dollars allocated.

In 2019, trend #1 is honesty: if the CX program doesn’t have the above attributes, it’s not how your firm truly plans to differentiate—which means you’re back to either cost leadership or product leadership.

Trend #2 – Use data, but trust employees

When we over-index on customer experience metrics, we risk ignoring the other side of the experience coin: your employees, and their experience. Many of us run employee engagement surveys and have collection points for employee feedback. Do you actually ask your employees how to fix the pain points in your customer journey?

As CX teams, we are religiously data driven, using correlation analysis to assess the factors that have the most impact on customer satisfaction. We use this analysis to help our leadership focus its investment calories to get the biggest bang for a dollar spent. That’s all necessary work. Once you have those priority opportunities, create a process to ask the folks who deal with those issues day-in, and day-out, how they would fix it (the employee “suggestion box” is not the right answer.)

In 2019, trend #2 is to start trusting and start executing: have faith that your CX expert is the person sitting inside your company, taking the customer calls and working those problems. Shortcut your analytics, your lean process, and your business case – get to the answer and start piloting. (That’s your business case, right there.)

Trend #3 – Organizational structure is your CX lynchpin

Traditional companies continue to structure themselves in traditional ways. In The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, he describes the dimensions of an innovative startup environment. It’s a very product-focused message, and if CX is truly your competitive differentiator (or aspires to be) – then your CX must BE the product.

Ries’ outlines the product stages (and they should look VERY familiar to anyone running a CX program): Define – Learn – Experiment – Test – Leap.

Your organizational structure has silos. It’s orderly. As Ries’ would say, it’s “mostly calm.” Your departments publish operational metrics showing what Reis’ calls “vanity metrics” and product milestones. The silo is busy optimizing itself, but not the customer journey.

In 2019, trend #3 is predicated on trend #1: if your company’s strategy is to differentiate on the basis of customer intimacy, then treat CX as a product and organize around the success of the product. This product cannot be brought to market via silo’s– it’s one, continuous infinity loop where the customer learns from you, buys from you, engages with you, and (hopefully) buys more as you innovate that product.

2019 CX trends are perhaps better called our New Year’s resolutions – this is what will get us moving up the CX index.