This article appears in the Winter 2018 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.

    Image by: MATJAZ SLANIC, ©2018 Getty Images

    Digitizing the customer experience (CX) no longer gives a company an edge, but instead, it's the key to survival. For almost a decade, organizations have been talking about how new digital channels not only improve customer interactions and ease of doing business but also offer consumers the power of choice—often, at their fingertips. Yet, there is a greater divide than ever before between those who have committed to the digital revolution and established market leaders who are falling behind. Why is this gap widening?

    To remain relevant with modern customers, it's no longer about offering multiple channels but coordinating how those channels intersect and interact with one another. According to Dimension Data's expansive survey titled "Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report," CX leaders should focus on four main trends to overcome the digital crisis, including a connected digital strategy, customer journeys, data analytics, and the growing robot (artificial intelligence) presence.

    Digital Experiences Lack Commitment

    Findings in the report suggest that even though companies recognize the importance of a digital customer experience, not enough of them are making it a priority, which is evident in the fact that many still exhibit significant disparate management of CX. In fact, 36% of respondents surveyed said they didn't have a single manager responsible for CX, and of those who do, only 36% are at the board level. Despite the ability to evidence high cost savings and increases in revenue attributed to their digitalization efforts, along with 81% of companies recognizing CX as a competitive differentiator, only 13% rated their CX delivery a nine out of 10 or better. While CX is cited by many as the most important measurement of performance, only 10% considered their own digital business strategy to be optimized. This disconnect between what companies know about CX and what they're doing to address it is ultimately causing established market leaders to falter.

    It's About the Customer Journey, Not the Channel

    These days, CX is multi-channeled, with the number of channels available to customers expected to rise to 11 by the end of 2018. This proliferating number of customer touchpoints and channels of communication are creating disjointed experiences, such as improving interactions in one channel but not another. Instead of a fragmented approach to CX, organizations should be focused on the entire customer journey. This means "understanding user behaviors, patterns, and potential transaction value across each channel path." Omni-channel solutions can't be built on weak processes or siloed channel management.

    While 76% of companies have some customer channels connected, only eight percent reported that they had all channels connected, and only 22% claimed to have most connected. More importantly, companies aren't gathering and analyzing data on customer journey patterns, and because of this, they are not optimizing them either. A shocking 72% failed to collect customer journey data for review. This means they are failing to identify customer problems and frustration points. Additionally, the report shows that 58% of companies still manage their channels in silos, with 42% of this data locked away from other teams in the organization.

    It's Time to Embrace Our Data

    It's no surprise then that analytics is considered to be the driving force for transforming CX in the next five years. Harnessing and analyzing mass data is credited with being the number one contributor (58%) to improving the customer journey. By leveraging the digital footprints left by customers, 42% of companies can now offer customized CX. However, the industry is still seeing a shortage in customer analytics systems—only 48% have them—and an overall lack of use of analytics to inform channel management strategy—only 29% claim to do so.

    AI and Robotics Are Here to Stay

    Adding to this complexity is the arrival of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered channels of engagement. According to the report, the top five channels of focus in the new year will be chat bots, instant messaging, mobile apps, video chat, and the Internet of things (connected devices that communicate with one another). With the introduction of new technology solutions, enterprise users will be left to wade through the maze of integration, new processes, and transaction complexity. These new digital systems must be supported from design to deployment, future-proofing not only the capabilities of the solution but also the agility of the workforce to ensure optimal performance.

    Hyper-personalization, AI, and coordinated customer journeys will reshape the CX landscape in the next five years, but the lack of process control over all the communication channels available to customers will be its ultimate downfall. In the end, companies must do more to embrace digital transformation and not rest on their laurels.

    Catherine Sbeglia is a staff writer at DOCUMENT Strategy. She covers information and document management technologies and the digital workplace.