Follow the Customer

4 Technology Imperatives for Customer Initiatives

Mobile life, amplified by technology, is the new normal. The Internet of Things (IoT), no-emission power, omni-channel experiences are coming fast! Against this background, it’s not surprising that customer journeys are increasingly mobile and increasingly technology-based? The number of channels brands use to interact with us is exploding. Machine-learning and AI proponents tell us of a day when computers will be looking at more dimensions than a person can possibly consider.

Likewise, the customer journey is an expanding universe, both in terms of channels, dimensions of understanding, and in the data those channels produce. The sheer volume of data and analytics accessible by brands will swell. Consider an IoT-powered refrigerator that will automatically reorder your favorite products when they run out or the expiration date has passed. We already hear about the sensors in our cars that will stop us before we hit something or inform the insurance company of our driving patterns.

Sensor technology is poised to become the next CX game changer. Sensors will revolutionize the way consumers interact with brands, and vice versa. For example, most new washing machines are sensor-enabled, but imagine if that sensor could detect when the washing machine breaks, communicate the problem to the manufacturer, and facilitate arranging a service appointment for repair—all before the consumer even realizes the machine is broken. 

Similarly, many of us have tried wearables, like Fitbits or some type of sensor that gauges exercise, sleep quality, and other health indicators. Imagine if that information could be automatically sent (with the user permission) to a primary care physician, or if it could help someone keep tabs on whether their elderly parents remembered to take their medications today. Predictive analytics in medicine will revolutionize the way a physician treats patients. For example, heart rates correlated to body temperature over time may lead to better treatment of many chronic conditions.  

To some, these breakthroughs may sound futuristic, but the reality is they are happening right now. Different technologies may appeal to different demographics and brands/service providers are leveraging the role technology plays in the customer journey evolution. Regardless of their demographic, every consumer is only going to become more tech-enabled. Technology allows for cost-affordable scale, in addition to keener insights. Imagine IoT devices helping to better serve 8 billion people with better, more affordable care options.  

It is exciting, for sure. Technology will continue to give better and more scalable insights into customers’ habits, routines, and preferences like never before. But it also brings with it great responsibility. 

Many executives worry, understandably, about the costs and liabilities associated with embracing technology. If a company sees a surge in business from delivering improved customer experiences, the company may need to invest more in employees to meet the growing demand. This will be an investment in people skills, enabling technology and training.
But for brands that can provide tech-enabled customer experiences that are as good or better as human interactions, technology will continue to provide scalable (and better) solutions at a fraction of the cost. 

When considering how to integrate or increase technology in customer journeys, brands need to really think about what they want to communicate to their consumers and how. Different companies will use different methods to achieve different outcomes. 

Regardless of methods, there are a few technology imperatives that all brands should consider when strategizing around the customer experience:

1. Embrace machine learning
A lot of business models remain labor-centric, where consumers often interact with an employee who represents the brand. But that tide is turning. In the next five to 10 years, more companies will be relying on automation, and machine learning for customer experience efforts.

There are so many ways to interact with customers—online chats, mobile communications, social media channels, and others. Technology is a common denominator among all of them.   

Many brands, of course, already are doing this, but the trend will continue to grow and company leaders should be paying attention to it if they want to meet their customers’ needs quickly and efficiently. This is becoming increasingly important as younger, tech-savvy generations become consumers of more goods and services. 

2. Prioritize data security
Interacting with, and collecting data from, customers via technology has numerous benefits. It can increase efficiency and customer satisfaction, streamline operations, and reduce costs in some cases. But it brings with it a serious responsibility: protecting the data that’s collected.

Few things can take tarnish a brand’s reputation more quickly than a security breach, as credit reporting agency Equifax learned in September 2017 when it revealed Social Security numbers and other personal information for 143 million people were compromised. If customers are divulging information, they expect it to be safe. 

Whether they give their credit card number to a retailer or provide health information to a doctor, consumers expect their data will remain secure and in the right hands. As technology-enabled transactions increase, companies will have to build higher degrees of security into their customer experience journeys. Doing so costs money, but it costs far less to invest in security than it does to deal with potentially dire consequences of going without. 

3. Recognize the power of peer-to-peer
In the not-too-distant future, customer journeys will become more peer-to-peer and local in nature. We already see it happening. Just observe the “born digital” generation. Apps like Houseparty, which lets users host group video chats, and WhatsApp, which provides free instant messaging as well as voice and video calls, make it easier than ever for consumers to ask a small circle of family and friends for recommendations. Services like Bitcoin, which lets people conduct financial transactions without the need for a bank, are becoming increasingly mainstream. And Wealthfront connects digital natives to low-load mutual funds, driven by algorithms from a trusted “robo-advisor.”  

In short, consumers want to deal with other people and services directly, with no middlemen. Increasingly, consumers will look for value, and sometimes this means no advertisements and more focused social networks.

In the past, many people likely searched on Google, or maybe posted a query on Facebook, when looking for product or service recommendations. But these days, a growing number of consumers are eschewing those tools—and the marketing algorithms behind them—in favor of polling the people closest to them. Many younger consumers don’t want to interact with hundreds of “friends” on Facebook; they’d rather be part of a closer-knit community of 25 or so. 

Given this shift, there are still opportunities for brands to get their messages out there and, ultimately, attract consumers. But companies may need to adapt their methods to this new preference; that’s part of the reason why brands are increasingly investing in word-of-mouth efforts and cause marketing. In addition, more people are choosing brands based on experiences—their own, or family or friends’—rather than, say, brand loyalty or price. 

4. Orchestrate journeys
Journey orchestration is the ability to configure technology in a way that gives the customer the very best experience they could want. When brands present consumers with a well-orchestrated experience, they have a much higher rate of closing transactions and a greater potential for cross-selling. It’s a win-win.

Technology is just one of the tools that brands need to orchestrate satisfying customer journeys. Every customer is different, and journey orchestration is a way to treat every customer like he or she is the only customer in the world. The tools can help a brand open the door for more impactful and complete solutions.

The roles technology can play in customer initiatives are clear and mounting. It may be a bit intimidating to take the leap into cutting-edge tactics, but brands that embrace the evolution only stand to benefit by doing so, while those that refuse to adapt likely will regret it. ?