The CX Year in Review and Look Ahead

OvationCXM senior leaders sat down for a conversation around the dramatic shifts in customer experience in 2023, driven in part by the mainstream emergence of AI and evolving customer expectations. Hear from Founder and CEO, Chip Kahn, Co-founder and President Tim Attinger, Head of Product, Alan Finlay and Chief Operating Officer Mike Schwartz.

What are your takeaways from 2023 around customer experience?

Chip Kahn: The big story everybody is talking about is the impact AI has had and how quickly it's had it even though we're still in the early going. That was the biggest surprise for everybody. Nobody anticipated what an important role it would play, particularly in an application layer like ours.

Alan Finlay: Yes, AI has existed for decades, but it felt like it suddenly shifted from needing a team of data scientists and constructing complex machine learning models to having a simple API. Now, I can use natural language prompts and receive almost magical responses. The speed at which AI enables innovation and unlocks various use cases to create value surprised me, along with its swift adoption. Everywhere you look, billboards now tout AI, and it's poised to significantly impact CX.

I was also surprised by how many companies, even some of the largest organizations, rely on automated emails for critical CX workflows without tracking, visibility, or coordination for onboarding or handling service requests. Observing this, it's less surprising that customers are leaving because of poor experiences. That being said, I've also seen a desire in the market to do more to enhance CX. In 2023, the customer experience problem became apparent, and in 2024, companies are prioritizing CX like never before.

Tim Attinger:  I agree. Successful organizations realize that in a down or flat market, they have the opportunity to open up an advantage against competitors if they invest heavily in customer experience. Post-sale, a customer's interaction with onboarding and servicing teams shapes their perception of the organization. Those that made substantial investments in customer experience, particularly after the sale, outperformed the average. 

In times of belt-tightening, organizations often start cutting costs to preserve capital. But the real risk lies in cutting costs in areas visible to customers. One of the biggest mistakes is cutting costs that impinge on the entire customer experience.

If I’m a customer trying to get something done or to solve a problem with an organization, it has to be seamless to maintain and grow the relationship. The best organizations understand their customers are their primary revenue source, especially in a difficult marketplace. Making customers happy and successful while helping them solve problems is critical to business growth. Companies that prioritized such investments fared well while those reducing costs in these areas did not.

Mike Schwartz: The rapid rise of Gen. AI, and how it became pervasive across all levels of consumers and companies, was astonishing. It has changed customer behavior, expectations and attitudes towards what is possible. Now that customers have seen the possibilities, they are demanding better, faster and cheaper high-quality responses and experiences from enterprises they engage with.

This poses a challenge for entities like financial institutions that prioritize controlling messages, data and interactions with their consumers. The quandary is in managing these interactions while harnessing the power of AI. 

What are your predictions for CX in 2024?

Chip Kahn: I think there will be a lot of new uses for data to drive more personalization, insights and recommendations that make it more efficient to deliver both customer and employee experience in the moment.

Tim Attinger: To expand on that, some critical themes are emerging for customer experience in the B2B marketplace. First, we see firms increasingly investing in maintaining and growing existing customer relationships post-sale. Forward-looking companies do an excellent job of aligning their internal and external organizations to provide a cohesive customer experience.

Artificial intelligence applications are poised to change how customers interact with organizations. Some shortsighted organizations view conversational AI solely as a replacement for human interaction. However, forward-thinking organizations  are asking how they can use AI to ensure customer-facing staff are well-informed about the customer's journey, their problem and previous conversations?" 

AI will provide tailored suggestions based on the context of the customer's journey, problem, and product. Organizations that effectively use AI in this way demonstrate forward-thinking strategies and are poised for long-term success.

Alan Finlay: I have three predictions around AI, customer journeys and silos. 

One, I believe the speed and ease of CX delivery is going to improve with faster and higher-quality responses requiring less effort. Think about having infinite knowledge at your fingertips, all in natural language.

Consistency will increase around brand voice, so a company’s communications will feel and look the same. AI will also impact data insights and patterns from customers and help enterprises learn how customers are doing, their sentiments, and how they are feeling. We’ll be predicting things like churn, including which customers are most likely to churn and improvements in a multi-touchpoint experience that companies might not otherwise see.

We will see hyper-personalization. That is hard to do because it requires knowing everything about a customer to deliver a personalized experience. When a system can help you do that, companies can do it much quicker and at scale across all customers.

We will see major improvements in voice channels. IVRs have been the go-to for a while, but as generative AI and natural language conversations get faster and latency goes down, we'll see that transcribed to voice.  You will be able to interact with a chatbot via voice like you would another human. I think we'll see major improvements on that front in 2024.

2) My next prediction is around customer journeys. We will see a shift from focusing on transactions and solving tickets to customer relationships and holistic experiences. From individual interactions to being proactive about multi-touchpoint journeys customers go through. 

Journeys has been historically owned by marketing and pre-sales but we're starting to see it move into the operations of a business. However, coordination of customer journeys is very challenging because you're trying to organize different people, teams, organizations, processes and systems. They often remain disjointed and ineffective and are largely a black box for the customer. There will be a change where companies bring the customer along for the ride, set expectations and move from opacity to visibility.

3) Finally, I believe companies will start pushing past silos. It's easy to build data and team structures in silos, but that creates bespoke experiences based on which team a customer interacts with. It gets more complicated when journeys span multiple teams or products. Enterprises recognize the fastest way to innovate and retain market share is to partner with best-in-class solutions, which is a great approach, but it creates a host of challenges in customer experience, including the need to work with ten other partners or vendors to help a customer or solve a problem.

Companies will start focusing on solving this new problem - coordinating multiple organizations to deliver these seamless experiences - as old problems become easier with things like AI and technology. 

Mike Schwartz: I foresee Gen AI solutions embedding into broader enterprise offerings in 2024. This change will happen quickly, given the rapid evolution in 2023.

I see a seamless integration of AI capabilities into the customer experience in startup technologies to major banks. Today, there are bits and pieces and players with fascinating bells and whistles, but no seamless integration. Customers, whether they are merchants, consumers, or businesses, will start to demand that AI is integrated into the services they pay for, whether it's banking or anything else. They'll also expect AI-driven capabilities across chat, video, phone, email, and text interactions and to receive the same answers regardless of the communication method used. 

Data quality is pivotal because AI's performance is only as good as the data it learns from. Data integration is the key to everything in customer experience for 2024 and beyond.

Why is it urgent to get CX right in 2024? 

Tim Attinger: Historically, customer experience has been fragmented customer interactions spread across various company touchpoints, teams, and systems, often involving third-party partners. The only constant across the interactions is the customers themselves! That's a bad experience for the customer, and quite frankly, a massive risk for the enterprise because it only sees a tiny sliver of a customer’s interaction. 

It’s crucial to shift the focus from mere touchpoints to the entire customer journey. Today, tools, like OvationCXM, offer end-to-end journey visibility, management, orchestration, and real-time improvement, and it is becoming the new standard. Organizations that address fragmented touchpoints by assisting customers from point A to point B will thrive, while those neglecting this shift will suffer significant losses. Failing to adopt such approaches means losing ground in the marketplace.

Alan Finlay: 2024 will stand out as pivotal for CX. The industry and the toolsets used in it are evolving at a rate that is pretty mind-blowing, driven significantly by AI. This shift is transforming how we conceive of and deliver outstanding experiences. If a company isn't focused on innovating in the right areas to deliver these better experiences, it could be standing still, or, worse, heading in the wrong direction. If companies don’t deliver these experiences, customer retention will become increasingly difficult in 2024 and beyond. 

Mike Schwartz: The urgency to get CX right in 2024 stems from several factors. Enterprises need to act swiftly and deliver better quality and experiences to stay ahead. Otherwise, they risk losing ground to nimble upstarts that offer what’s perceived to be better alternatives. If they are too late to market with solutions that provide a solid, simple and seamless customer experience to their customers, someone else will do it for them. 

AI is a major disruptor. Data aggregation and its use in training AI models is crucial. Non-enterprise players are rapidly entering this space, quickly offering AI-driven CX solutions and making it challenging for customers to differentiate between high-quality interactions from established sources and low-quality ones.

Is CX technology a nice-to-have or must-have in 2024?

Tim Attinger: Is revenue something you need or is it nice to have? Is retaining customers and growing customer relationships something you need or something nice to have? 

Those are the questions I would ask. If you depend on post-interaction surveys or a fragmented touchpoint service delivery to grow and maintain revenue, you're losing in the marketplace. If you don't have customer experience management software in place, you're not managing revenue. Full stop.

However, it is not just about revenue growth; it is also about customer retention, which ultimately leads to compounded revenue. It is also about streamlining internal operations and offering greater executive visibility into business performance. That extends cost efficiencies to external partners, making collaboration smoother and more fruitful for all involved. So, in short, CXM is no longer an option—it's a necessity in today's competitive landscape.

Chip Kahn: I agree. In challenging economies, companies need to have more focus on CX, not less. So, if you're not getting efficiency out of things like Gen AI properly in a way that delivers value you are going to get left behind. 

AI takes a lot of compute, and compute costs money. A lot of enterprises will not find value because they don't have the right partners like OvationCXM to help them orchestrate the models. You have to use the right tool for the right job, even in Gen AI use cases. If getting to a pilot or proof of concept isn’t top of mind for enterprises in 2024, they’re already behind.

If a company is in the financial services industry or e-commerce or has multiple companies delivering to an end customer, we are the best solution because we provide connectivity, visibility, orchestration, and collaboration across an ecosystem. 

Alan Finlay: I'd recommend companies reach out to competitors investing in CXM technologies and ask them why they're doing it and the impact they experienced.

We have seen a 40% increase in NPS scores while reducing costs and improving employee and customer satisfaction at the same time. Those numbers are from industry-leading companies that had already made significant investments in legacy servicing technologies like call center ticketing systems and IVRs, so the direct ROI of CXM is very impressive. 

As these industries become increasingly more complex, CX will continue to be a major point of differentiation among the competition. That should force companies to ask whether they need to make this investment to stay relevant.

Mike Schwartz: Absolutely. Customer expectations have changed significantly, especially in the last 12 months. Customers expect things to just work and to be easy and simple. They don't want to talk to someone if they don't want to, and they expect to reach out via various methods and for the answers to be consistent and straightforward.

Experiences that don't live up to these newfound expectations will cause customers to move on because they can find those customer experiences elsewhere. That's why I think CXM technology is not just a nice-to-have; it's going to be a mandate.