Image by: stanciuc, ©2017 Getty Images

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the top communication trends for 2017. It might seem early to be thinking about 2018, but talking about next year's trends gives us a chance to take control of our future. If we don’t do the hard work of budgeting, planning, prototyping, iterating, and testing now, we will merely be reacting to these trends. So, let’s imagine it’s 2018, and we’re doing some incredible things with documents and our customer communications. Here are some things to keep in mind.

It Revolves Around Interconnectedness

All the people (machines and bots, too) receiving our communications are connected, distracted, and in motion. These people expect experiences to be instant, relevant, and succinct. To meet this high level of expectation, organizational teams will develop more connections with other teams in the business. Within this frame of interconnectedness, one trend we will see will be cross-departmental team-building exercises. Managers, plan some picnics, buy some books, and hire some speakers to create trust and connections across your corporate silos.

Journey Mapping Becomes a Discipline

In 2016 and 2017, journey mapping exercises have become a common way to assess the inventory of projects, teams, systems, and people that form your customer experience (CX) ecosystem. That trend will continue in 2018, when the maps become living documents.

The shift from sticky notes on the wall to interactive digital maps enables teams to optimize communications, improve systems, and constantly make updates to provide visible proof to the executive team responsible for CX. Improving communications is a lot easier when everyone sees the impact of their collaboration, adoption of their suggestions, and dashboards lighting up with amazing key performance indicator (KPI) achievement.

Channel Execution

So, the CX team is established; the journey is mapped; and the metrics are in place. In 2018, omni-channel coordination will move from its current state of centralization at the customer communications management (CCM) production and delivery phase (a 2016/2017 trend) upstream and downstream, as CCM systems grow deeper connections to other systems. Channel delivery choice will happen later, in a more reactive mode, to ensure the correct customer context and need is understood.

With this, communication teams must reactively manage millions of jobs of a single piece every day, instead of jobs of tens of thousands that are planned, batched, and proactively managed. This means systems need to be engineered to accommodate instant reaction time, unpredictable peak demands, and external production requirements. Channel execution continues to centralize, as CCM systems offer the mobile functionality formerly only available from mobile application development platforms (MADP), rapid mobile app development (RMAD), and specialized mobile agencies. In 2018, enterprises will begin to close the mobile silo by moving mobile communications back into the CCM infrastructure.

Stop Ignoring Inbound

Oftentimes, communication trends focus on infrastructure or outbound systems. In 2018, you will be pressured to improve your inbound game. Those journey maps uncovered self-service, automated, and employee-guided experiences that bring data and transactions into your systems. You need to ensure you are accepting inbound data from all channels, ensuring quality of the data and instantly delivering back the information, quotations, correspondence, and documents that are needed. In 2018, there is no excuse for any time lag between an inbound request and the next step.

Cleaning the Data

The enterprise is ready to deliver whatever communication is needed, whenever it is desired, and however it is best displayed, but it still feels like something is missing. The underlying data systems may have undergone some cleaning projects in the past, so the data might be in good shape. However, the trend in 2018 is to constantly ensure the quality of that data.

There are a few ways to do this. It is easiest and cheapest to do this at the source, implementing a single view of the customer with golden records, ensuring that every data pull is using current and correct information. Mobile apps, tablets, emails, websites, and even print-based communications incorporate software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based data augmentation and data correction services to ensure experiences are always relevant.

Planning for 2018

As you get ready to enter your planning and budget phases for 2018, now is the perfect time to reach out to the executives to ask about their CX strategies for next year. As one of the top initiatives for 2017 and 2018, CX is something that you need to keep your sites on.

If you own data, practice explaining it in terms of its CX benefits. If you are a document designer, prove how your designs extend to inbound and outbound communications across the full channel range. If you run production, explain that you should own mobile delivery.

Last year, I wrote, “You can start to get involved by proactively finding the CX initiatives within your enterprise. More than 20% of companies are already implementing them. That leaves 80% who still need to get started. If your organization is one of them, you can help make it happen. This could be your career 2.0 within your business.” With the percentage of companies implementing CX initiatives increasing, there is no time like the present to harness opportunity.

Scott Draeger is Vice President of Product Management at GMC Software Technology, a provider of multi-channel and highly personalized document outputs for customer communications management. For more information, visit www.gmc.net or follow him on Twitter @scottdraeger.