At this time of year, we usually see a slew of trend prediction pieces.
As a rule, I don’t like them and don’t like writing them.
The reason being is that often when I read them, it feels, to me, like we are in danger of focusing too much on the future and not enough on the present. I wish that folks would focus less on trends and more on the present and getting things right in the here and now. That is where we live and where we serve our customers. Too much future-gazing is not helpful when it comes to fixing some of the issues that plague service and experience right now. That is not to say that we should not keep an eye on the future. That is essential, but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of getting things right today.
That being said, over the last few weeks, I have been sent a range of predictions from different people.
So, breaking my own rule, I thought that it would be useful to pick out the ones that stood out for me, organize them into categories and provide a bit of commentary.
Here goes, in no particular order:
Elena Filimonova, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing and Strategy at CGS believes that “The Influencer Focus Won’t Die Down – But It’ll Move Closer to Home”. She goes on to say that “B2C brands have become dependent on influencers as a way to engage with online customers. While some B2B brands have jumped on this bandwagon, B2B marketers should focus on a different type of influencer in 2020: Their immediate network. Partners, customers and employees will become an even more essential part of a brand’s marketing strategy, as technology buyers are becoming more reliant on their peer network for solution knowledge. External influencers shouldn’t be forgotten, but B2B companies should re-evaluate how they are engaging with them. Instead of focusing on what that individual can do for your brand, identify a mutually beneficial engagement. For example, offer them relevant industry data that validates a broader trend and your company’s value”.
Comment – Partners, customers and employees are the ones that know your business the best, so why not use them. I am always frustrated that more companies don’t routinely do more to leverage their immediate networks to help them grow their businesses. I wish this didn’t need to become a thing but hope it does in 2020.
Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight believes that “‘Customer-oriented’ companies will succeed those that are sales- or product-oriented and competitor-obsessed. 2020 Unicorns will have high net retention rates and deeply passionate customers”.
Comment – In The Practice of Management, published in 1954, Peter Drucker, the legendary management guru, wrote: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. That was written 65 years ago and yet keeping a customer (retention) is still talked about as an area that companies need to spend more time focusing on. Can we make retention a trend this year and, once and for all, embed it into our everyday activity and consideration?
Nick Mehta wasn’t done with his prediction about retention and offered up another trend that related to organizational purpose. Describing this trend, Nick said that a “new version of capitalism will redefine the bottom line to include multiple stakeholders. It will also require a public declaration of your company’s purpose to shareholders, and for Chief Customer Officers and Chief People Officers to provide top-level reports to the CEO”.
Comment – This is a welcome prediction and comes on the back of the August 19th publication of an open letter titled “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” by the Business Roundtable, a leading lobby group in the United States. The letter was signed by 181 CEOs of leading US companies that have a combined annual revenue of more than $7 trillion. The letter ended by saying: “Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.” Nick’s prediction embraces their statement but goes further and puts both customer and employee experience at the heart of a CEO’s agenda. Amen to that.
Nick’s colleague at Gainsight, Senior Director of Product, Ganesh Subramanian, believes that “Digital transformation initiatives will end as we know it, and in its place will come targeted, solutions-oriented programs that work backwards to identify data, processes and technologies required to make it a reality. This will require more agile approaches and business leaders owning CX more strongly”.
Comment – Different pieces of research suggest that more than 70% of all digital and customer experience transformation efforts fail to meet expectations. Therefore, something had to change. I like Ganesh’s approach but would encourage us to go further. We should stop talking about transformation and instead start talking about evolution. Because, in reality, that’s what we are doing: Evolving. It’s never going to stop so we should just get used to it.
Don Schuerman, CTO, VP product marketing at Pega believes that “Digital transformation requires a new level of collaboration between business leaders, employees, and IT staff. In 2020, this cultural shift and collaborative mentality will become just as important as the technology itself. Organizations will look seriously at DX culture and ramp up efforts to remake their entire staff/culture to ensure that DX is optimized for success. Expect traditional organizational boundaries between IT and business lines to start breaking down, and new roles like “citizen developer” and “AI Ethicist” that blend IT and business backgrounds”.
Comment – Other research suggests that the majority of change and transformation programmes fail and do so because they under-estimate or don’t pay enough attention to the people component of any change program. I hope Don is right and in 2020 we will see a shift towards a more collaborative way of working. If not, then don’t be surprised if we see the same prediction back here again at the same time next year.
Like Nick, Don Schuerman didn’t limit himself to just one prediction and offered up another this time focused on operations. He predicts “Operations become cool again: In an era where one bad customer experience can kill a brand’s reputation, today’s business and economic environment feels uncomfortably unpredictable. That’s not to mention the constant threat of a broader macroeconomic slowdown. To be in a safer state of readiness, organizations will refocus on the operations side of their business to ensure they can are ready to ride out future turbulence. A more streamlined process around internal processes will allow organizations to more easily adjust to changes in the economy and business climate”.
Comment – This prediction is eminently sensible, given the uncertainty that is floating around in the broader economic and political environment right now. It also shouts out ‘Basics, baby!’ and urges companies to not forget about getting things right here and now. That’s what customers want, and that’s what they are waiting for.
Mark Smith, President of Kitewheel believes that “The proliferation of channels will enable powerful new means of personalization. Technology keeps adding new channels and capabilities for brands to capture customer data, improve customer experience, and measure customers journeys. Eighty percent of consumers say technology should add value to brand interactions, and voice and AI assistants, in particular, continue to growing areas of engagement — more than half of consumers say they are looking forward to AI making brand interactions better, according to a new Acquia study. New channels open new doors for bespoke experiences at every turn and through every medium, but only if brands have the ability to measure and optimize through every channel.”
Comment – I think Mark is right that there is a proliferation of channels and they offer up lots of opportunities. But, the challenge for companies is to pick the right mix of channels for their business and their customers. Too many companies are laden down with too many unconnected channels with not enough resources to manage them. That will require them to make hard choices. However, please keep in mind that customers will not only pay for better service or better experience; they will also ‘travel’ for it both physically and digitally.
Did we miss anything?
This post was first published on my Forbes column here.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay