This article is part of CMO.com’s December series about 2018 trends, predictions, and new opportunities. Click here for more.
Intelligent technologies stole the spotlight in 2017, and rightfully so. Seamless, cross-platform customer experiences—enhanced by augmented and virtual reality, voice-enabled interfaces, facial recognition, and myriad forms of machine-learning techniques—are all part of the new competitive advantage mandate.
But not to be overlooked is the human component of marketing and, really, all digital endeavors. Getting closer to your customers means connecting with them authentically, emotionally, transparently, and personally. You know, as people.
Those were some of the recurring themes among the answers from 60-plus digital leaders, who we asked: “What do you think the customer experience of the future will look like?”
Read on for all of the insightful responses we received in this, our seventh annual global predictions extravaganza. Respondents include Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes and CIO Cynthia Stoddard, as well as executives from Denny’s, Gannett, Hostess, Mr and Mrs Smith, NRP, Tourism of Australia, and many more. Answers are arranged alphabetically, by last name.
Real value will be generated in a mutual partnership of ongoing transparent interaction. Customer experience will therefore have to be exciting, engaging, involving—and highly interactive. Authenticity will be key.
—Magnus Bach, Head of Global Marketing, Vesta
Customers will expect the same things they expect now: service, quality, honesty, plus easy-to-use digital access and integrated purchasing ability. But more than anything, they’ll expect the ability to speak to a real person if needed.
—Nick Ballard, ANZ MD, Blis
In 2018 we’ll see more frank public discussions about what it means to bring humanity back to business. Customers and employees, alike, are craving more trust, respect, civility, and meaningful connection beyond texts, tweets, and posts. If business leaders don’t step up and deliver other kinds of value, they’ll quickly end up out in the cold.
—Megan Burns, CEO, Experience Enterprises
The customer experience of the future combines the evergreen principles of simple, intuitive products/solutions with the almost limitless possibilities brought by developments in areas like AI, VR/AR, or IoT.
—Cristian Citu, Senior Director, Group Digital Strategy, DHL
The CX of the future will be a combination of ultra-convenient and transactional online experiences and immersive, personal, unique-to-the-consumer offline experiences.
—Charlie Cole, Chief Digital Officer & VP, Tumi
Satisfaction for service will improve, customers will get what they want easier, faster, and on time, and yet we’ll lose more of the magic of being a human: less serendipity and fewer phone numbers on napkins.
—Andrew Collins, Founder and Group CEO, Mailman Group
A dissatisfactory employee experience (bad tools, lack of empowerment, etc.) will interfere with their ability or, more importantly, their desire to deliver to the customer. We will hopefully see more businesses investing in data, technology, and time to empower their employees.
—Jo Coombs, CEO, OgilvyOne UK
Brands that know you will interact with you throughout the day. They will talk, text, and guide you. Brands that don’t know you may never get the chance.
—David Cooperstein, CEO, Figurr
We are expending a huge amount of time and effort to understand customers’ needs and build a one-size fits all solution. In the future this will disappear, as customers build their own experience by merely speaking into a device, mobile or otherwise, to describe the experience they want.
—Neal Cross, Chief Innovation Officer, DBS Bank
Businesses will leverage intelligent technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to develop data-led and customer-focused business strategies, increasing personalised experiences while meeting real-time communication expectations.
—Ambera Cruz, Head of Marketing, Meltwater
Customer experience with brands will become a natural part of the customer’s life as interfaces become more conversational and integrated with objects (IoT).
—Rishi Dave, CMO, Dun & Bradstreet
Creativity isn’t the domain of the marketing department. It’s a tool for change. The most valuable assets a company owns are a direct result of the creative process: its ideas. If you want to succeed, promote creativity throughout every level of customer interaction.
—Andi Davids, Senior Strategist, The Partners
I’d like to think brands will eventually link on and offline behaviour to create a consistent and seamless customer experience. The setup of separate dot-com and physical store marketing teams creates silos of knowledge and insight, which is counterproductive to how I, as a real shopper or consumer, experience a brand.
—Rachel Deacon, Managing Director, LIFE
I predict the eventual disappearance of brands’ own platforms. Experiences and transactions will become nomadic and built around each customer’s tailor-made platforms, based on selected social media, e-commerce, and newsfeeds.
—Vincent Digonnet, CEO APAC, MullenLowe Group
Specific expectations will change every year, but the core of customer experience will be the same as it is today. The brands that will thrive are those that prove they can aggressively anticipate and innovate around what have become eternal customer expectations of control, convenience, and customization.
—John Dillon, CMO, Denny’s
Consumer experience will be more forcefully equated to “consumer success”—how effectively and efficiently a brand helps its consumers meet their needs and complete their tasks. All else is ambient noise.
—Vinay Dixit, Vice President – Food Preparation & Dish Care, Electrolux Asia Pacific
As AI becomes smarter and more understanding of human needs, the customer experience will be significantly improved. Our requirements will be predicted even before we’ve thought of them and dealt with in wonderfully surprising ways.
—Graham Fink, Multimedia Artist and Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy China
On-demand and voice-activated: Audiences want content to be easily accessible and to fit their schedules.
—Meg Goldthwaite, CMO, NPR
The customer will continue to change, the experience that a brand will deliver to him will be the “product,” and the melt of digital and physical will create the magic.
—Cristiano Grassini Grimaldi, Global Digital Transformation Director, Amplifon
True differentiation in CX will come from connecting the brand purpose with a more “human” understanding of customer needs. Know what your role is, know your customer more deeply, and design your channels and ecosystem to deliver on a meaningful brand promise.
—Laura Gurski, Senior Managing Director, Accenture
We will stop talking about “customer-centricity” and start delivering experiences that feel intuitive. Brands will develop digital confidence and know where and how to show up to provide real value.
—Jamie Gutfreund, Global CMO, Wunderman
Predictions are a fool’s errand; focus on the controllable. Brands that demonstrate “true empathy” in the experiences they deliver will win. These experiences build powerful memories that can disrupt categories.
—Alan B. Hart, Managing Partner of ATOMCK & Host of Marketing Today podcast
The customer experience of the future will be even easier than it is today, allowing customers to find the right product at a great price with even less effort.
—Ben Harrell, SVP of Brand and Digital Marketing, Priceline.com
Companies that can seamlessly blend automation and human connection will win out. Your needs should be anticipated, but not in an annoying way–personalised assistance should be there when you want it and in the background when you don’t.
—Tamara Heber-Percy, Founder and CTO, Mr & Mrs Smith
The consumer experience of the future is individualistic yet connected, complex yet refined, promising yet requires commitment and hard work. Isn’t there a Simpson's episode depicting this already?
—Rickie Hobbie, Managing Director (Asia Pacific), Epsilon HK
With the continued growth in automation and AI, customer experience will no longer be the domain of the brand owner. We will be forced to relinquish control to scary machines and robots.
—Andrew Howie, Former Group Manager Marketing, MLA
Mobile customer experience is the natural progression of the science of CX, the future of which lies in understanding how the full power of mobile can improve the way people relate to brands.
—Matt Hunt, CEO, Geronimo
Customer experience will mature in 2018 as marketers look for mainstream VR opportunities as part of a broader push for emotion-driven brand storytelling campaigns.
—Mark Jones, Chief Storyteller + CEO, Filtered Media
2018 will see “total customer experience”–online, offline, and internal–focus on what brands know about their customers, using data to create more personalised, useful, and engaging experiences through targeted content, social, and innovation.
—Sunny Kumar, Head of Experience Design, Tribal Worldwide London
Customer experience will get more and more virtual and personalized through VR and AR.
—Ramakrishnan Laxman, Head Digital, ABP News Network India
It’ll be tailored, targeted, and relevant. Consumers will have access to more of what they want and less of what they don’t, all fuelled by bots and buckets of data.
—Jaimes Leggett, Group CEO at M&C Saatchi
The term “customer experience” won’t exist in the organization of the future. It will be so deeply entrenched in a company’s product, process, and culture that it will be synonymous with the brand and represent the only way to do business.
—Ann Lewnes, SVP and CMO, Adobe
As the Experience Economy matures, category shakeups are bound to happen. ... Not every business will survive this disruption. But without reinvention and business innovation, brands are under the very real threat of becoming commoditized, undifferentiated, and irrelevant to the categories they are in today.
—Tripti Lochan, CEO, VML Southeast Asia & India
Customers will be served more deeply by brands that cater to increasingly narrow segments. Brands that win at this game will be rooted in values that connect to customer emotions.
—Harley Manning, VP and Research Director, Forrester
The future is voice—the latest tech that seamlessly fits into normal life while delivering the pragmatic drivers of ultra-convenience and personalisation. Outstanding brands will still use AI as a hygiene factor while continually adding emotion to their stack.
—Nicole McInnes, Head of eCom Marketing, Woolworths Supermarkets
Customers will be in the driver’s seat with full control of their simple, seamless, and instantaneous experience—supported by more pervasive use of advanced machine learning and augmented reality.
—Shamim Mohammad, SVP & CIO, CarMax
The customer experience of the future will be more digitally oriented. Customers will demand more real-time information, especially on smartphones or other connected tools, so companies must be able to deliver a constant flow of news.
—Pierre Moulin, Global Head of Products and Strategic Marketing, BNP Paribas
Cognitive systems will use data and AI to inform how brands understand customers intellectually and emotionally to deliver experiences that satisfy wants and needs before buyers know they have them.
—Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing
The customer experience of the future will require CMOs to build bonds with their customers by providing economic, experiential, and emotional value to every customer, at every touch point, every time, and always on their terms.
—Marcus Osborne, Co-Owner, Fusionbrand (Malaysia)
Digital technology is enabling us to deliver a far more personalised customer experience with the right content to better move our target customers towards booking Australia for their next holiday.
—John O’Sullivan, CEO, Tourism Australia
Customers will control the experience through self-directed personalization tools, filters, and media. Brands that harness and optimize behavioral insights to anticipate customer needs will be invited to the experience.
—Rob Pinkerton, CMO, Morningstar
It’s interesting that we talk about what experiences “look like” because an increasing number of future experiences will not have a visual interface. These experiences will have speech or gesture interfaces, and as technology allows for systems to become intelligent, the experience will require minimal input because the technology will anticipate and adapt to our needs in real time.
—Christian Purser, CEO, Interbrand London
CX will become a standardized set of practices for every brand. All departments now have a role in digital. It will become fact that the customer is the central organizing principle for any company.
—Howard Pyle, SVP, Customer Experience & Design, MetLife
The removal of friction will create a world in which customers don’t even realize they’re having a “customer experience.”
—Burke Raine, CMO, Hostess
As AI becomes the new UX, there will be less interface interaction in the customer experience of the future. It will take over physical touch, understand the customer more, and deliver human-like interactions.
—Naveen Rajdev, CMO, Wipro Ltd.
Eventually, it will be invisible—so immersive and attuned to your preferences and in-the-moment existence that you won’t even notice it’s happening. It will just feel like you.
—David Redhill, Partner, Global CMO, Deloitte Consulting
Brands will realise that you don’t build a relationship by delighting people all the time. The best brands will refocus on doing the basics well all the time, and surprising and delighting occasionally when it actually means the most to them.
—Peter Reid, CEO, MSQ Partners
There will not be a single answer to this question—that is the main point. Successful customer experiences will be as unique as customers themselves. Our ultimate goal should be to help make lives better.
—Lindsey Roy, CMO, Hallmark Greetings Marketing
Customer experience in the future will be about the customer placed squarely in the driver’s seat 100% of the time, determining if and how they want to interact or not with a brand.
—Jodie Sangster, CEO, ADMA
The customer experience of the future is seamless. At the same time, as we get more bot-assisted and automated, we’re also going to get more human. People want efficiency and personalisation, but true experience needs to be human.
—Nicole Sheffield, Chief Digital Officer, News Corp Australia
CX of the future should be designed like a Disney or Pixar movie, complete with character and story development, storyboarding, and integration into a thoughtful and methodical universe where the experience is consistent, integrated, and enchanting in every moment of truth.
—Brian Solis, Principal Analyst and Futurist, Altimeter
Our entire environment presents a 24/7 canvas for engagement, which is perfect for the evolving age of augmented reality. Brands will need to be able to connect and deliver experiences to customers at a ubiquitous level.
—Jake Soper, Head of Technology, Imagination
With technology advancements across artificial intelligence, machine learning, and voice recognition, the paradigm for customer experiences will be transformed. The lines between digital and physical worlds will blur in unprecedented ways, creating newfound market segments for businesses and brands.
—Cynthia Stoddard, SVP and CIO, Adobe
At a time where busyness and lack of headspace is the new battleground, good customer experience that entertains is key to influencing how consumers remember, benchmark, and positively change behaviour.
—Dean Taylor, Director of Creative Strategy, Momentum Worldwide
I’m convinced you will see much greater emphasis on human interaction from a service and experience perspective. Technology will be an experience enabler, not a substitute for human connection. The future will see a perfect marriage between technology and human interaction to deliver “wow” guest experiences.
—Lili Tomovich, Chief Experience & Marketing Officer, MGM Resorts International
There is still so much room for improvement. 2018 will be the time for brands to go back to their roots and think carefully about their purpose, ensuring this filters down into their customer experience.
—Matty Tong, Partner, Whistlejacket
AI and machine learning is already starting to change the way marketing is done. It will allow marketers to hyper-scale personalization for an amazing customer experience across every interaction between brands and customers.
—Danielle Uskovic, Head of Digital & Social, Lenovo Asia Pacific
Our hope is that we can get to a much more real-time responsiveness. ... The ability to, say, optimize a user experience in real time based on how a user is navigating a site, or understanding the tripping points that someone is experiencing ... and being able to respond to that in relatively real time—I think technologies are evolving in a way that will make that possible in the future.
—Maribel Perez Wadsworth, President, USA Today Network
Highly personalised personas will front brands. Screens won’t play a part. AI will create characters based on behaviour, sentiment, and interactions. They’ll be our “friends” and our interface with brands.
—Miro Walker, CEO, Cognifide
2018 will be the year of servicing consumer needs before they even arise. Brands leveraging the right data and analytics to deliver impactful customer experiences will rise to the top.
—Andy Yost, CMO, Gannett