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Top 5 trends for customer experience in 2018

In the digital age, customer experience is king. With so many new channels to navigate and an abundance of options right at consumers' fingertips, one of the most compelling differentiators brands can offer is a superb experience. In fact, a 2016 Forrester Research study discovered that 72 percent of businesses identified enhancing the customer experience as one of their primary objectives.

The question on every marketer's mind right now is how will customer experience strategies evolve over the next 12 months -- and what can they do to keep up with changing trends and meet consumer expectations?

Here are five customer experience trends to watch for in 2018:

1. Demand for personalization will increase

Perhaps the most dramatic change to customer experience on the horizon is the increasing hunger for more personalized brand interactions. Digital interfaces are no longer an excuse for impersonal touch points and transactions. Customers already expect to be treated as individuals with specific preferences, and that trend will only become more evident over the course of the next year. A December 2016 Salesforce study found that more than 70 percent of consumers expected brands to understand and anticipate their needs.

How will brands hope to meet these demands? The answer, as ever, is data.

2. Data will be as good as gold

It's no secret that consumer data is a very valuable thing to have, and that will only become more evident in 2018. The field of data analytics will continue to be ground zero for driving better customer engagement and providing a more personalized brand experience. Companies will need to leverage every platform, channel and touch point to gather consumer information and create a more complete picture of their customers.

The wrinkle here is the imminent launch of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, which which will clamp down on indiscriminate data collection techniques. Brands will need to rethink their customer experience strategies to abide by these new guidelines without sacrificing their ability to provide personalized engagement.

3. IoT will create new challenges, opportunities

The Internet of Things is already a hot topic in the tech space, thanks to ongoing security concerns and ambitious projects like smart cities. In a nutshell, the IoT refers to the ever-increasing number of devices connected to and communicating with one another over shared networks. More connected channels mean more opportunities to collect data and improve brand interactions. It also creates more compliance concerns as IoT devices fall under GDPR guidelines. Again, savvy marketers will need to deftly conduct that balancing act between regulatory compliance and state-of-the-art customer engagement strategies.

4. Seamless customer journey becomes the status quo

The rise of omnichannel sales models has caused fits for some brands as they try to connect disparate channels into a more cohesive consumer environment. Bridging those channels and creating a seamless customer journey will no longer be limited to industry leaders; it will be the status quo. Customers will increasingly expect a more organic transition from one channel to the next, all the while enjoying a consistent, uniform experience interacting with the brand along the way. It's up to brands to meet those expectations and create an effortless customer journey across all channels, whether they be digital, social or in-store.

5. CIAM closes the gap between CX expectations and reality

Clearly, consumer demands are high, and are only going to increase. Stacking up to these expectations may seem daunting, but shrewd brands already have an ace up their sleeve: customer identity and access management (CIAM).

CIAM facilitates more personalized brand interactions by supporting data collection efforts in a secure fashion. Brands can gather valuable data at every touch point to create more personal engagement strategies and offer customers the products, services and promotions that best suits their needs at any given moment.

CIAM also streamlines the customer journey by simplifying account access across different channels and touchpoints, eliminating obstacles to engagement. By the end of 2018, businesses that have embraced CIAM will be closer to meeting customer experience expectations than ever before, putting them at the forefront of their markets.

With 2018 just around the corner, these five predictions are not far off from becoming reality. Begin planning today with best-in-class CIAM solutions, and you will be well on your way to providing consumers with the customer experience they demand now and in the future.