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In 2014, brands and businesses plan to ignite their customer experience strategies in an effort to differentiate their service approaches, secure consumer trust, and leverage emerging channels.

Here are four of the most prevalent trends gaining buzz today.

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Each year, the customer experience grows increasingly important, and as 2014 approaches, elevating the customer journey has never been more vital for prolonged success.

To remain competitive, this year businesses must put the customer at the center of all they do in order to cultivate loyalty and safeguard trust. But certain strategic trends continue to dominate the space, indicating that businesses and brands of all types are already actively working to guarantee the best customer experience possible. Here are just four of the most prevalent trends gaining buzz today:

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In today’s omnichannel environment, customers expect a consistent and positive brand experience across all mediums if they are to remain loyal. Therefore, in 2014, business leaders will increasingly seek the competitive edge by demanding multichannel visibility and benchmarking of the customer experience across all touchpoints to help them support better business decisions and to be where the where the customer chooses to be.

“Creating a seamless, connected experience across all channels of consumer interactions, from social, email, and voice, to SMS, Web, and the latest mobile application, will finally garner true advancements due to the desire for right-time customer engagement strategies,” says Sheryl Kingstone, director at Yankee Group. She explains that the goal is to send the right message to the right customer at the right time and through the right channel to increase response rate. But it’s not just about the message. It’s also about the interactivity of the dialogue across the customer lifecycle. “Omnichannel is more than just about a marketing message; it’s an intelligent conversation across the organizational silos,” she adds.

At Teleflora, business leaders there are looking intently at how to move with the customers throughout their buying journeys. Amas Tenumah vice president, operations, says that the challenge is that, as companies move to an omnichannel world, designing experiences that allow customers to move between channels without having to start their conversations all over again. “Customers want to move seamlessly from channel to channel, not because they're dissatisfied, but because that's their preference,” he says. “They want the company to be able to contextualize those experiences so that they can start a conversation online and then switch to phone.”

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Beyond all other elements, companies must build the customer experience upon trust. From employee engagement to customer care, every aspect of the customer journey filters into the overall experience, meaning each piece must focus on providing consistency and value. Ingrid C. Lindberg, chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, highlights how companies will no longer be able to fake their way to the top, as transparency will become paramount to long-term loyalty.

“The brand myths will be penalized,” Lindberg emphasizes. “There are an awful lot of companies talking about their exceptional experiences or the importance of the experience. Experience is the new ‘it’ word. The reality is, talking about it doesn't mean you're delivering what you promise.”

Lindberg recognizes that the future of customer experience depends upon employees who have both the right skill set and the passion necessary to usher their given company into the future. Businesses will also be expected to make changes based on customer feedback, for consumers don't care if the company listens; they want to know they've been heard by seeing this insight in action.

Many organizations continuously seek feedback from consumers, but few put this insight to good use. Customers want to know that, when they invest time in answering surveys and filling out questionnaires, this voice of the customer data will be used constructively to improve their experience. By emphasizing trust, more customer experience initiatives will aspire to delight customers rather than merely satisfy, inspiring brand advocacy instead of simply quelling complaints.

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Creating meaningful connections holds much power when advancing customer strategy. In fact, building relationships that focus on relevance is the most expedient path to providing value. In 2014, organizations will invest in the proper Web platforms that allow them to maximize relevancy and create personalized content to enhance engagement. Much like Amazon's current technique, more companies will begin to offer targeted messaging as it relates to previous Web interactions and engagement history.

Companies will also begin to refocus the contact center from handling individual calls to building customer loyalty. “Rather than just answering phone calls or emails, Relationship Hubs will handle conversations that cut across all remote channels, including chat, email, and Twitter,” says Bruce Temkin, managing partner at Temkin Group. “They will integrate customer management systems to recognize customers across different interactions in different channels over an extended time period, and treat customers as if they know them.” Organizations will not only strengthen meaning by improving relationships, but also perpetuate trust and transparency.

 
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Though social media often falls under the marketing department's responsibilities, such platforms will soon become an integral part of customer service in 2014. The two functions will come together to further the customer experience by bringing social insights into the contact center to resolve current problems and prevent future issues. Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research, notes that, as social networks gain momentum, so will customer service careers focusing on social media management.

Social customer care positions require an entirely different skill set than managing phone and email service, for professionals must decide which conversations to join and how best to engage the customer. Most importantly, companies that embrace social media will need to keep in mind that customers are talking about them, not to them, requiring a careful engagement approach that doesn’t blast promotional messaging and enters conversations when issues arise. As social media becomes an essential component for both marketing and service efforts, such platforms will ultimately open the pathways of communication, humanizing the digital experience and developing deeper connections along the way.

No matter which path companies take in 2014, all roads must lead to the customer. Customer experience remains at the heart of every organization, and all areas of the enterprise must work toward satisfying this one mutual goal. From developing deeper connections, to trust and transparency, the customer experience must focus upon cultivating strong relationships and steadfast loyalty. Only then will companies be able to lay the foundation necessary for building future success.