As we head into 2020, there are several shifts happening around customer engagement and experience that will hopefully remedy this. One of the most interesting elements that have come up is the re-emergence of physical stores as an engagement tactic.

Already, several online-only retailers have opened brick-and-mortar stores. This highlights the move to how customers want to experience products physically and not just browse pages on the internet.

It will only increase in relevance in the coming months, with personalised service being added to drive differentiation. Thanks to the growth of social media channels, customers have all but lost trust when it comes to targeted advertising and how companies mine their data.

In 2020, it is the customer experience that will become vital. We are likely to see augmented reality become a powerful tool for companies as customers expect to view, touch and interact with products in real-time.

From a B2B perspective, it is concerning to note how few organisations are adopting a technological focus on customer engagement. With so many sources of information available to them, it is surprising to see decision-makers not leveraging them to gain a unified view of the customer.

Along with enhanced customer experience, this more effective and integrated view of the customer from a business perspective will be critical in the new year.

Engagement done differently

A tough economy and pressure to retain increasingly fickle customers will result in price wars between competitors. This will drive businesses to embrace data analysis in more innovative ways.

In certain respects, it will give rise to consulting-as-a-service, where organisations will employ people for shorter periods of time and use them to deliver on-demand services focused around the customer.

How companies engage with and understand their customers will also change. While it is still in its infancy, gaming will become a powerful new marketing tool. For example, players of popular online games will be incentivised to go to retail outlets to receive codes to unlock exclusive in-game achievements.

Instant messaging platforms will also be used to renew everything from car licenses to purchase prepaid electricity. It is all about embracing digital channels to deliver services to customers faster. Yes, these will be available at a premium, but the time-savings will see more people use them.

Throughout this, data will be instrumental. However, it will not be limited to profiling customers, but to use information to identify groups of people that can become online ambassadors for a company.

In 2020, it is going to be about the story of a person's data and how it can be used to serve the customer better. Inevitably, customer relationship management solutions will evolve. Using each touchpoint as a data point, it will feed into how organisations segment their customers and deliver more engaging offerings.

Disruptive change

When it comes to great customer experiences, the financial services sector is leading the charge. This is especially the case when it comes to disruption in the insurance space, as well as the emergence of digital banks on local shores.

All these organisations are focused around customer engagement and are trying to do things in more unique ways. Furthermore, customers are becoming financially strapped as the economy slows down.

And the less disposable income customers have available to them, the more companies will do to keep them. This is driving a lot of innovation, especially in the sectors of the market where organisations are struggling with a lack of customer loyalty.

Mobile apps have also contributed to a changing customer experience. For example, many local banks report that most of their customers are relying on apps instead of visiting their websites or going to branches for their needs.

As technology evolves, so will banks and other companies be able to serve their customers better. The app culture is also changing the way that consumers and businesses purchase and consume goods, as well as the way that companies interact with their customers.

Fortunately, South African businesses are on par with what is happening in the rest of the world in terms of customer engagement and experience. While regulation that governs how customer data can be used does limit opportunities to a certain extent, 2020 will see many businesses adopt a back to basics approach.

This will revolve around companies asking customers what they want instead of them telling people what they are supposed to want. Businesses will have to refocus on getting to know their customers again irrespective of whether that is a consumer or a business client.

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*Image courtesy of Alron Karabina