Digital is the hot topic around the marketing water cooler these days. The word is that big agencies are not really cutting it. CMO’s are aligning with new and different partners to accomplish their digital marketing goals. Why? We believe the answer is the underlying theme of ChannelNet’s take on what’s in for 2015: It is all about putting the customer at the center of everything.

We predict that next year at this time, CMOs will focus on individualizing customer interactions.

1.    Individualization is the new Holy Grail

Today’s consumers expect a truly individual experience. They react negatively when a brand’s attempt to personalize communications is nothing more than window dressing for mass marketing efforts.

The market will shift from a focus on personalization to a more granular focus on the individual.

Making a customer feel special takes more than just inserting a customer’s name on a direct mail piece. Customers want to feel special and that the communications a brand sends to them are relevant.

Data combined with predictive analytics enables an individual experience.

— Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder

2.    Omnichannel capabilities will take off.

Consumers do not think in terms of offline, online or customer service. Tablets, PC’s and mobile devices are how they choose to engage a brand – they do not think in terms of channels.

They just expect a consistent experience whenever and however they choose to interact with a brand. Solutions for customers today must enable an omnichannel experience. No matter what channel customers use to communicate, the brand must anticipate their needs based on previously provided customer information.

Currently, brands struggle to offer an omnichannel experience because of data silos, internal ownership conflicts and incompatible systems.

To survive, businesses must execute their omnichannel strategy. It is quickly becoming the price of entry.

— Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder

3.    Customer service agents are important again.

Self-service has become a cost-saving nirvana to customer service executives. They miss the point — when a customer needs to talk with a live person, they expect a professional, knowledgeable and empowered representative on the other end of the phone. The days of pressing phone buttons, endless transfers and being placed on hold must end. Trying to cut out the ability to talk to a person is a big mistake.

Let’s face it. People still want to talk to a human, especially when they need help with a complicated situation or transaction. And a phone exchange punctuated with long silent gaps as an agent scrambles to find an answer in a script only frustrates an already frustrated customer.

Proper use of customer service agents as problem solvers, or as customer advocates, represents an enormous opportunity to turn around a potential defection situation.

Molly Smith, vice president of customer support and services

4.    Small data will be the bigger deal.

Like many trends, what was hot in 2014 is on its way out in 2015. Duke University professor Dan Ariely said it best: “Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…”

Most consumer-service organizations have not fully learned how to leverage the small data or transactional, structured, relational data. Small data holds the majority of the relevant information that consumers seek whether they’re using a mobile device or a PC, recent payment information, or available inventory.

The reality of limited resources, the need for speed and agility, and the demand for an omnichannel experience will prompt businesses to focus on the small data they have. Big data requires big effort and big money to get actionable results.

— Dave Boisvenu, chief technology officer

5.    Omnichannel strategies will trigger major process and organizational changes.

To create a true omnichannel experience, the customer must be at the center of every decision for every department — C suite, marketing, sales, service and IT. This is a radical change for many organizations and means the structure of most departments, systems and business processes must change.

Industry adoption of customer lifecycle management (CLM) requires wholesale process change — from the first contact through consideration, purchase, ownership and retention.

It is not about automating processes. It is about an end-to-end process change that enables companies to communicate with and serve customers more effectively at the appropriate and relevant touch points.

— Angela Johnson, vice president of account management

6.    User Experience (finally) takes center stage.

We have all heard the expression that “content is king.” Well, if content is king, then user experience is queen. Savvy mobile consumers differentiate between poor and exceptional user experiences — and make brand and purchase decisions based on their experience.

Last year we saw financial service businesses like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Capital One buy user experience (UX) firms. For good reason— design is a foundational element of any digital solution.

Google’s recent decision to begin labeling sites in search results as “mobile-friendly” is an example of the seismic changes that are well underway as we go into 2015. Responsive design for optimal user experience across devices and screen sizes is no longer on the back burner of digital projects.

Experience can make or break a brand. Lack of responsiveness, long load times and poor usability will scare customers away before they even get a peek at your great content.

— Renee Triemstra, vice president of digital strategy and customer experience