Tis' the season for retrospectives. This year, I'm taking it to a whole new level. 

After almost 7 years of covering everything from e-discovery, social business and knowledge management, I'm leaving CMSWire at the end of the month. The topic I've most enjoyed exploring has been the customer experience. However, the customer experience wasn't always called that. I took a look back at the articles my colleagues and I wrote over the years and noticed some interesting trends in the evolution of the customer experience. 

The User Experience 

Early on, the idea that marketers needed to make their websites easy to use was an exercise in usability. The user experience was limited to the desktop experience and focused on simplifying the time spent looking for information, clicking to check out and where to place our call to actions on the home page. These practices set us up nicely for when we began to explore cross-media opportunities, like email or (gasp!) direct mail. The focus was on content development as well as data mining. 

It must have been so much simpler then — only having to worry about brand communication via desktop, email and yes, print. Social media was in its infancy and didn't yet pose a big threat — or at least the threat wasn't taken seriously by most companies. Still, marketers understood that customizing the message for the customer was important. Designing unique user experiences, once limited to in-store displays and products, was now beginning to apply to web-based interactions. 

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Unified Web Engagement

Even as marketers scrambled to keep ahead of consumer trends, companies were struggling to keep up with emerging technologies altogether. The website, while a mainstay of the organization, served more as a repository for hard-to-find information or gaggles of PDFs. Having a database that could effectively gather information and create personalized messaging for customers wasn't universal. Implementing unified communications helped internal teams communicate better, while externally, it served to streamline conversations between the customer and company, something that is still evolving today

Even as mobile lingered in the wings, most customer experiences were driven by web engagement -- that is content that lived exclusively on the web. Not the mobile web or the social web. Just the web. However, it didn't take long for that engagement to expand beyond the desktop. Now, more companies have micro sites, and mobile sites, not to mention mobile apps, all designed to highlight a specific element of their brand in a way that makes sense for the consumer. 

The Customer Experience

The customer experience today is a composite of all these things — it's part user experience, part multi-channel marketing, part unified communications, and part digital engagement. These pieces have not outgrown themselves over the years — they've just snowballed into each other, which explains why the concept of the customer experience is bigger than ever. Even though marketing is still about the device, the messaging and the engagement. Ultimately it's all about the customer. Without them, nothing else much matters.

As we begin the countdown to 2014, it's exciting to look back to see how far we've come and important to recognize that we don't have it all figured out yet. And that's okay. Each year brings more discoveries, more experiments, more emerging technologies that will keep up focused on improving our engagement with the customer. It may be an endless pursuit, but it's one that keeps us striving to do better.