• January 9, 2024
  • By Judy Weader, senior analyst, Forrester Research

CX Pros Will See a Year of Post-Pandemic Push-Pull

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Every Jan. 1 holds the promise that the new year will bring prosperity, joy, or excitement that exceeds what was seen in the prior year. As we look ahead to 2024, Forrester Research expects that customer experience (CX) professionals will find the upcoming year fun—depending on one’s definition of  the word.

The past couple of years have been challenging for CX pros. The pandemic threw an epic curveball at experience design and delivery, forcing a massive rethink on how businesses engage with their customers. As the economy went on a related roller-coaster ride, budgets tightened to the point that even modest increases in CX team funding seemed like a victory. And then, in the second half of 2023, we found ourselves caught in a post-pandemic push-pull: While generative AI, the latest shiny object, opened the door to a future of new discoveries, many businesses retreated to old-school, conservative policies and practices that limit their ability to stride boldly forward.

Let’s start by talking about this in terms of numbers. In 2023, Forrester’s average U.S. Customer Experience Index scores dropped for the second year in a row, primarily driven by poorer performance in delivering positive emotional experiences. It’s certainly possible that economic uncertainty led to belt-tightening that constrained companies’ ability to provide experiences that met consumers’ continually increasing expectations. Anecdotally, this shows up in two forms: (1) firms reducing the staff who manage and design experiences, and (2) firms reducing the staff and overall resources of the team charged with the delivery of experiences (note that these are not mutually exclusive). Couple that with the increase in customer-obsessed firms (a number that doubled, but from an anemic 3 percent to 6 percent), and one wonders where we go from here.

With that in mind, let’s dive into our CX predictions for 2024:

The global average customer experience will improve for the first time in three years. Signs point to an increase in the average CX rating for next year, although that doesn’t mean these increases will be across the board. While most companies will see their CX ratings stay flat year over year, we expect that the small number of them that have seen increases during the leaner past couple of years will be the ones that pull the average up. Improvements will likely be more pronounced in Europe and APAC, and we expect the U.S. to do better than Canada. What will be the difference? We anticipate that behind-the-scenes generative AI in the contact center will help employees overcome other experience shortfalls, buoying the customer service experiences that consistently land as the No. 1 or No. 2 driver of experience ratings.

Half of large global firms will experiment with customer-facing generative AI. I’m now regularly getting questions from clients about whether they should care about generative AI. My answer, in short: Yes, and they wouldn’t be alone in doing this (42 percent of AI decision makers cited improving or personalizing CX as a top generative AI use case). Opportunities abound for internal and external applications, but as with any new technology, we don’t recommend proceeding without planning and guardrails. The firms that will do the best with customer-facing generative AI will build the internal capabilities first, learning how to manage the technology while harnessing its benefits for employees. Then they’ll determine where it will accelerate work that ends up as part of customer-facing experiences (such as marketing content) and/or as a primary customer interface (such as a chatbot).

One-third of all brands will launch experiences that are biased, inaccessible, or harmful. All this talk of the future makes return-to-office (RTO) mandates sound even more dissonant, particularly as remote and hybrid work have enabled the inclusion of marginalized people’s voices in CX design and delivery. We anticipate that hard-line RTO policies will lead to attrition and silencing of voices in a way that leads to products and services failing key inclusive design standards. The larger the customer base, the bigger the potential for negative impacts. Firms can avoid failing their customers by first looking at how they can support the inclusion of a diverse workforce. At a minimum, we advise adjusting RTO policies to enable a broad array of accommodations and limit required in-office time to punctuated moments.

To dig deeper into these and other predictions for the coming year, check out Forrester’s Predictions hub.

Judy Weader is a principal analyst serving customer experience professionals at Forrester Research. Based in Cambridge, Mass., Judy uses her decade-plus experience in CX and her background in healthcare, financial services, and government to assist clients with establishing, funding, and scaling their CX functions.

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