Never has it been more important for brands to deliver top-notch experiences at all stops along the customer journey. Indeed, each interaction a consumer has with your brand has the ability to influence—and perhaps determine—customer acquisition. But it also plays a significant role in retaining those customers beyond the time of purchase. Chief Marketer spoke with Des Cahill, CMO of Oracle’s global customer experience business, about how CX is evolving, trends to look out for in 2020 and how AI and data management will influence the customer journey this year and beyond.
Chief Marketer: Talk about the changing trends in customer experience in recent years. How do you see it developing?
Des Cahill: I think the biggest thing that’s changed in customer experience over the last five years is the customer. The customer is in charge; expectations of an experience have skyrocketed. Whether their baseline is set by their experience in an Apple retail store or their experience at Amazon.com, they are expecting those same interactions in their consumer life—whether it’s from utilities or banks or medical providers. That is also bleeding over into their business lives. So, they’re expecting that same level of experience in their interactions, whether they’re evaluating marketing software or buying supplies from a vendor.
CM: How can marketers meet those demands?
DC: We did some research recently called “The Future of CX” in conjunction with influencer Jeanne Bliss. We found that one third of consumers are willing to leave a vendor after one bad experience. But the flipside of that is up to 40 percent of consumers are willing to pay 20 percent more for a better experience. And then when you look at Gen Z and millennials, they weight vendors positively that are willing to deliver a unique experience. So, I think the message for brands is that customer experience is not just an investment, it’s something you have to do. It is a competitive strategy. We’re seeing increased emphasis on digital transformation and customer experience, and I think that CMOs are the logical people within the organization to take a leadership role on driving good experiences. Not just in marketing, but across marketing, sales, commerce and service.
CM: What are the trends you’re seeing in customer experience for 2020?
DC: We’ll see a couple of trends continue. One is moving from omni-channel to any channel. For the last five years, companies have tried to establish as many communication methods as possible to interact with their customers—organizations having websites and then adding chat function within their websites, having an 800-number, interacting with people via DM on Twitter and doing social listening. What we’ve been seeing the last couple of years—and I think it’s going to keep accelerating—is that organizations have to meet the customers in the channels where the customers spend their time. Increasingly, you’re going to be seeing services and marketing delivered within Instagram, within Whatsapp, within WeChat, within Facebook Messenger.
Another trend that will continue is chatbots. Customer journeys are infinitely variable; it’s no longer a linear funnel. They get information from many different sources and they’re basically unpredictable. So, I think the smart organizations are going to continue to invest in like things like chatbots, which allow for a degree of self-help or community websites or reviews.
A new trend that we’re seeing take off is around customer data. Both Forrester and Gartner have said that the low hanging fruit of customer experience has generally been picked, meaning putting up chatbots or deploying in any channel or self-help databases to get answers. Their point was that now begins the harder work of improving customer experience. That isn’t a problem that is solved by marketing software alone or service software alone or sales software alone. We’re seeing organizations move out of digital transformation, which is revamping websites and marketing automation and sales productivity tools. Now they’re also looking at financial software and back-end processes and supply chain, and how those things combine with the front office to provide for better experiences.
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CM: How do you see AI enabling a more personalized customer experience this year?
DC: There’s a great saying in Silicon Valley about Silicon Valley that I love, because I live there. Silicon Valley over-hypes what’s going to happen from a new technology in the next three years, and then it underestimates what’s going to happen with that technology in the next 10 years. With AI, we’re definitely in the over-hype period right now. Alexa is great, but when I want to talk to my TV and say, “Find me a great show to watch on Friday night,” am I talking to my Samsung AI? Am I talking to my Amazon AI? Am I talking to my AT&T AI? We still have a lot of problems. The AIs aren’t coordinated and don’t really talk to each other.
What we’re seeing are some early examples of good applications of AI. Automated lead scoring, automated subject line optimization. But I think at a fundamental level, what’s going to make a difference in terms of the ability to use and leverage AI and machine learning to deliver better experiences is the quality of data that organizations have around their customers. This is the big trend for 2020: people starting to look less at AI as the savior. The reality is that AI is trained by and working off data sets.
For the next five years, the big drive in enterprises and brands is going to be bringing together customer data from across the organization where it’s typically siloed into multiple different organizations held by different parts of the business. A unified, 360-degree view of the customer has been a holy grail for the last 15 years. But I think we’re at a point where technology makes it practical to bring it together and, because we’ve got AI and machine learning, there is a payoff—being able to interpret that data in real time.
CM: How will privacy regulations alter the data-focused customer experience?
DC: Privacy regulations are definitely further empowering the consumer. Whether you’re talking about GDPR or CCPA or any of the other legislation that’s in the pipeline, consumers have the ability to say, “forget me, I’m done, I’m out.” That puts even more pressure on organizations to use customer data wisely, to not market to customers. And when they do market to customers, the marketing almost has to be what I call invisible, meaning it has to be contextual.
CM: In your experience, how has the role of the CMO evolved to include data management and analysis?
DC: We’re definitely seeing the rise of the data-driven CMO. If you’re doing any sort of digital demand gen, the marketing is totally measurable, and that CMO has to be able to interpret and understand and present that data throughout the organization. CMOs are responsible for revenue or having a revenue number assigned against them. It’s not just their responsibility to get a positive, top-of-mind awareness about the brand. They actually have to be driving conversion. Increasingly, it is the marketer within the organization that owns the voice of the customer and has to drive that end to end—from discover to engage to buy to service support to renew. The marketer has to be responsible for that entire lifetime experience because the marketer is the one that spent all the money to acquire that customer, and it’s a lot cheaper to renew an existing customer. And secondly, marketers are the logical place to be driving this consolidation of customer data so that you have a better view of the customer.
CM: What would you say to marketers just getting started with improving the customer experience?
DC: Leadership in customer experience is something that marketers should embrace. No one ever wakes up in the morning and says, I want to deliver a bad customer experience. It just takes that leadership level and commitment around it. If marketers are looking for a place to start with customer experience leadership, I’d say the best thing that they can do is to start measuring customer experience and sentiment from their customers and start sharing that data across the organization. That’s a great way to rally the troops and drive a commitment from the organization. It’s also a great way to benchmark progress and to figure out whether projects are having an impact on customer experience and on the business.