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The Evolution of Customer Experience


The relationship between consumers and brands has always been a complex one, evolving considerably in the past few decades. Today, the dynamic between the two has been further transformed by customer experience in the age of AI.

The modern movement toward a loyalty-driven economy is a natural next step in the progression of customer experience. Lessons from past eras of customer experience can help us understand how we’ve arrived at this current moment, and why powerful tools like AI play such an important role in scaling an ecommerce business today. Let’s take a look at customer attitudes across the decades.

The 1980s and the Consumption Economy

The booming economy and Wall Street obsessions of the ’80s gave rise to a deeply consumerist American culture that paved the way for commerce in the years that followed. Bigger ad budgets and enthusiasm surrounding new technology — both on the corporate and consumer side — catalyzed spending and a new consumption economy.

From this decade on, companies had a clear prerogative to intertwine research and branding to optimize consumer outreach and beat their competitors in the fight for more loyal customers.

CX Champions of the ’80s

  • IBM — Though they would lose their dominance to another electronics brand further down on this list, IBM ushered in the era of the personal computer and stamped the ’80s as the first decade of the future.
  • Coca-Cola — After nearly a century of existence, Coca-Cola reclaimed its soda crown through the failure of New Coke and the triumphant return of Coke Classic, galvanizing fans to buy in bulk.

The 1990s and the Affinity Economy

The ‘90s were marked by the rise of lifestyle marketing, which blended customer experiences with relatable content to boost brand loyalty. In that pursuit, brands learned to match products with customer attitudes, lifestyles, and personas rather than just blanket advertising, which had been more common decades prior.

Overall, the affinity economy and the push for more personal, intuitive connections with customers would be revisited years later. This early stage of the loyalty economy set the foundation for better customer relationships and a shift toward a data-driven, more personalized approach.

CX Champions of the ‘90s

The 2000s and the Accessibility Economy

The dot-com boom and widespread adoption of personal computers began pushing brands into digital spaces for the first time in the 2000s. This was the advent of the accessibility economy — the more available brands could make themselves across physical and digital spaces, the more likely they were to earn young, hungry shoppers’ business.

Emblematic of this digital renaissance was the rapidly expanding world of ecommerce. For the first time, brands could exist either partially or entirely online, making them instantly accessible to potential shoppers across the globe via their websites, SEO tactics, and eventually social media. This new direct-to-customer experience allowed consumers to instantly access products, information, and even customer service from the comfort of their homes.

CX Champions of the ’00s

The 2010s and the Data Economy

As ecommerce brands embraced digital transformation, they started using data to segment and tailor their approach to more specific audiences. As many brands would go on to say, “data is the new oil,” allowing them to harness this massive resource to drive targeted marketing based on audience-segmented — and eventually personalized — messaging and experiences.

The data economy edged us even closer to our modern, customer-centric era. In the coming years, brands would begin to understand that the best application of this data was not in the pursuit of picking up new customers, but in enhancing the experiences of existing ones to drive more value from each. Slowly, the promise of high-ROI, long-term customer relationships was realized.

CX Champions of the ’10s

The 2020s and the Loyalty Economy

Today’s customer relationships blend emotional aspects with data-driven personalization. This has paved the way for the loyalty economy, where ecommerce brands focus on building lasting relationships to boost revenue.

The loyalty economy represents the culmination of three decades of marketing evolution. Tools like AI can harness data and insights to offer personalized experiences that boost customer loyalty and ROI at scale. Modern brands now know how to apply technology as a complement to strong, emotional connections when cultivating long-lasting customer relationships.

CX Champions of the ’20s

Customer Experience In the Age of AI

With loyalty fast becoming the most valuable currency to ecommerce brands, AI is helping create more loyalty-driving experiences in exciting new ways. In this economy, the brands that utilize the best technology will be the most customer-centric and advanced at delivering quality CX.

Gladly focuses on two main pillars of service to enhance customer and agent experiences simultaneously:

  • Improving customer self-service — Tools like Gladly Sidekick make reaching simple solutions to customer problems easy and solvable in a few clicks.
  • Enhancing agent capabilities — With Hero AI, agents have the ability to handle one-on-one interactions faster, call on personal details quickly, and move between customer conversations with minimal friction.

Customer experience in the age of AI and intelligent tools has the potential to lead to deep, long-lasting customer relationships. Improving your CX with this technology to offer personalized experiences shows shoppers that your brand is worth their time and money.

Learn how to harness AI in your CX with tools like Gladly Sidekick and Hero AI.