Companies should make the customer “everyone’s business,” in 2014, according to Charles Bennett, CEO of training and consulting firm NextTen.

Revamping Voice of the Customer programs is one of the top customer experience trends that can significantly impact companies in the next three years, according to NextTen’s study.

NextTen identified the following 11 Customer Experience trends for 2014:

Renovation of VoC Programs: Large organizations spend millions of dollars/Euros/etc. per year on collecting customer feedback. But few of them gain the value they could—or should—from those investments. A well planned multi-choice and rating survey along with a free text field is where companies enter into immense value. A plain free text comment without standard background information on the perception is like foam without the coffee.

Customer Journey Mapping: This is one of the most effective tools for customer experience professionals. These tools identify key areas of improvement and opportunities for innovation and can help build organizational empathy. In 2014, organizations with customer experience ambition will most likely develop their own customer journey maps. Despite all this activity, many companies will still misuse these by mistaking touch point analysis with customer journey maps and forgetting that it is merely a means to an end—not the ultimate goal.

Deeper Appreciation of Employees: Companies are beginning to see the deep connection between employee engagement and customer experience. Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done, help someone at work even if they’re not asked, and do something that is good for the company even if it’s not expected of them. In 2014, we’ll see more employee surveys, executives developing employee engagement goals and objectives, and managerial training focused on employee engagement.

Integration of Customer Behavioral Data: While feedback is a form of customer insight, it is by no means the only form—or even the best form. Companies can glean a lot of insight through an understanding of what customers have done, what channels they’ve used, what products they’ve purchased, and what service interactions they’ve had. These data sources provide the rich content required to fuel predictive models. In 2014, we’ll see more companies combining customer feedback data with other data they have in CRM and other systems about customer transactions and value. This will enable companies to accurately target experiences to reduce churn, improve metrics (e.g., satisfaction, NPS), and increase customer lifetime value. Consequently, data scientists—especially those who can speak with business people—will continue to be in high demand.

More Anticipatory Service: As companies gain a deeper understanding of customers through research and analytics, they will use that information to develop more individualized customer experiences. Look for companies to route callers to the phone agents who are most likely to help them based on the anticipated reason for the call. Companies will also train front-line employees with different scripts based on anticipating a customer’s needs/interests/emotional style, and will even teach them to proactively recover from service issues before customers can even complain about them by detecting potential changes in customer loyalty.

Experience Infused into Product Development: We will see more companies create products with customer experience embedded throughout the entire development process. What will this look like? Product teams will define usability requirements, set minimum experience thresholds for product launch, and design the entire service lifecycle.

Consolidation of Customer Experience Process Methodologies: Large companies often have several efforts focused on creating customer-centric processes. As customer experience efforts highlight the need to redesign more operational processes, companies will combine customer experience efforts with other process improvement efforts such as outcome based thinking, Lean Six Sigma and design thinking. These combinations will merge process-centric tools with the power of deep customer empathy.

Contact Centers Transform into Relationship Hubs: For years, companies have relied on their contact centers to deal with customer interactions—from technical support to requesting medical coverage— however contact centers are now on the verge of a major change. Driven by a shift in technology capabilities and consumer behavior, leading companies are refocusing the primary purpose of contact centers from handling individual calls to building customer loyalty. These changes will transform contact centers into “Relationship Hubs”. In 2014, Relationship Hubs will establish success metrics tied to long-term customer loyalty.

Resurgence of Purpose: As more companies push forward on their customer experience journeys, they’ll find that there’s nothing holding their efforts together. The desire to improve customer experience will fall victim to other priorities if the effort is not tied to the core values of the company. I expect more companies to articulate and recommit to a core set of values like those of Zappos and customer promises like that of TNT Express.

Customer Experience Certification will accelerate Customer Experience Education: This industry-wide certification will help solidify the role of a customer experience professional and create demand for more Customer Experience training.

The Rise of “Empathy”: As companies increasingly focus on customer experience in 2014, they will recognize that their organizations lack a deep understanding and appreciation for their customers. It’s not a flaw in the people, just a natural result of an internal focus on day-to-day operations. In 2014, we’ll hear more executives talking about the need to build “empathy” for customers, making “empathy” the customer experience word for 2014. 

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