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Staying Ahead of the Curve: How the Customer Experience Is Evolving Abandoned but not alone, BlackBerry shows us all that the customer experience is everything. The smartest businesses anticipate customer needs before they manifest.

By Rashan Dixon

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

We're always looking for the next big thing: a phone that folds, a scooter that just magically appears on every block, or a house that can be 3D-printed. These developments make for great social media fodder, and they ensure brands get their share of "likes."

But under the surface, there's an enterprise revolution occurring. How companies, big and small, respond will dictate how well they succeed in the 2020's. And if you're not already thinking about that decade, you should be.

A decade ago, an impressive product release could keep a company afloat for years. BlackBerry, for instance, released smartphones that were deemed so indispensable that the brand was able to succeed, despite a crippling recession. By 2017, however, the company's share of the smartphone market was officially 0 percent. People and companies abandoned BlackBerry's operating system in lieu of newer operating systems that provided a better experience.

And BlackBerry's not alone: Many businesses are discovering that the customer experience is everything. The smartest are anticipating customer needs before they happen.

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What's the future of CRMs?

There was once a time when customer relationship management tools were the crux of any business, just like there was a time when having a BlackBerry was everything -- until it wasn't. Changes like these can be visible and swift. The opportunity to keep tabs and set reminders is valuable. But it's not marketing, and it's not where we're heading in a targeted, automated world.

Related: The Death of the One-Size-Fits-All Sales Process

So if CRMs have shifted in the marketplace, what's next? CXM. Customer experience management isn't new to people who work in the industry. But as an entrepreneur, it can be your leg up on the competition, whether you're creating something in the retail sphere or operating a business-to-business venture.

CXM starts with personalized experiences. This is ultimately how you want to snag any customer you plan to keep for a long time: It demonstrates an understanding of what it's like to be on the other side of the aisle. While CRM worked well for calling or sending alerts, CXM works perfectly for personalization, delivering the right content at the right time where a person wants to view it.

Another way to look at it: It's the difference between someone calling you about an exciting offer (CRM) and seeing something in your Instagram feed that fits your needs (CXM). Leaders know people aren't excited to speak to telemarketers or face a deluge of texts on their phone. We can't move backward to pure automation; we have to move forward, pairing automation with delivery.

Brands must understand and connect with every customer at an individual level, delivering personalized experiences that build lasting loyalty at each step of the customer journey. It's easy to assume a successful onetime purchase will result in a long-term customer or that the occasional discount or coupon will keep bargain shoppers gravitating your way. But we know that's not how things play out in practice; "rewarding" customers with various discounts can actually confuse and backfire. An inconsistent experience does the same thing.

Instead, companies have to focus on a beginning-to-end experience, from the creation of those experiences to their delivery and management, to their monetization. That's where CXM can -- and should -- add value.

Data is a critical commodity.

Data has become the most important commodity in developing the right creative. One big shift came last year when Microsoft, Adobe and SAP partnered in the Open Data Initiative, designed to tear down data silos and help organizations connect disparate data so they act on it in real time using AI.

In a world of data silos, that's a big deal. Using Forrester research, Marketo anticipated that 2017's 100,000 software vendors would become a million hyper-specialized companies by 2027. That means that within the decade, siloed data will become a bigger problem. Without an intervention, this doesn't bode well for brands inefficiently transferring data -- or failing to transfer it at all. Without that data, there's no such thing as a cohesive customer experience.

Related: Data Analytics Will be the DNA of New Economy

Adobe is an example. It's shifted its focus to processing real-time behavioral data, which wouldn't have been available years ago. On the heels of an overall strategy shift, Adobe transitioned to the cloud, as well as a subscription model. It then focused on acquisitions that helped fill the brand's gaps on the enterprise side of the house, such as Magento for e-commerce and Marketo to capitalize on the growth trajectory of B2B marketing. With Forrester projecting B2B marketing automation to become a $3.7 billion industry by 2023, it's a logical bet.

Through 10 years of successful mergers, Adobe has gone from being the "place that makes Photoshop" to becoming part of the segment that's shifting where the consumer experience is heading. Rather than become pigeonholed as a design tool, Adobe has gotten its fingers in a variety of areas that boost the long-term experience and loyalty of the customers it encounters. It's also boosted business: The 10 largest U.S. corporations and the 10 largest U.S. financial services companies, for example, have adopted Adobe software and experience tools to collect more data to influence their own customer experiences.

Likewise, Zappos has been highlighted for its on-the-ground approach to customer experience. While stories about free returns or 10-hour phone calls have become legendary, what will set the brand up for success in the future is its data. Built around a robust IT strategy, Zappos has a 99 percent accurate real-time inventory system. Its retail competitors, settling for 40 percent accuracy, will struggle to gather the stats to serve not just their employees, but their customers as a whole.

How can others emulate Adobe and Zappos? It begins with five foundational elements for CXM:

1.) Open, real-time customer profiles.

Bringing together the data -- behavioral, transactional, financial, operational -- into one real-time customer profile is imperative because it fuels analysis, data science, and activation.

2.) An ecosystem and platform.

When shopping for CXM technology, companies should look for an open marketing technology platform that supports a single data model, customer experience apps, and an open ecosystem that accelerates innovation. Additionally, the technology provider behind your platform should have established partnerships with other service companies to show just how committed it is in driving maximum value.

3.) Creative agility.

Creative agility is the ability to make the right content faster for every step in the customer journey. It also lets companies continuously test and optimize experiences in real time.

4.) Multi-channel orchestration.

It's imperative to have correctly sequenced and personalized experiences across all channels.

5.) Intelligence.

AI is meant to help make sense of your data so you can truly understand your customer. You need AI for real-time decision-making to make your data actionable.

As an entrepreneur, figuring out how to optimize systems in the 2020's will be just as crucial as optimizing setups for Google was in the 2000's. Google spawned an entire field of people working in search engine optimization. The new role, CXM, will deliver experience management to organizations.

Keep this in mind as you launch a business or continue driving one. Make sure you focus on experiences, personalization and real-time behavioral data. Without them, you risk becoming a BlackBerry in a field of iPhones.

Rashan Dixon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of Techincon and Senior Business Consultant for Microsoft

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, entrepreneur and a writer for various business and technology publications.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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