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Customers, they’re the heart of any business right? It may sound obvious but when you hear that customer satisfaction in the UK is at its lowest level since July 2010 and read Which?’s best and worst brands for customer service report, maybe some brands have lost their focus? Alternatively, maybe the goal posts have just moved and brands are struggling to find ways to keep up.

Consumer expectations may be rapidly changing but with reams of research pointing to the fact that great customer experience can have a positive impact on the bottom line, can brands afford to not keep pace? Gartner, recently reported that 89% of companies aim to primarily compete on customer service next year. Forrester also adds that 67% of organisations view improving the customer experience as one of their top three priorities. When beating the competition can mean the difference between success and failure, what can you do in 2016 to put customers at the heart of your business?

Go beyond the norm: make customer service your differentiator

Now more than ever, consumers across every sector are demanding to be treated as individuals. Many companies are investing in huge digital transformation strategies or are looking to improve self-service on their website, but very few digital strategies actually offer a personalised and truly unique experience. In fact, research shows that businesses who rely on recurring revenue streams, with customers who need to renew their contracts annually are finding that customers are less likely to renew their contracts if they’ve relied entirely on self-serve and had no interaction with the contact centre. These clients are making their decisions based solely on cost and without the influence of an emotional connection with the brand. In short a lot of digital transformation projects don’t go deep enough to truly offer a personalised and distinctive experience.

Delve into the emotions

A company that recognises the importance of customer service will no doubt have bought into capturing customer satisfaction scores. However, traditional survey techniques are rigid in the way they capture information and don’t actually delve into the ‘why’ behind the scores. In 2016, businesses who are ‘sentiment driven’ will be the most successful. By capturing customer feedback in real-time and allowing customer to express their views as opposed to just a score or number, you can gain insight that can transform the way you do business.

Implementation is key

A trend that will no doubt continue into 2016 is the tendency for companies to set out compelling customer experience strategies but fail to implement them correctly. Most strategies are well intentioned and in fact very similar, the aim is to attract more customers, retain existing ones and get them to spend more. However, competing priorities mean often the best intentions are thwarted. Brands should consider how to implement and evolve the customer experience strategy. This means listening to and acting upon the voice of the customer to become a truly customer-centric intelligent enterprise.

Customer expectations are growing. With customers increasingly benchmarking brands against the very best experiences they’ve had, businesses need to focus on putting the customer back at the heart of the business.

By Dennis Fois, CEO of Rant & Rave