Headshot of Lisa Lacy

A new report from Forrester on the future of customer experience, or CX, says significant changes are coming, including digital intermediaries between customers and brands and the use of neuroscience and anthropology to get into consumers’ heads.

There are two main drivers: The first is a plateau in the ability of CX to drive financial results, which is in part because of increased customer expectations; the second is the ineffectiveness of existing loyalty programs.

“The programs aren’t giving better experiences—they’re offering some minor discounts that aren’t influencing customer behavior,” said Rick Parrish, vice president and principal analyst serving customer experience professionals at Forrester, of the latter. “The people who enroll in these programs are to a degree raising their hands and saying, ‘I want you to know me, my behavior and my preferences. I want you to know that because I am a frequent customer, I want you to curate a personalized experience for me,’ but hardly anybody does that.”

Here’s how companies of the future will optimize their CX.

1. Personal digital twins

In the next few years, customers will start to design and control their own ecosystems ruled by personal digital twins, or algorithms owned by consumers that serve their best interests instead of companies’ best interests. These personal digital twins, or PDTs, will stand at the gateway to the ecosystems “placing a protective layer between the human being and the digital world,” the report added.

According to Parrish, these algorithms are one of the technologies that will start empowering customers, who can use their PDTs to find options for whatever they’re looking for, such as planning a vacation.

“The PDT does all the work with companies and pulls back to the person what are the best solutions,” Parrish said. “It’s going to be very personalized, very individualized, because what you want when you go on vacation might be very different from what I want. Your PDT will know that and work for you and mine works for me.”

In addition, consumers will welcome just a few companies “they trust to be stewards of their data and filter preferences and experiences geared to them,” the report said.

“Think of it as an evolution of the folks who go all in on the Apple ecosystem and have everything Apple,” Parrish added.

That means brands have to interact not just with consumers, but with PDTs. It also means the companies within these ecosystems will become more powerful, but it also puts pressure on them to sustain access to PDT-governed ecosystems.

And because PDTs will do the heavy lifting and customers aren’t dealing directly with companies in the discovery phase, there’s risk of a disconnect. The consumer isn’t going to see how good an experience is because they aren’t dealing with the brand at the beginning, Parrish said.

2. Humanly personalized experiences

Future experiences will be designed for actual human beings using neuroscience and anthropology to create what Forrester called “humanly personalized experiences.”

"It’s going to be a much more deliberate process to use research to create experiences that are not just personalized, but personable."
-Rick Parrish, vice president and principal analyst serving customer experience professionals at Forrester

Instead of using data about preferences and behaviors to customize digital interactions, it will become more about understanding what makes each individual tick, Parrish said.

“It’s going to be a much more deliberate process to use research to create experiences that are not just personalized, but personable,” he added. “I live in Southwest Virginia. There’s no algorithm in the world to create a personalized experience that will call me darling, but when I walk into my local diner, they call me darling and I like that.”

But there are major ethical implications in using anthropology and neuroscience to give customers what they want before they know they want it.

Lisa Lacy is a reporter for Adweek’s brand desk, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon. She has covered marketing and technology for more than a decade for publications like TechCrunch, CMO.com, VentureBeat, the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal. She has a master's in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's in English from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.