From a loyalty awakening to AI evolution: the year ahead for customer engagement

What's in the cards for the next 12 months? From AI and the rise of consultancies to loyalty's future, the deck reveals all.

Nicky Bullard
Nicky Bullard

My mother reads "the cards". Not the tarot; just a normal deck. She learned the skill from her grandmother, who lived in the woods in rural Ireland. And she’s spookily accurate. I mean, there was that story about the soldier in the ditch, and… anyway.

My lovely mamma passed the "skill" on to yours truly. (No lie, I was offered a gig in Athens about 20 years ago, having freaked out some locals on holiday in Greece.) So, I am going to attempt to read into the future of customer engagement for 2018 using a good old red deck.

Now, there’s a rational bit to all this. Certain cards are clear indicators of what may be approaching. But then there’s the weird bit, when pictures fly into your mind. 

So bear with…

First card. The Queen of Clubs.

Hmm. A dark lady will play a big part in our lives. Ah! Alexa. Yep, she, and others, will pay most of us a visit in the next 12 months. In fact, it’s estimated that by the end of next year, 40% of the UK will have this new housemate.

Fifty-one per cent of marketers use AI; 57% say it’s essential in their one-to-one activity. But we need to be careful. While AI brings speed, efficiency and personalisation to the customer experience, is it personal? Do people really want a one-to-one conversation with a bot or an "intelligent voice assistant"? 

With 90% of 14- to 17-year-olds apparently already using voice assistants on their smartphones, scarily, the answer may be yes.  

Next card. What do we have here? Ah, the Ace of Diamonds.

OK. This normally means a marriage is imminent.

The rise of the consultancy has been one of 2017’s hottest topics. We’ve talked of a "threat" as we see them tap into their top-table access, and present a future backed by deep data and transformational martech.

However, as agencies, we have held on to the fact that the consultancies fall short on creative and culture. Oh, yes, and then we saw them starting to acquire it.

Enter stage left, Accenture and Karmarama. They claim it’s a new breed of agency, and who’s to argue? But will it be a successful one? As a judge of the DMA Awards, I’ve seen some early work, and I have to say they’ve started well with the Army campaign. It’s data-driven and it’s emotional. 

What’s this? I’ve had one of my visions. I can see another "couple" walking down the aisle. But will it be true love or a marriage of convenience? 

Here it is. The 10 of Hearts.

Yep you guessed it – it’s all about the lurve, or, in this case, loyalty.  

I keep hearing about "the new age of loyalty", which I think is poppycock and agency spin. But I do think there is an awakening.  

The emphasis has shifted. It’s not just about customers being loyal to brands any more. It’s about brands being loyal to customers. And not just the regular ones.  

We’ve seen some marketers change their titles to "chief customer officers". They are, rightly, obsessed with the people who keep us all employed.  

And customers are really starting to feel deep brand love, and expect it.  Dangerously, not just from the brands they consistently shop with.   

So customers are flirting, which means our loyalty strategies will have to be stronger than a simple list of rewards.

This is only compounded by the current, "wobbly" UK backdrop; we are all questioning more than ever. According to DMA research, 44% of consumers find it difficult to know which brands to "believe". More than half are unsure of which brands to trust. So, I reckon that, in the next 12 months, "reciprocal loyalty" will be more important than ever.

Ooh... er. The four of Spades. 

OK, generally, Spades are pretty bad – and there are four here. So I’m thinking General Data Protection Regulation. 

However, Spades can also mean the end of something, and I think that something may be uncertainty. An end to bad data; to valueless data. And the beginning of a healthy, cleansed and valuable database of customers who really want to know and hear about our brands.

Aha. Finally we have the Joker.

People laughed at VR and said it would never catch on. But Argos now has 20 headsets to choose from, which, to my mind, means it’s officially gone mainstream. 

Looks like the creative technologists are going to have a busy year.

Right, I’ll take off my headscarf, remove my hooped earrings and get back to the day job.

Goodbye and good luck, my pretties. 

Nicky Bullard is the chairwoman and chief creative officer of MRM Meterorite.