In October 2015 Daniel Newman, CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, declared customer experience is the future of marketing in a piece for Forbes – and it would appear most businesses have gotten the memo. By 2016, 89% were on board with the necessity of upping their CX game, compared to only 36% of businesses in 2012, according to Gartner. But are they focusing their efforts in the right way?

Marketing and customer service aren’t the end of the story

There was a time when the customer experience was simply “service” – offering consumers the experience of being waited on as they shopped and came to purchase decisions.

Modern customer service is more about handling problems – like merchandise returns, or complaints about bad experiences in-store or online. This business unit is part of the consumer experience, but not the whole affair.

What businesses and brands now have to create is a seamless, yet stand-out, experience that takes the consumer through the entire shopping journey – from awareness and interest, to purchase, to follow-up after the fact, and beyond. It’s not necessarily about creating elaborate bells and whistles – though it can be – but more about giving consumers what they want from start to finish, because they run the show.

This is one reason social analytics have become a crucial component of the brand/business toolbox. Guessing what consumers want is risky business, and unnecessary. Savvy brands use social media sentiment analysis to deeply understand consumer values and interests, better engage them on social channels, and build loyalty. But this isn’t all this information can be used for.

Social data and creating a memorable consumer experience should drive every aspect of brand/business strategy – including the innovation of new products. The way the world and technology are evolving demand it.

Keeping up requires a system

Innovating with the customer in mind, like innovation in general, is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor – any more than acquiring social data is. Especially in an increasingly automated world, automated processes are critical to staying on top of business objectives.

All experts in this field insist innovation efforts must be intentional, methodical, supported from the top down, and followed through. This is why innovation management software exists – to ensure this is the approach, and to set brands and businesses up for success. The final piece of the puzzle is innovating for the consumer experience.

For instance, when creating a product designed for the Internet of Things, there’s a lot we still don’t know given that the IoT is in the earliest stages of what it’s predicted to be.

The voices and opinions shaping what the IoT will become are those of its users, i.e., the customers who’ll buy your products and decide if they fit well within the construct of how they use the IoT – or not. This is true of all industries and verticals, however. You’ve got to keep the end-user in mind unlike ever before. And be sure to design smart products that get better over time with user feedback and data. This is something a solid innovation management platform will make seamless.

It’s a journey, not a destination

And it’s crucial that brands and businesses be adaptable to consumers’ changing needs – because they will surely change.

That’s another reason software matters. Response time is critical. Consider how quickly social feeds change. Without social monitoring software, brands and businesses would miss a lot of important information, and leave themselves vulnerable to reputational disaster.

Innovation is no different – especially with larger businesses, where crowd-sourced ideas come in from locations around the globe. There’s too much to do, and too much at stake, to let a potential million-dollar idea slip through the cracks. Particularly given that not every idea is ready for implementation at the time it’s conceived.

Ideas, attitudes, emotion – these are all commodities that must be managed closely, lest you set to work on something that no longer holds value, or requires a change in design to be workable. Software is your ally in managing and leveraging data and creativity to create an exceptional consumer experience – now, and in the future.

Which isn’t some long-distant time – it’s later today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And consumers are already calling the shots. Businesses failing to recognize this won’t last.

Conversely, as McKinsey states, “Companies that create exceptional customer experiences can set themselves apart from their competitors.” Make sure you take advantage of anything that helps you do that!