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Welcome to 2024

Release Date: January 23, 2024 • Episode #300

That’s right – 300 episodes! Walker has been producing this podcast since January of 2018 and collected over 150 hours of content, discussed trends and events that included everything from COVID to artificial intelligence, and met some amazing customer experience professionals along the way. And at the beginning of each year we like to take a look at what to expect in CX over the next 12 months. Host Pat Gibbons welcomes Walker experts Sonya McAllister, Sean Clayton, and Tanner Smith, to reminisce on 2023 and make some predictions about trends moving into 2024.

Sonya McAllister

Sonya McAllister
Connect with Sonya

Sean Clayton

Sean Clayton
Connect with Sean

Tanner Smith

Tanner Smith
Connect with Tanner


Read more about Walker’s experts.


Can’t ignore AI

Tanner: “…generative AI is is the big one. And I think it pairs nicely with what Sean and Sonya mentioned a little bit ago, specifically, as companies start to integrate this more into how they interface and relate with customers, it’s going to allow customers to get more immediate access to information that they need to have that relationship with the company and make decisions about that relationship with the company. And I think to Sean’s point, that sense of immediacy around information accessibility is only going to get perpetuated as, as we launch into this AI era.”

The “Phygital” Balance

Sean: “I think what another phrase that is being coined in our industry, which is very, very good at coining new phrases, is “phygital.” So it’s the combination of physical and digital experiences. And Sonya talked earlier on about how obviously digital experience has been a recent trend. But there’s always that need to kind of balance what’s the right blend of real world and digital or human and AI. And so it’s finding that balance.”


We just got started with the year 2024, and that means we get to discuss one of our favorite topics.
When we think about just the massive amounts of data that is now possible to develop and evolve for any particular individual consumer, and rolling all the way up, that just provides a massive amount of power for a company to do a lot of the things that we’re talking about as new and better practices for delivering against their expectations.
Let’s look at what to expect for customer experience in 2024. On this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.
The CX Leader Podcast is produced by Walker, an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their XM success. You can find out more at walkerinfo.com.
Hello everyone, I’m Pat Gibbons, I’m the host of this episode of The CX Leader Podcast and thank you, as always for listening. Before we get started today, I just want to reminisce for a moment about how The CX Leader Podcast got started way back in 2018. So, you know, it’s not unusual that we chose to produce a podcast as a method to broadcast on this topic. It’s, you know, it’s a common way to talk about virtually any topic. What was crazy for us at the time is we decided to make it a weekly podcast. Well, here we are five years later and this is kind of a milestone for us. It’s our 300th episode, so it’s great to have you here. 300 episodes. We’ve collected over 150 hours of content, and we have more than 350,000 downloads, we estimate. We’ve discussed a wide range of CX topics, trends, events and cases. And most of all, we have met some amazing customer experience professionals along the way. So when I say thank you for listening, I really mean it. But today we’re starting the new year as we normally do, taking a look at CX trends, discussing what to expect in CX over the next 12 months. So to help me look into the future, I have a few of those amazing CX pros with me that are no strangers to the podcast. They are actually colleagues of mine. Sean Clayton and Sonya McAllister are both senior vice presidents here at Walker, and Tanner Smith is one of our talented analysts here at Walker. Sonya, Sean, Tanner, welcome back to The CX Leader Podcast.
Thanks, Pat. Happy to be here again.
Yes the same. Always a treat.
Thanks, Pat. Glad to be back.
Well, you know, I’m looking forward to digging into this topic. But as always, we always like to give a little bit of context on, uh, on the people that are part of the discussion. So if, uh, if each of you could just give a quick background, you know, just on a little bit of your experience in CX, but more importantly, just kind of your role and how you interact with other CX leaders, because I think that gives us really good context. So, Sean, why don’t you get us started?
Sure. Yeah. I’ve really spent my entire career in the customer experience space, um, working for Walker the past ten years and previously worked on the client side as well, but, uh, primarily, uh, working our client service group, which is the professional services arm of our company that works with a wide variety of clients. So myself and the teams, uh, that report to me, I spend all of our time really guiding our clients on what to do with their own customer experience strategy and programs.
Great. Thank you. Sonya?
Yes. Uh, like Sean, this has been my full career experience as well. I’ve been working in CX for 25-ish years. Um, most of which have been at Walker. And today I lead our sales team. And so I am consistently engaged in conversations with clients and prospects who are really thinking about how to take CX to the next level.
All right, Tanner, so now you, uh, you have two people that have, you know, 25 years experience. Tell us about yours.
Absolutely. So I come from more of a psychology research background. I would say I’m a little greener to the industry than maybe some of my other colleagues, but most of my focus is on data. Everything to do with their CX and operational financial data, really working with clients and supporting other Walker colleagues and helping clients figure out how to best utilize that CX and operational data.
Yeah, excellent. No, I think, uh, obviously, I was a little teasing you. It’s hard to stack up to that kind of experience, but you have an excellent perspective on, I think, where things are headed. So we’re really glad to have all three of you here today. So let’s start by maybe just taking a quick look back on trends or themes that we’ve seen emerging in the last year or two in the CX industry. Specifically, how do we see customer expectations changing and evolving? Sonya, you want to take that one first?
Sure. I think a couple of themes that we have identified over the years continue to be important. You know, we talked about personalization back in 2015, and today the term is more of hyper personalization, right. And and really making an individual customer feel like the experience they’re having is targeted to them and customized for their needs and, and expectations. And I think that’s still a very important theme. And I know a lot of companies are taking steps to to make that happen. I’ll just give a quick example. A hotel chain we work with has, over time, been very focused on a post-stay feedback mechanism and have realized that if they could capture feedback throughout the customer stay, they would be much more able to respond to any issues or challenges. Just moving from only thinking about it as a post-day, uh, feedback mechanism to something real time where they could literally within a few hours, uh, address a concern of a guest is, I think, the kind of thing that is an emerging theme.
I think that’s a it’s a great example, Sean. You want to build on that. What do you see when you’re talking to your clients?
Yeah, yeah. So just build on what what Sonya said, um, personalization continues to be, uh, an important theme, in fact, was looking back, uh, podcast, our first ever episode that the title of that podcast is The Importance of Personalization back in 2018. And it really, I think, is a tenet of CX that’s, that’s, uh, stood the test of time. Um, and when Sonya and I joined the podcast, um, two years ago for the 200th episode, we talk then about personalization and an emerging trend being this idea of hyper personalization and micro-moments. So, um, I would completely agree with, uh, with Sonya’s perspective that, um, if I’m going to add something into the mix, um, that we maybe didn’t talk about, um, directly as much two years ago, but certainly we were kind of feeling that this might be something that changed expectations, which is back then we were we were really just coming out of the the tail end of the pandemic. And in a way. That’s 2 to 3 years span around the world, changed customer expectations and, um, really forced companies to rethink how they, um, interact with customers. Some of it was from a health standpoint, safety standpoint. Some of it was from, well, we don’t have stores open anymore. What do we get to do? And when you think about some of the changes in the experience that we all have as consumers as well since then, uh, there are things we probably wouldn’t have predicted would happen before the pandemic and, you know, necessities and other inventions, innovations happen. So now we kind of expect to see, uh, the ability to pay without, you know, actually ever passing a credit card directly to a cashier. Um, we expect to be able to order something online and pick it up in the store. Um, we expect everyone to have a home delivery, whether it’s a product or a service. And so I think these are changes that, uh, are here to stay, um, and actually will segue into a theme I’m sure we’ll talk about later on in this episode, which is, uh, omnichannel.
Yeah. Yeah, it really is interesting to think about. We’ve almost taken for granted some of those changes that have come about because of the pandemic. You know, COVID is still around, but we’ve kind of gotten used to, uh, a lot of these changes and it has changed our expectations. Well, let’s think about how it’s moving forward in some of the kind of trends that we can expect. Uh, Tanner, what, uh, what’s your take? Obviously, dealing with a lot of data and such, uh, what do you see as we start heading into 2024?
Yeah, of course, from my perspective, generative AI is is the big one. And I think it pairs nicely with what Sean and Sonya mentioned a little bit ago, specifically, as companies start to integrate this more into how they interface and relate with customers, it’s going to allow customers to get more immediate access to information that they need to have that relationship with the company and make decisions about that relationship with the company. And I think to Sean’s point, that sense of immediacy around information accessibility is only going to get perpetuated as, as we launch into this AI era.
Yeah. So, um, I am curious, do you think what from the customers perspective, where do they stand? I mean, there’s I’m sure, a spectrum. Some are clueless about AI, some are, you know, very much engaged in it. Um, I’m just trying to think of it from the customer’s perspective and how they think it might change their own expectations. Tanner, do you have additional thoughts on that?
And yeah. I know that there’s a bit of research out there, I believe, conducted by the XM Institute that did a panel showing that most people still prefer to interact with people. But I think there are still going to be lots of special use cases in which those people who prefer to interact with digital channels or digital AI assistants, in which that can be optimized through the use of this. But whether or not someone desires to interact with the human versus digital assistant, I think they’re still going to be some, uh, needs around this sense of immediacy for information. And I think that can be served in a multitude of ways.
Yeah. Sean, uh, do you have a take on on that, a little bit of AI and, uh, the different forms of, you know, how companies are going to be needing to respond to customers, that it just seems like the, the, uh, time frame of how customers think about how they get things done continues to change.
Yes. Um, you know, obviously AI is just a huge um, it’s got a lot of buzz around it, a lot of hype around it right now. I mean, the reality is some form or another of AI has been here longer than that hype. It was, uh, again, a topic that we touched on two years ago in this, this same, uh, trends podcast. And when we think about just the massive amounts of data that is now possible to develop and evolve for any particular individual consumer, and rolling all the way up, uh, that just provides a massive amount of power for a company to do a lot of the things that we’re talking about as new and better practices for delivering against their expectations, whether that’s the personalization or whether it’s, uh, providing them with a faster way to meet the goals they’re setting out to go to do when they’re working with your company, to getting support. But at the end of the day, it is an enabler. Uh, and I think for those of us that have been in this industry a while, we’ve seen other waves of technology that have all been good for customer experience. Um, the last big one that comes to mind would be the internet. Uh, so I think this is going to be another wave that will accelerate the ability for companies to deliver the right type of experience to their customers and to do it in a faster, more seamless, more personalized way.
Yeah. So I’m curious to get everybody’s take on how well are companies responding or maturing with customer experience. Sonya, what do you think?
I think there’s progress. It’s probably a bit slower than we and even some of those companies would like. I think the one area that has really made progress in the past year or two is more use of feedback on the digital experience. You know, Sean referenced omnichannel listening earlier, and, you know, that is a key expectation, I think, of companies and their customers that they have multiple ways to provide more real time feedback and see the action taken on that. And the digital journey has gotten much more focus in the past year or two and is, I think, dramatically starting to improve for customers as well.
Yeah. Sean what, what do you think? Or, uh, how well are companies continuing to grow their CX practice, maturing areas of excellence?
Yeah, I think it’s it’s like Sonya was saying it’s it’s it’s been incremental. It’s it’s it’s not being dramatic or maybe as, as as fast as you, as you might think. And, uh, that is, you know, just looking at the XM Institute’s, uh, data on, on, uh, maturity levels at CX, um, departments within companies, um, it has improved slowly over, uh, the 4 or 5 years they’ve been measuring that. But it’s still we’re talking single digits of companies that believe they’re at the top two levels of maturity. Um, and when you break it down a bit further and look at the different competencies that roll into that, and there there are six of them in that particular assessment, the ones that are more of a challenge for, for companies and continue to be a challenge over the last 4 or 5 years, are what are called respond, realize and disrupt, where 70 to 80% of the CX practitioners that are part of these assessments say that their own efforts are weak or very weak. Why is that? Because respond, realize and disrupt, uh, have less to do with AI and technology and more to do with culture and organizational discipline. And I think that’s the challenge, uh, in terms of the CX, uh, industry catching up to where the technology industry is and where customer expectations are moving very quickly.
Yeah. Tanner, I’m curious, uh, and I do want to play to your, uh, intelligence around data. How has the use of data improved within companies? And do you see some companies that are really doing a great job of it? And maybe where are they falling short?
Yeah, I think just given our role within the industry, Pat, we get a unique perspective on the level of maturity across different size organizations. And I know we work with a lot of low to small to midsize companies who might just be standing up, uh, CX program for the very first time. And it’s great to see the enthusiasm from them behind this, but I think we’re sometimes, uh, the maturity can, um, slow down a bit is around tying that CX data back to those business metrics and financials that are the core part of the business.
And, Tanner, I know you’ve done some work, and I think we’ve even featured you on the podcast on even, uh, the connection of experience management across both employee and customer. How how do you see that trend? Is that just beginning? Uh, or what has been your reaction as you’ve worked on those projects?
It’s been. I get really excited talking about that area.
I know. That’s why I ask.
One part because it’s a new data, a fun data project, right? But on the other hand, it’s getting companies to be more harmonious and less siloed and working together and collaborate to to further the overall business. Um, so it always excites me when there are clients who come to us asking about those types of connections. And from the value perspective, I think it can really help HR and CX teams and departments optimize their budgets when they know the synchronicities between those experiences and as it relates to the financial success.
So I’d like to get a couple of examples. I think that that always makes it more and more practical when we talk about a big topic like trends, um, and all of you work with, with clients, obviously we don’t need to mention the name of a client or something, but, um, I’d love an example or two of clients that are doing something interesting that fits with some of these trends. Sean, can you think of one, uh, offhand?
So, uh, one example that comes to mind, and this is, is actually something that’s, uh, a personal story for me, but it does tie to one of our clients as well, tangentially, which is the the importance for what Sonny mentioned earlier in terms of hyper personalization, like really being individualized in terms of how you’re, uh, interacting with the customer during their journey. So I almost nominated this for our CX Horror Stories podcast, but we had such a good array of stories for that that I, that I didn’t. So I recently went through a home insurance renewal with a company that many will know, and I’ve seen advertised frequently, uh, that I’ve worked with and have had my policy with for years. And, uh, out of the blue in the mailbox is a very impressive and large packet. Uh, and literally on the very front of that packet, it says, we’re gonna have a renewal party. Uh, so they’re trying to do something a little bit more personalized. They obviously know where renewal is up. And that’s why this packet is in my mailbox.
Uh, but then when I open it up, to my horror, my policy amount has increased by 150%.
But they weren’t able to take that piece of data that they obviously knew was going to be, uh, impacting my experience and marry it with the one to many marketing envelope, uh, that was promoting the, uh, renewal party. So obviously did not, uh, leave a good taste in my mouth. And we actually work with another insurance company, not this one that I really consider themselves more of a technology company. And what they are doing, and the experience I’ve since had with them is just dramatically different. I could give a whole podcast just on that, but essentially they are using, uh, data about their prospects and customers to really deliver a highly personalized experience. Um, that from my, uh, perspective, was just night and day better than the more traditional experience of the, uh, the previous company. So that’s my probably over long story about why personalization and hyper personalization is something companies need to consider into it.
Yeah, it’s a good example. Sonya, how about you? You have, uh, one that you can add?
Well, actually, I, I noted this in the Qualtrics 2024 trends report that they released. Qualtrics is our technology partner, and I thought it was an interesting twist on the EX plus CX information and analysis that Tanner was talking about. So the the quote in their trends report is from KFC. So a quick serve restaurant that is trying to keep up with the times. And one of their senior leaders indicated that they have done a lot to improve their customers digital interactions with the brand, and it has dramatically affected their customer experience. However, it has made their restaurant team experience more challenging.
Hmm, interesting.
And so, at the same time as they were trying to improve the customer experience, they created a bit of a challenge internally that they’re now having to address as well. So just one way that those two things can and should be viewed together, and how the impact on frontline employees should be considered in those customer experience changes.
Yeah. No, I think it’s a great example. I’ll actually share one of my own. I don’t think it’s that uncommon, but, uh, it’s an interesting one of how those things fit together. So, uh, air travel is always one that we can criticize. This is actually a positive story, uh, where I was flying and, uh, uh, it was on Delta, and I missed my connection. It was really no fault of of their of the company. Uh, there was a slight delay leaving, but I knew I had a very short layover, so I was taking a risk on my own. I went racing for the gate and, uh, just didn’t make it. And so fortunately, there was another flight that went out a few hours later, and I took that flight and it was all fine. But when I got on the flight about halfway through, a flight attendant came to me and, and, uh, just said, Mr. Gibbons. And I said, yes. And they said, I understand you had a problem with the flight. And I had to think for a second. I’m like, well, yeah, I missed my connection. And they said, well, that’s, that’s too bad. We we hate it when that happens. Is it okay if we give you, uh, you know, some extra frequent flier points? And I said, of course, sure. And right there they punched a few buttons and I immediately got an email. Again, that is not that crazy uncommon, but it is an interesting way that it was in real time. They knew what had happened. They they knew I was a frequent flier member. And to your point, Sonya, those employees, it was pretty clear they didn’t have to go through a big approval process. And, uh, they were enabled to be able to make that, uh, make that happen. So I think those are good examples of some of those trends that, uh, that we’re talking about. So let’s go around one more time and ask, you know, what are some of the things that companies need to consider in 2024? Sean, you want to get us started?
Yeah. I mentioned earlier on, uh, how omnichannel is here to stay. And as has become more prevalent in our lives as customers now, especially, uh, post-pandemic, I think it’s going to continue to be an important, um, requirement for customers that as they’re interacting with brands and with companies, that those interactions are as seamless and synchronized as possible across all the channels and touchpoints they have, uh, something that’s been coined as omnichannel harmony as the ultimate goal there. Um, and I think we’ve all seen probably in our, in our interactions with companies, uh, that some are really good at doing that and some are not very good at all. And that has a lot to do with systems and technology, uh, gaps, uh, in terms of investing in the right, um, technologies and software to make those, um, connections and to make those interactions seamless. A little bit of a spin on that. It’s it’s still omnichannel, but in a different way. So omnichannel is often really focusing on omnichannel for buying and for support. Um, but I think what another phrase that is being coined in our industry, which is very, very good at coining new phrases, is “phygital.”
So it’s the combination of physical and digital experiences. And Sonya talked earlier on about how obviously digital experience has been a recent trend. Uh, but there’s always that need to kind of balance what’s the right blend of real world and digital or human and AI. And so it’s finding that balance. We work with a number of companies, um, that have gone both directions in terms of being maybe more of a brick and mortar business that has needed to make sure that their digital experience blends in really well with that. So maybe it’s that ability to buy online, pick up in store, or virtually try on clothes before going into the store, things like that. But interestingly, we’ve also seen the opposite, where we’ve been working with a very well known streaming service that is now creating physical interactions and experiences based around their shows to create that, uh, kind of tangibility and personal interaction that you don’t necessarily get just from the digital streaming side of it.
Yeah, no good stuff. And, you know, it wouldn’t be a trends broadcast if we didn’t have some new terms come up. So thank you for that. All right. Tanner, uh, what’s your thoughts?
Yeah. So being more immersed in some of the generative AI applications to the business, things just change day to day. I can barely keep up even when I pay attention to it. What wasn’t available last month might be available now. Now, uh, what seemed promising in performance and ethically sound might completely change from new published research or court proceedings here in the near future. So if AI does become a strategic consideration, and given its spotlight, I’m sure people are at least looking at it, it’ll become increasingly important to have a resource dedicated to that ongoing education, to be able to keep a pulse on how the industry is developing, and extra special attention should be paid to the data privacy around it. The model inner workings, to understand the technical limitations. Because you can dress up, you know, a bunch of models to look really nice, but if they don’t perform that well, it’s important to understand that and how it could, um, enable or fail your customers. And lastly, to keep a pulse on those large societal updates around legal proceedings or the research.
Yeah. Good stuff. Sonya, where do you think, uh, companies, what do they need to consider in the coming year?
I think the, um, emergence of the AI and other technology can be a means of deprioritizing human interactions, and I think companies will need to be careful about what customer experiences should and could be delivered with AI or other technology, and which ones would be more effectively done by humans. And to find the right balance between those human and digital interactions.
That makes sense. All right. We’re at the point of the broadcast where we always ask our guests for one tip and we call it our take home value. So let’s go around and get one tip or idea or something ideally that, uh, customer experience professionals can work on right away. Uh, Tanner, do you want to get us started?
Yeah. Sure thing. So if pursuing generative AI to improve the customer experience, always proceed with caution and make sure that there is a clear connection of how it’s going to generate value to both the customer and the business.
Very good. Sean?
Yeah, I think with it being the start of a of a new year, it’s just a great time to try and take a step back from the day to day and really take stock of your own CX strategy and program and initiatives and, and just think about maybe other areas that have fallen short of, um, some of the things that we’ve been talking about today, as well as other aspects of, um, world class customer experience programs. And I think a great way to do that is to just take a self-assessment. So the examiner has their own self-assessment, uh, takes about five minutes to complete, but there are others out there as well. And I think once you’ve done that and if you’ve really taken that, honestly, you’ll probably come up with a list of things specific to your company and your industry, your customers that would really help. Try to move the needle a little bit in 2024, because going back to the earlier conversation, I think there’s been some agreement on this, uh, podcast that maybe CX hasn’t improved as much as we would have liked in the last two years. Um, and so I think as CX professionals, that’s something we all take ownership for. Uh, and I think we could learn a lot from just doing that very quick self-assessment at the beginning of every year.
I think everybody would would learn a lot. You’re right. Okay, Sonya?
All right. So I’m, I’m toying with two ideas here. So I’m going to, uh, quickly share them both.
All right. Good deal.
Um, one is just tagging on to, uh, Tanner’s comments about AI and its implications. I would just encourage all CX professionals to consider IT a partner in your mission and not a team you try to avoid whenever you can because it’s hard to get their time. You know, data privacy and all of the questions that customers could ask about that in, in their various interactions with your company mean that, you know, you and the IT team and people who are protecting and securing that data should work hand in hand. Okay. Idea number two, in case we need it.
Okay, let’s hear it. We get a bonus tonight.
Well, maybe, um, is, uh, tagging on to Sean’s theme of, you know, CX is just not progressed as quickly or perhaps, uh, effectively as we’d hoped. I think one of the key ways to make a bigger difference is to listen in new ways. Um, you know, even my example earlier about the hotel company that focused on the post-stay survey for years. And it’s just now advancing to something more real time. Um, just points to the fact that I think a lot of companies stick with what they’ve done historically, without really adventuring into thinking of ways that more real time feedback can be captured, and addressing those concerns and issues with customers in a faster way.
Well, thank you all for your suggestions. I mean, really, uh, it’s good take home value. Good discussion today. Lots of information for really anybody in uh, in our profession. Sean Clayton and Sonya McAllister are senior VP’s for Walker. And Tanner is an analyst. All three of you, Sean. Sonya, Tanner, thanks for being on The CX Leader Podcast today.
Looking forward to episode 400.
All right. And if you want to talk about anything you’ve heard on this podcast or how Walker can help you with your business customer experience, feel free to email us at podcast@walkerinfo.com. Remember to give The CX Leader Podcast a rating through your podcast service and give us a review, because your feedback will help us improve the show and deliver the best possible value to you, our listeners. Check out our website cxleaderpodcast.com to follow the show and find all our previous now 300 episodes, our podcast series, a link to our blog which we update regularly and contact information so you can let us know how we’re doing. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker. We’re an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their XM success, and you can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thank you for listening and remember, it’s a great time to be a CX leader. We’ll see you next time.
* This transcript was created using an A.I. tool and may contain some mistakes. Email podcast@walkerinfo.com with any questions or corrections.