We live in exceptionally unstable times. To succeed, businesses need to invest in understanding and meeting their current customers’ future needs as well as finding cost-effective ways to attract new customers. As consumers, we pay for organisations’ products and services – our spending is their sales and revenue generation. To maximise sales growth during these uncertain times, it is vital that businesses fully understand the drivers of current and prospective customers’ spending. Amid the uncertainty, sales and CX require creativity Organisations now have a lot of data about customers’ daily lives and are getting better at using that data to make decisions. In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on collecting big data, but there is a limit as to what big data can forecast when it comes to planning future sales or product/service revenues in the current uncertain climate. As John Hegarty, Co-Founder of Bartle, Bogle, Hegarty (BBH) says: “Data has been around for ever… The danger is you reach a point where everybody has the same data. You get to the same conclusion but the point of a brand is to create difference, and through creativity, you can create difference.” (BBC, The Bottom Line – Advertising) It is neither customer big data nor CRM platforms that are crucial for success in CX and sales improvement. But qualitative research – ethnography, in-depth interviews, focus groups, behavioural analysis and trials – can lead to real breakthroughs in CX and sales because they spark creativity and ideas. Internet of Things provides opportunities to boost customer experience From 1997 to 2017, Britain had the lowest level of investment (combing private and public) of the OECD’s 36 countries. Raising Britain’s investment in technology and infrastructure would transform efficiency but also customer experience. In 2019, with the introduction of 5G, there are opportunities to boost customer experiences, particularly using the Internet of Things (IoT). The future is one where people will be surrounded by a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with software, sensors and connectivity, which enable them to connect and exchange data. IoT technology is already affecting our daily lives: • Cars can connect to the Internet, notifying emergency services in case of an accident (uptake 2% UK) • Black boxes assess our driving habits and safety levels for insurance companies (uptake <10%) • Smart utility meters show energy usage in real time, allowing cost savings (uptake 50%) • Parking apps identify spaces in car parks and cities, saving time (becoming more common) • Expected bus arrival times in real time improve overall travel times (widespread). But for businesses to benefit from IoT technologies, and how they could boost customer experiences, the Board’s decisions need to be based on great research. Otherwise, the wrong technology will be invested in (at great cost) as customers fail to adopt the innovation. Explaining about Artificial Intelligence, is the strategy Recent research shows that 4 in 5 executives say that emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), will transform or improve their organisation. While there is a lot of trialling and “playing with tech”, many organisations have no clear method or process in place for identifying how best to use emerging technologies. A challenge for businesses will be to communicate what they are doing with AI to their employees and customers and reassure them that it will not be used for sinister or unethical purposes. Some consumers have already said they are unplugging their smart-speakers for fears around privacy. Tom Hoggins, ‘Spying fears and data harvesting – why I unplugged Alexa’. This is in addition to the customer research required to provide the light bulb moment for AI, exploring the ‘so what?’ and then communicating the benefits to the board, suppliers and customers. The customer experience industry controls business growth A very recent report by the International Trade Committee UK trade policy transparency and scrutiny, sets out the role that Parliament, business, civil society, the devolved administrations and local government should play in any post-Brexit trade policy. As customer experience  experts, we know that what is good for businesses is not necessarily good for employees, and some customers are not necessarily good for business revenues. The International Trade Committee’s report includes this recommendation: “The Government should be under a statutory requirement to engage in open and inclusive consultation with business, civil society, and the public, on the mandate for, and scope of, future trade deals. The Government should hold regular (at least quarterly) meetings which are open to all interested businesses, organisations and individuals.” There is a huge opportunity for customer experience experts to steer organisations through exceptionally unstable times. In 2019, the critical role for market researchers is to influence board-level decision-making. Customer and market research should include standards of CX, technologies and employee training to evidence what is needed to build up sales, both locally and internationally. Independent quantifiable research data can demonstrate to boards the changes that are necessary to improve operational efficiencies, customer intimacy and connection. Jo Davies MBA, Director, Davies Hickman, Enabling better business decisions for our clients with innovative research, data analysis and training Image credit: Katemangostar