Customer experience used to be something that big businesses talked about — and did relatively little about. Designing, automating and scaling it required an intimidating tech stack, and the businesses equipped with such tech stacks had little incentive to approach CX differently. Either they were already large and successful, or they were well-funded startups following a set playbook to get that way.

CX might have been a buzzy concept in marketing departments and Silicon Valley, but it wasn’t a particularly buzzy concept among customers themselves. For many, automated, digital customer experiences are an inevitable downside of dealing with larger organizations; they’re something erected between you and that business not because you are worth investing in but because you aren’t.

But I believe this is not the future of CX. Over the past year, we’ve watched sweeping digitization of the economy driven by Main Street rather than Wall Street. It’s become essential for smaller businesses to find ways to still be there for their customers, even when their employees can’t be there in person. Some have done this through automated CX, and when smaller businesses start to take the lead on how technology is applied, things change very quickly.

I get a firsthand view of this because my company provides CX automation solutions to organizations of all sizes. I’ve seen that when you democratize a technology such as automated customer experience, you change who’s applying it and how they’re applying it, and that changes its impact on the business landscape. I’ve always been passionate about smaller businesses, and I’m fascinated and inspired by how they apply tech.

Here’s how I believe these changes will affect the nature and role of customer experience:

The future of CX is to differentiate, not commoditize.

The rise of digital experiences and customers’ shifting expectations mean that all businesses now have a CX strategy. However, they won’t all have the same CX strategy. When technology offers suggestions and ideas for a business, it should act as a partner vs. just a tool with a list of features. When approached through this lens, smaller businesses can bring their individuality and personality to the experiences they create on digital channels. CX, in turn, could become more of a differentiator for businesses, and this trend will be driven from the bottom up.

The future of CX is personalization, not overautomation.

Personalized experiences aren’t the result of automating everything. They’re the result of businesses actively choosing what to automate — and what not to. I’m finding that customers are getting more accustomed to a seamless mix of human and digital interaction. That’s because smaller businesses tend to use automation to amplify and enhance the experiences they already provide, rather than designing a wholly digital experience from scratch.

It’s important that businesses understand how to use automation to help both the customer and the customer-facing business teams. If you focus on what customers value, you can use automation to shorten the route to valued human engagement. This will change the expectations of the digital customer experience. Erecting a chatbot as a barrier between your business and your customer won’t cut it anymore.

This is very much the way we’ve grown my company over the years. We’ve deliberately sought out unscalable experiences, such as holding 45-minute strategy sessions with thousands of customers. They looked unscalable on paper, but they helped shape our platform and represent one of the best marketing investments we’ve made.

Going the extra mile is what creates advocacy; that advocacy is what creates support you don’t have to pay for. Personalized customer experiences that are supported, not replaced, by automation will help others do the same.

The future of CX is to become a sustainable investment for marketing.

CX — when combined with the authentic customer advocacy I mentioned above — can give your business a defensible position because these are things competitors can’t just buy. Growing through CX and advocacy is ultimately more sustainable than throwing money at paid acquisition and seeing an acceleration that way. It doesn’t happen by magic, however; you have to invest in it.

The future of CX is to refocus businesses on customer value.

Investing in CX as an engine of growth refocuses businesses around customer value. But remember that if you choose to use automation, you don’t need to quantify everything. Reducing customer service to a number can often be a mistake because business leaders detach from what’s happening. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Automating the mechanisms can give you more time and space to focus on qualitative insights. Look at what people say and the tone with which they say it. This can help create more space for thinking about customer value. Speaking personally, it was the insights that came from customer service that informed how we developed our product and how we could help people get more from it.

The future of CX is to redefine how businesses grow.

Automated customer experience can remove an obvious barrier to scale for some businesses. For years, there’s been a division in business thinking between business owners who prioritize scale above all else and design their entire plan around achieving it and those who prioritize running companies for the benefit of their customers. By using the best practices I’ve shared above when automating the customer experience, you can begin chipping away at this division. In the end, you’ll have more potential to grow and scale just by running a good business in a way that’s sustainable, profitable and works for your customers. And that can be a genuinely revolutionary idea.

Originally published here.