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Predicting the new customer experience

Brands are striving relentlessly to improve the customer experience with big data and new digital technologies. STEVEN VAN BELLEGHEM peers into the crystal ball and predicts how shopping will evolve even further in the years ahead.

The past year has been a really exciting time in the field of customer experience and data but it’s clear that what has occurred is just a starting point and that these trends are going to get bigger in the future.

Some changes include the integration of data into more aspects of the customer experience, the merging of online and offline channels and the large-scale rollout of retail ecosystems... and that’s just the beginning.

Here’s a look at some of the major trends that are going to set the tone going forward.

Data comes to the sales frontline

Every customer touchpoint is going to incorporate some amount of digital data. This means the quality of the ‘human touch’ in customer service will actually increase, and not decrease as some might think, because frontline staff will have access to better information.

Businesses are going to have more data for each individual customer than ever before. Details like how long they have been a customer, how often they shop and the date of their birthday is just a sample. Think how it would feel to be greeted by name every time you make a transaction.

Ultimately, human interaction will become tech-augmented in a way that will start to feel normal and quickly become the expected standard.

Chatbots grow up

Over the last few years, chatbots have been the ‘dogs that didn’t bark’ in the world of customer-facing tech solutions – they just haven’t lived up to the expectations so far; however, this will start changing as they become more focused and intelligent.

The best-use cases for chatbots are situations of proactive communication. For example, the airline KLM recently started deploying chatbots to inform passengers where their luggage would come out in the baggage reclaim area.

It’s easier to use bots for sharing information than solving complex customer-service issues. Consumers will only become more trusting of proactive communication from chatbots, and this will help companies interact more effectively to avoid communication problems.

Predictive commerce
"Ultimately, human interaction will become tech-augmented in a way that will start to feel normal and quickly become the expected standard"

Amazon introduced algorithmic prediction almost 20 years ago with its recommendation system: ‘If you buy this book, you will also like this one’.

In the next few years, predictive commerce will mature and automate a large number of day-to-day purchases. The ‘Internet of things’ enables consumers to connect a printer or a washing machine to an Amazon Prime subscription so those devices can self-order ink and detergent, respectively, when they’re running low.

Algorithms will also start to help shoppers find the best moment to buy a product. A great example is the Canadian app Hopper, which helps people find flights using algorithms that predict when prices are going to drop. Hopper might also see that a customer is looking at flights to Hawaii but recommend Miami instead if flights to Hawaii are too pricey at that time.

Hopper’s research shows that suggested locations actually have a larger conversion than original search items .

The rise of B2M

Everyone’s heard of B2B and B2C communication but what about B2M – business to machine? Consumers are acclimatised to websites that recommend products based on preferences and buying behaviour, so what if those same web engines started buying the items also?

This is where B2M marketing will come in. Which brand of detergent will the washing machine buy? Once the device knows its owner’s preferences, it will sort through the digital coupons and B2M marketing messages to find the best deal.

Companies will need to figure out how to market not just to the human customer but to the algorithm engines that represent those customers in the digital world.

More human, more local

Digital is crucial if businesses are going to win any sales, as it has created a convenience that the market has never seen before.

On the other hand, the rise of digital has also brought about the rise of the human and a desire for local. Smaller, more local-centred companies have a competitive edge: they know the local communities in which they operate. Gigantic tech companies aren’t really able to adopt the human and local traits that smaller organisations can.

A recent trip to the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, really drove this home. It’s obvious that this is a neighbourhood that really cares about craftsmanship and quality. In these village-style shopping areas, the human dimension can really shine through in creating and delivering a service.

Offline and online become one

The distinction between online and offline is blurring. A lot of offline experiences that once relied on pen, paper and memory are now digitised and automated to make the process more seamless and efficient, and this is set to expand.

Amazon’s register-free stores are also making offline – or traditional – experiences more like online ones, while Alibaba’s Hema stores are already going crazy in China. These are stores that, paradoxically, don’t have many customers in them. It makes them a kind of hybrid store and fulfilment centre in one.

These new digital-offline platforms will change the core of customer relationships.

Voice as product filter
"Products that once existed as standalone items are now designed and marketed as parts of a broader ecosystem. The intent is to sell the package: a whole suite of services and components that complement each other"

Voice is becoming the new always-on filter for brands all around the world. Amazon’s Echo and Alexa assistant are now the new filters for how customers get exposed to brands and make decisions about them. They cut out the need for customers to scroll through dozens of pages of products to find the items they want – simply ask Alexa instead.

This is an undeniable improvement for the customer experience, solving the issue of too much choice. Yet it has big implications for brands outside the Amazon sphere.

Amazon acts as a huge brand filter for a rapidly growing number of consumers, determining what gets offered and what doesn’t. This means brands will now be competing to get on the front end of this customer exposure.

More focus on managing time

Over the past decade, everyone has become more aware of – and concerned about – time management. Transactions that save time have become an important value of the customer experience.

Businesses can either choose to save time for their customers by streamlining the shopping experience or enhance their time by providing better experiences. Understanding customer context will be key to this.

If the company knows what shoppers want and how quickly they want it then there’s no delay in the offering and no time wasted making suggestions that don’t fit.

The evolution of ecosystems

Products that once existed as standalone items are now designed and marketed as parts of a broader ecosystem. The intent is to sell the package: a whole suite of services and components that complement each other.

Amazon is perhaps the biggest example. By embedding Alexa into its smart devices, Amazon was able to begin to understand customer context, allowing the mega retailer to fulfil more needs than just final end-point delivery.

In this way, the company is providing after-sales service that is ‘always on’. Not to be left behind, Google is partnering with US retail chain Walmart to offer a similar ecosystem and transform the customer experience into something customers inhabit, rather than just visit.

Trusted gatekeepers

The year 2018 saw significant degradation of trust in the big tech firms, probably none as prominent and impactful as Facebook. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy breaches have really dented people’s faith in big data.

The firms that customers trust with their data are going to have a huge differentiator. Big tech companies will start to focus on becoming trusted gatekeepers. Just like public companies need to be transparent in their financials, tech companies may need to provide the same transparency over their AI and algorithm assets.

Clearly, the next few years are going to be really big in tech and customer experience.

Individual products and processes are coming together and forming new full-service platforms and ecosystems; technologies that were nascent as recently as two years ago are going to be taking over whole sectors; and customer experiences are going digital – yet even more human.

Consumers are witnessing some really impressive changes here that will not only improve shopping experiences but improve lives to.











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Van Belleghem

Steven Van Belleghem provides coaching, workshops and advice about social media and conversation management. Learn More: stevenvanbelleghem.com

Bharat Diamond Bourse
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Monday, 16 September, 2019 04:06pm
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