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What do Trends from SXSW 2016 Mean for Customer Experience?

It was my 7th? 8th? year attending the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, and yet again, it didn’t disappoint.

The old-timers will lament the days of easy navigation and fewer crowds, and I’m certainly one of them. But I also walk away with my wheels turning about what the future holds for us, and just how close we are to it. In that respect, SXSW 2016 was no different.

SXSW 2016

The biggest trends are always the ones that make us wonder. At this year’s conference, there was no doubt the big winner was Virtual Reality (VR) followed closely by a few others that make us go hmmm….

VR is still new

The concept and even some early applications for virtual reality have been around for a while. But seeing it in action is still leading to many questions.

What can it really be used for, other than cool entertainment?

SXSW 2016I saw one example of a pretty psychedelic animation world that felt very immersive with sound. It was a trippy neon garden and there was a singing cat.

Cool? Sure. But not sure how useful it is.

NASA had a fairly spectacular display at the Trade Show. They were using virtual reality to train astronauts on how to drive a lunar rover. Seeing the earth over the hill as I drove the lunar rover was both cool and compelling. Just think of the applications for exploration.

Customers in our everyday lives, however, probably have fewer reasons to train on space missions.

So how will VR be applied to actual customer experiences?

A few ideas I heard discussed:

  1. Give ticket buyers a view of their seats. In this concept, someone selecting a seat at a venue could “see” the seat and view before buying.
  2. Offer behind the scenes viewpoints of movie sets, fashion shows or other areas we don’t usually see. With VR and the 360-degree views it offers, this could be an exciting way to build anticipation for an upcoming event.
  3. Help donors feel more in touch with where their contributions are going, literally. It’s one thing to see a picture of the well your money helped build in a remote part of the world. It’s another to experience the village yourself.

Virtual reality is an exciting technology because there really hasn’t been anything like it. The feeling of “being there” can be intense when it’s executed well. I’m sure there will be innovators who have amazing ideas for applications.

SXSW 2016

Customization Will Be Truly Custom

Another trend I noticed was how, thanks to less intrusive and cheaper technology, “custom fit” will bring new ideas to the market. This includes things like offering custom touches on designer handbags via digital design rooms to highly personalized ear phones that fit completely based on a scan of your ear canal.

The tip of the iceberg is here, and I predict this will be a bigger trend in the next few years.

SXSW 2016

Bringing Digital Best Practices to Physical Experiences

In a role reversal from several years ago, we’re seeing how in-store experiences and physical products are influenced by digital interactions.

Bringing the ideas of digital wayfinding and personalized recommendations to a walk through the mall means relying heavily on location-based technologies and mobile opt-ins.

Understanding the best parts of one experience also means truly understanding how to integrate the experiences of all. This will require a lot of nuance not yet fully developed in our CRM technologies or customer segmentation strategies.

Get ready for this to be a bit of a bumpy road before we have it all figured out.

SXSW is about innovation, and there are always some weird ideas that won’t reflect the larger trends of customer experiences. But these stand out as worth watching.


About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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