Friday, December 16, 2022

Fight FOMO: Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2023

Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash
'Tis the season for consultants and experts to create FOMO. “Here are the hot new trends,” they post, sharing things you're not doing. “Do this or suffer the consequences,” they'll say. And, coincidentally, those same people and their employers are more than happy to help you adopt these hot new trends--for a price.

Do you ever go back and look at all those annual FOMO articles to see how they aged? Do you have any idea how many years people have been declaring each year the year of blockchain, NFTs, or cryptocurrency? And, has any company actually suffered for not having a blockchain, NFT, or crypto offering? (I searched Google for “the year of blockchain,” and quickly found people saying every year since 2015 was going to be the year of blockchain. Narrator: None of them were the year of blockchain.)

As I review the stream of #CustomerExperience predictions for 2023, what I see is not constructive advice but the same, old fear-building tactics to convince leaders their brands will fail because they don't move quickly. For some reason, it's lost on many that Facebook wasn't an early social media mover, Android considerably trailed Blackberry and Palm, and the share of ridesharing owned by taxis continues to fall relative to Uber and Lyft despite taxis having a 400-year head start (dating back to the first horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage service in 1605.) The benefits of first-mover advantage have been wildly overstated. The winner is the brand that gets something right for the most number of customers, not the first one to sacrifice their budgets for others' education of untested platforms and technologies.

What are the non-trends writers are pushing this year?

Non-Trend #1: The Metaverse: Listen to the hypesters and you'd think everyone in the world is clamoring to live their personal and professional lives as avatars in a virtual world. (In case you haven't noticed, in science fiction and media, the idea of living our lives in a virtual world is almost always the basis for a horror, thriller, or post-apocalyptic tale and not an upbeat comedy.) So, how's the metaverse working so far? Well, the European Union just threw a metaverse rave at a cost of €387,000 and six people showed up. Meta has cut 13% of its staff because its metaverse bets aren't paying off. And Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse's biggest cheerleader, has said he expects the metaverse investments to take about a decade to bear fruit. So, let me assure you that 2023 will not be a year when your brand loses out if it's not in the metaverse. Go ahead and test it, pilot ideas, and explore the metaverse; just don't call it a hot or vital #CX trend for the coming year.

Non-Trend #2: Immersive tech: It amazes me to see people pushing VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) each and every year. These technologies certainly hold some longer-term promise, but honestly, do you know anyone who owns and regularly uses a VR or AR headset? A Forbes contributor said this month that “immersive AR and VR experiences will become the norm in 2023,” and let me assure you with complete confidence that is nowhere near true. Sales of VR devices actually fell this year, although new products from Sony and Meta are expected to push sales back up in 2023. And the thing almost everyone seems to miss (or obscure) is that the eventual growth of VR headsets will be driven not by consumers wishing to work and shop via VR or AR devices but by gamers. The top use for VR headsets right now is gaming (92%), and there's a gigantic gap to the second and third-most popular uses, exploring new places (29%) and watching movies and TV (25%). (What you don't see on the list: Shopping, working, and other immersive tech use cases people claim will be hot trends.) VR games will grow in the years ahead, but don't expect the same consumers who ignore your Facebook posts or skip your ads to race to engage with your brand using their VR or AR headset.

Non-Trend #3: Personalization: This one makes my list for a different reason than the others. Personalization isn't a hot new trend for 2023 because it's neither hot nor new. Personalization strategies and platforms have been with us for a decade now. My guess is that your company already has technology in place to personalize emails, websites and mobile apps. If you're like most, you struggle to gather the data necessary to make personalization meaningful. How bad are those struggles? Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of marketers who have invested in personalization will abandon their efforts due to lack of ROI, the perils of customer data management or both. Your brand should strive to get personalization right--meaning right for customers, not just for your brand. But the reason to focus on personalization isn't that it's a hot, new thing but that it's an established and maturing capability deserving of some serious and rigorous attention.

So, what are the hot trends in CX? From my perspective, they vary widely by category, brand, and an organization's level of maturity. For some, the hot CX trend is to simply deploy the right listening strategies to better understand evolving customer needs. For others, it's to tap the enormous value of their existing VoC feedback, customer data, and past research to create greater impact. In other organizations, this year's trend is to convert the CX program from a disconnected collection of siloed efforts into an effective and sustainable cross-functional program. And for others, 2023 will be the year to abandon generic one-size-fits-all customer journey maps and develop more powerful persona-based journeys.

People have come to expect cutting-edge technology and sexy new business models as part of annual trend predictions. We'll certainly see chatbots improve in 2023. Predictive analytics will get better. The use of interaction analytics to understand customers will certainly grow. Without any doubt, more companies will attempt to deflect customer call volumes by offering self-service (and a couple of them may actually get it right.)

But none of that works if you don't listen to customers, understand their needs, solve their problems, strengthen their relationships, and collaborate cross-functionally to tear down the silos that cause disconnected customer experiences. So, the hot new CX trend this year and every year won't be a new NFT or blockchain technology or the next DTC or subscription model; it'll be getting the basics of CX right to encourage a customer-centric culture that impacts the day-to-day decisions of every employee from the C-suite to your front lines.

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