A look back at 2023 and the customer-centric path forward to 2024

From generative AI to interest rate rises and market tightening, 2023 was another year of business challenges. Yet as always, amid the chaos, CX remained a reassuring constant and retaining a customer focus will be the key to looking forward to 2024 with optimism.

Published ·January 15, 2024

Reading time·5 min

By Martin Wilkinson-Brown

Chief Marketing Officer

Every year brings new challenges, ushers in change or presents a new opportunity. And even if most of us were hoping for some breathing space following a recent run of events that included global health emergencies, rampant inflation, supply chain problems and recessionary fears, 2023 refused to buck the trend. The combination of an economic retraction and the explosive arrival of generative AI made certain that the last 12 months have been anything other than business as usual and have, understandably, put many business leaders on the back foot as they get ready to usher in 2024.

CX: A constant amid constant change 

And yet, amid all the uncertainty, over each of the last several years, one thing has remained constant. Whatever the technological breakthrough, and irrespective of economic headwinds, customer experience (CX) has held firm as a point of differentiation and a marker of success. The companies that have successfully met every challenge and passed every test are those that remained focused on delivering a level of CX that aligns with customer expectations.

Indeed, its calming effect is why we started 2023 by advising our clients and prospects to focus on CX and get the basics right, not only to navigate the challenges of the year to come but also to be ready for those in the years ahead.

Our annual trends report “Time to act: The customer experience trends shaping 2023” also warned businesses that a war for talent was intensifying simply because existing skill gaps at organizations had been allowed to widen and that the only long-term remedy was to invest in lifelong learning and professional development. And, critically, we cautioned against getting too overexcited or distracted by technology’s ability to solve problems. Without clear use cases and without the right approach to employee training, no new tool or process is capable of delivering a genuine return on investment.

And if we view this advice from the perspective of CX delivery and staying aligned with customers, it should be easy to take this guidance and apply it to the situation we find ourselves in 12 months later. As our latest publication, “Retain, reflect, rethink, retrain, refresh: 5 trends to test your 2024 CX performance” details, the nature of the challenges may have changed, but prioritizing CX and every element within the business that enables its delivery — from technology to staff training — is the way to keep your business firmly on track. 

Generative AI: Transforming challenges into opportunities

When we retain our customer focus, then many things that seem like challenges are transformed into opportunities, and this is particularly true in the case of GenAI. It has the potential to drive meaningful, lasting change not just within our own industry, but throughout the business world, but only if it’s used to drive customer-centricity rather than short-term cost savings.

This recognition is why in September we appointed our first Chief AI Officer, Guillaume Laporte, and crucially why the first projects he has brought to fruition since joining Foundever™ have been focused on delivering efficiencies and empowering our employees. Giving our people the tools they need to innovate is the fastest route to creating new processes, services and solutions that will ultimately add even greater value and benefit to the customer relationship.

Immersive CX: Beyond the headlines

But of course, despite its fanfare, GenAI wasn’t the only technology story of 2023. While it may not be garnering the headlines, we’re also moving towards the third iteration of the web and with it, the chance to create new, even more immersive customer experiences. Our global head of Web3, Clement Grandin, sat down with HFS Research for a webinar to discuss lessons learned from the current state of the metaverse and the possibilities that brands already have to forge deeper customer connections.

In partnership with leading Web3 consulting brand ITAK, we also co-wrote a whitepaper examining the need to elevate and codify CX if cryptocurrencies are to achieve their full potential and move away from the margins and into the mainstream.

Disruptors disrupted

Fast-growth, disruptive startups are typically at the epicenter of every technological breakthrough and snapping at the heels of legacy brands. But thanks to the economic headwinds that have significantly increased the costs of borrowing and reduced VC appetite for investment, 2023 has been a year where disruptors have found themselves being disrupted. To help these brands navigate the current business environment and do so while retaining their customer base, we published a best practice guide to maintaining CX without diluting growth ambitions.

There can be a hesitancy among organizations, particularly those focused on disrupting an established industry, to entrust an element of their operations to a BPO. But this hesitancy is misplaced and due to focusing too much on the technological aspects of service delivery and overlooking the critical role that people play in turning the concept of customer experience into a positive reality.

People power: Recognizing employee experience

The quality of an organization’s employee experience will ultimately dictate the levels of customer experience it can deliver, and so to help existing and potential clients understand the connection between people and performance, we published the “Our people are our superpower” whitepaper. While to demonstrate that we practice what we preach, our dedication to employee experience was again recognized with a number of awards, including Comparably Awards for Best Work-Life Balance and Best Company for Women, a Silver Stevie Award for Great Employers, and a European Contact Centre & Customer Service Award for best employee experience.

From Sitel Group® and SYKES to Foundever™

CX remains a constant amid chaos. It’s a metric that always makes sense, but as we move further towards a society that’s digital by default, we need to recognize that the technical definition of CX is also moving.

Today, customer experience is what happens at the intersection of digital technology and human emotional intelligence. It’s still about moments of truth, and about value and differentiation. But CX is no longer about a particular channel, an isolated point on a customer journey, nor is it a term reserved for a specific type of query, question or issue. To reflect this shift within our industry, we undertook one of the biggest changes in the history of our organization in 2023 and adopted the name Foundever™.

The name does more than articulate the fact that we’re “founder-led” and ever-curious, it marks the successful, seamless integration of Sitel Group® and SYKES into a single entity. It’s also a reminder that technology is but one aspect of delivering a winning CX and it’s the one aspect that’s evolving. What doesn’t change is what your customers equate with a positive experience — speed, efficiency, access to friendly staff, a choice of channels and effective issue resolution. And, over the course of 2024, our 170,000 associates working across 45 countries in over 60 languages will be dedicated to delivering on those expectations.