I read a lot of articles every day about the future of customer experience (CX) and how cutting-edge technology is about to change the world for every marketer. A lot of folks are eager to tell you what your brand should—no, must—do to prepare for the future.

The future of CX is artificial intelligence. Or it’s chatbots. Or augmented reality. Or voice-operated devices. Or wearables. Or virtual personal assistants. Or the Internet of Things. Or blockchain. Or personalisation. Or visual search. Or VR.

In fact, the future of CX for your brand may be all of these things. Or not. No blogger or tech journalist can answer that question for you, because the answer lies not in the tech but in your brand’s ability to ascertain the unique needs of your unique customers.

Brands overly focused on the potential of hot, new technologies rather than on the needs of their customers fall into a trap I call “Lego marketing,” where CX solutions seem to be preconfigured blocks that can simply be snapped into place to create success. Snap—we launched a Facebook page because consumers will engage with our marketing content for free. Snap—we’ve launched a corporate blog because consumers crave branded content. Snap—we have a Google+ page because our agency said it was the thing that will topple Facebook.  Snap—come check out our new Periscope channel because live video is the new black, and our brand is not about to be left behind!

Snap, snap, snap. All the pieces click into place and the result is—a marketing program that looks pretty much like everyone else’s. Sure, the colours of your bricks are different from your competitors’, but the strategies and tactics are virtually indistinguishable. Unfortunately, so are the results. Marketing budgets have risen to 12 per cent of revenue according to Gartner’s 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, and despite this, top CPG brands are losing market share and valueAmericans find brands and companies less truthful, and ad blocking is on the rise (and will soon come native to Chrome and Safari).

Meanwhile, companies that lead with unique and differentiated CX are eating the world. Apple, Starbucks, USAA, and the other brands you love didn’t achieve that special relationship with you by chasing new technology and snapping it into place like everyone else. Apple created the iPhone and iPad and launched a mobile revolution. Starbucks offered free Wi-Fi long before that became standard operating procedure for QSR and retail brands. USAA offered the first automated check deposit via phone.

In each of these cases, the question the brand asked wasn’t what technology was hot and how they could snap it into place more quickly than their competitors. In each example, the technology that differentiated the brand and revolutionised their customer experience was about the customer.

Apple knew that the same customers who rejected the Newton and Microsoft’s bulky and unusable tablets were ready to adopt (and soon crave) a truly mobile computing solution. Starbucks knew creating an inviting “third place” that encouraged customers to visit and linger meant giving away the means to stay connected, entertained and productive. And USAA recognised customers would soon expect and want to conduct easy banking via their ever-present devices.

None of these are examples of a brand snapping an easy new tech solution into place. While other hardware makers were creating another lookalike laptop or phone with a slightly better screen or battery <snap>, Apple took a risk and innovated the mobile experience. While other QSR restaurants were trying to collect likes with beauty shots of burgers on Facebook <snap>, Starbucks took a risk and innovated the dining experience. While banks were ramping up their mobile ad budgets <snap>, USAA took a risk and innovated the banking experience.

As Apple, Starbucks and USAA demonstrate, the key to CX innovation doesn’t start with the technology but ends with it. The place to start is with your customers. What do know about their behaviours, habits, needs, wants, and sentiment? What problems do they have that your brand can solve in innovative ways?  How will their worlds and needs change as technology evolves?

If you want a brand and CX that looks like everyone else’s, keep snapping those blocks into place, but don’t be surprised if the brands that win with the right tech tomorrow are the ones that started with their customers today.

If you are a Gartner subscriber and wish to learn more about the future of customer experience, you may find some new research reports helpful:

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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