merijin-te-booijIt’s that time of year again, when the nostalgic look back with a wistful sigh and the prognosticators leap at the chance to share exciting predictions about the year ahead.

I admit I’m in the latter camp, especially when it comes to talking about my field of expertise: the use of technology to improve the customer experience. We’ve seen some interesting developments in 2015, including the rise of smartwatches and mobile payments, but the grass is always greener on the other side of Silicon Valley. And with Moore’s Law resuming its steady march toward our Internet of Things future, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential of the ever-deepening union of tech and CX.

So, without further ado, I’d like to offer my customer experience predictions for the top three developments enterprises will want to pay attention to in 2016:

  1. Data Will Come Alive

For years we’ve been hearing that big data will define the future of business, as more transactions and interactions leave data trails that can be analyzed to improve business performance. But over the next year, I think we’re going to see the data game enter a whole new stage, as the gap between data collection and data analysis merges into a real-time feedback loop. The result? More immediate, personalized customer experiences driven by more efficiently run businesses and precisely targeted marketing.

Consider this: Already, Apple Watch customers can analyze personal data about their heart rate and burnt calories with the push of a button, and their iPhones are tracking their every move through an increasingly precise GPS. That GPS data provides users with localized information for their Siri requests or Yelp searches, but what happens when younger Millennials and Gen-Zers also feel free to share their health and fitness data, like they do with their Venmo payments? Will special offers from local restaurants be texted to Apple Watch customers, “rewarding” them the moment they hit their daily fitness goals? If those customers have iBeacon enabled, will they be alerted to calorie-conscious savings as they browse the aisles at Whole Foods?

That’s just one possible scenario, but you get the picture. As more data generated by customers’ actions—both online and off—is collected and analyzed by increasingly smart software, the data will be fed back to those customers in new forms, almost immediately, evolving and further refining the customer experience. In 2016, data will start to come alive.

  1. A.I. Will Play a Larger Role in Customer Engagement

I have to admit, whatever else one might fault Amazon for, their focus on finding ways to improve their customer experience has always impressed me. The past summer’s official launch of their new artificially intelligent (A.I.) tabletop assistant, Amazon Echo, is no exception. As smart as Siri, Google Now, and Cortana are—and they learn more every day—it’s the most intelligent cloud-based “personal assistant” I’ve yet seen in a consumer device. It can play music, answer questions, control smarthome devices, and help customers make Amazon purchases all through simple voice commands, thanks to its remarkably accurate natural-language processing. But even Echo—or “Alexa,” as the Amazon A.I. prefers to be addressed—pales in comparison to the renowned cognitive-computing Jeopardy! champ, IBM Watson.

At Genesys, we’ve been working with the IBM Watson team to find ways to put its A.I. smarts to use in enterprise contact centers, and the results have been incredibly promising. Watson’s ability to quickly process tremendous amounts of unstructured data allow it to search databases for answers to customers’ questions far quickly than human agents ever could. And that makes it an ideal agent for handling many of the inquiries that businesses receive through their websites. As IBM Watson and other systems like it continue to develop, they’ll begin to replace more of the jobs once held by human customer service agents, such as engaging in live chats with customers online. Human agents will still be needed to address more complicated, high-level customer inquiries for the foreseeable future, yet slowly but surely the machines are joining the contact center team.

In 2016, with A.I. becoming increasingly conversational and integrated into our daily lives, I predict more customer engagements will begin with the words “Siri” or “Hello, Alexa” as their novelty value is finally outstripped by their actual usefulness.

  1. Mobile Will Evolve for an Integrated Customer Experience

For my final prediction, I’m going to highlight something that may seem obvious but can’t be taken for granted: the increased importance of mobile in the CX hierarchy. Nearly half the human race carries a smartphone with them now. And in 2016, mobile experiences will evolve for customers in newly integrated ways.

It’s been over a year since Apple Pay made it possible to pay for in-store purchases with an iPhone, following a few steps behind mobile-payments pioneer Starbucks, but now everyone’s getting in on the mPayments craze. Like the rise of Siri and Google Now, it’s simply a natural consequence of businesses realizing the tremendous value inherent in customers carrying portable computers with them everywhere they go. The smartphone is a digital wallet, an information and entertainment platform, a GPS navigational tool, and all of the main customer engagement channels—voice, text, web, native app, email, social media, video—rolled into one.

What will kick this into high gear next year is a greater number of companies realizing that, because a smartphone includes all engagement channels within it, it’s becoming the primary way to reach and interact with one’s customers. And we’re going to be seeing more businesses designing integrated customer journeys accordingly. If your business isn’t already working on evolving your customers’ mobile experience in this way, why wait? If your retail store intends to accept mobile payments, then follow Starbucks’ lead and build your loyalty program around it. Automatically email customers their receipts along with special offers. Offer them incentives for posting about their experience on social media. Create a fast, optimized mobile app that allows them to browse a graphical menu and make a purchase before they arrive. If you have beacon technology, text them exclusive offers when they walk past your store.

To poorly paraphrase William Gibson, the technology is already here; it just isn’t evenly integrated yet. Over the next 12 months, my hope is that the very best instances of CX will see all of the above predictions come together simultaneously for a data-driven, computer-assisted, and mobile-optimized customer experience that still feels, for all the technology involved, deeply personal to each customer.

At least, that’s my vision for CX in 2016. Are you clear about yours?