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Consumers of 2020: Why customer experience will be transformed in the next five years

21st Nov 2014
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It is impossible for anyone today to envisage how the world will look in five years’ time. However, one thing is certain: more will change during the next five years than has changed in the past five years, and it won’t be long before we will be confronted almost weekly with new and relevant innovations that can make a real difference to our lives.

Niall Ferguson, who according to Time magazine is one of the 100 most influential people in the world, is convinced that the speed of innovation is linked to the total number of people living on the planet. If you place the curves mapping the evolution of innovation and the evolution of the world's population alongside each other, you will see that they display clear similarities. The more people there are, the more innovation we generate.

In recent decades we have already experienced incredible speed of the innovation, with the introduction of the internet, smartphones and tablets all dramatically changing our world and how companies and customers interact. However, this process is certain to intensify further as, for the first time, we will see different essential waves of technological innovation occurring concurrently, and these technological developments have the potential to completely transform customer experience:

The mobile evolution

The evolution of mobile technology has already come a long way, but is by no means finished. 2015 will be the first year in which more tablets than personal computers are bought, and while almost everyone has at least one item of mobile technology the capabilities of the devices will also continue to increase exponentially in the years ahead. Faster processing speeds, smarter apps and wearable devices (such as the smartwatch) will also help to create a real-time consumer, with a focus on product purchase, health and shared experiences.

The Internet of Everything

By 2020, the world will be full of 'connected' technology with everyday products all linked directly to the internet - the Internet of Everything. This, for example, is how the smart toothbrush by Philips already works. After you have cleaned your teeth, the brush immediately gives you a score to show how effectively (or not) you have done it. If you have a cavity, your toothbrush will tell you. And before you know it your toothbrush will also be capable of making you an appointment with your dentist.


In the past, the use of robots was largely confined to production processes in large factories, but it is already possible to see the introduction of similar technologies in many average homes. The number of robomows – self-operating lawn mowers – is increasing week-by-week, and it won’t be long before we see robot applications playing a role in the experience of customers in the fields of healthcare, home deliveries and domestic security.

3D printers

By 2020 a high-quality 3D printer will be available at a price affordable by most average families, as the speed and quality of devices will continue to progress at lightning speed. 3D printing could potentially allow every consumer to set up his own mini-factory, breaking down thresholds and barriers for almost every industry. According to McKinsey, this growth will see the 3D printing market become worth a staggering $550 billion by 2020.


Companies are moving more and more to towards anchoring their operations in a Cloud environment, meaning that software will no longer be stored on the computers of companies or private individuals, but on the internet. In terms of customer service, this will lead to more improved and more real-time data, allowing companies to respond to the needs of customers more quickly and more efficiently. Cloud technology also makes it easier to share the same information over different appliances, allowing a much more integrated customer experience across channels and touch points. In 2013, the market for Cloud technology was estimated at $58 billion, but Forrester forecasts this to rise to $191 billion by 2020.

Artificial intelligence

This is the final, but by no means the least, of the rapid technological developments we can expect in the next decade. The chess computers that were capable of beating grandmasters were among the first examples of this 'Artificial Intelligence' (AI) and the technology has come on leaps and bounds since Deep Blue computer got the better of world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. Artificial Intelligence relates to computers that are as clever as or even cleverer than the human brain, and if the evolution continues at the same speed, dealing with computer-directed call centre operatives could be a daily reality for customer service, while many of us remain convinced that we are still talking to a real human being.

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager (Kogan Page). Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe or visit:

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