Ask his most ardent of followers, and they’ll say that Nostradamus predicted events for the modern world with an uncanny degree of accuracy, from the outbreak of the Second World War to the rise of Donald Trump:
“The great shameless, audacious bawler, He will be elected governor of the army: The boldness of his contention, The bridge broken, the city faint from fear.”
Yet, even with a dose of liberal interpretation, there appears to be little in his 942 prophecies to point towards one of the greatest movements of our times: the shift to automation and the rise of the machines.
At Gartner’s Customer Experience and Technology Summit last week, there was future-gazing and prophesising aplenty when it came to the impact artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, smart ecosystems and robots might have on the globe.
And Don Scheibenreif, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, highlighted nine customer engagement trends within this area of discussion that every business should currently be considering:
1. The intelligence of apps
According to Tractica, global revenue from artificial intelligence will rise from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025.
Scheibenreif believes we’re entering a period of mass experimentation relating to embedding AI into the customer journey, but warned that the brands that didn’t consider the impact of AI at each stage would be in danger of doing their brand reputation more harm than good.
He pointed towards Lowes, a DIY store in the US, trialling customer service robots in stores to help customers find products and supplies when a human wasn’t on hand.
“Think about the effect on the customer experience. Is this something your customers are ready for? We’re all learning how this sort of robot works, and it’s important to think how you can use artificial intelligence and robots to manage the customer relationships.”
2. Digital twins
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to save businesses and consumers over $1 trillion by 2022, thanks to systems talking to one another and creating efficiencies previously more difficult to deliver.
The IoT has laid the foundations for the theory of ‘digital twins’ – in which sensors in products and services help monitor, predict and respond to related issues before the customer recognises them.
This has also provided the backbone for a renewed interest in ‘proactive customer service’, and Scheibenreif believes the concepts combined mean brands will have to reconsider what they mean by customer service in the future, and how they’re able to engage a customer in the unearthing of and solutions to issues in advance of them actually occurring.
“Every time we’re online, we create a digital footprint. What if you had a comprehensive digital twin that allowed a doctor to treat you better? Can you create digital twins of your customers? Can you model their behaviour to predict and anticipate the things they need and want? It sounds creepy, but there are areas that we are moving toward here.”
3. Conversational systems
At the moment we may only just be learning to trust Amazon’s Alexa or Google Now, but by 2018, Gartner expects there to be at least 25 or more conversational systems embedded into our homes and businesses, having an impact on how we make buying decisions from ordering a pizza to buying a house.
“Think about the customer journey – how will a user interface be part of that process? If I can order a pizza from Amazon Echo, how does that change your relevance to the market if you’re the pizza provider that doesn’t do that? It’s significant. Many of these systems will get in between you and your customer.
“Part of this is about having a strategy. You may already need to think about how to partner with Amazon or Apple to be able to offer a skill or capability so that you can maintain that contact with your customers.”
4. Platforms and ecosystems
Where technology platforms sit between you and your customers is also seen as a key trend. Whether it be Google, Apple, Amazon or Facebook, these platforms are already driving a wedge between most companies and their customers. And by 2018, Gartner expects leading companies to have over 100 digital partners as a result.
There will be over 200 trillion connections between people and business in 2020
“Platforms are about sharing capabilities and information in order to be able to improve business outcomes,” says Scheibenreif. “We believe that by 2020, almost 1 in 4 industries will have a new leader at the forefront of it. Disruption among companies like Airbnb and Uber proves that platforms are changing the nature and dynamics of an industry.
“Is your industry in danger of being disrupted by a new company that’s able to leverage the emerging platforms. How will your ecosystems change relationships with customers? If Apple, Amazon or Google gets in the middle of the conversation between you and your customer, what are you going to do to ensure you don’t become irrelevant as a result?
“What that means is that ecosystems will need to connect more. In the future, ecosystems will collide and how they connect will be more critical.”
Amazon, DHL and Audi recently teamed up to trial package delivery directly to the boot of peoples’ cars. This type of partnership, says Scheibenreif, may seem like an unlikely coalescence now, but is likely to become more and more commonplace in the near future.
5. Smart cities
55% of the world’s population currently live in cities. There are more than 1 billion connected devices in cities, as a result.
The rise of the ‘smart city’ is one that is likely to drive up engagement between public and private sector bodies and their citizens-come-customers, leading to brands thinking outside of the box when it comes to their impact on the day-to-day lives of those living in cities.
There will be a 10% decline in the workforce in 40 different global areas including the UK, in the next three years, and not all of this can be attributed to automation. People aged 60 or older are the fastest growing demographic in the world, for instance, and how your brand engages with this cohort and which channels you choose to do so may be more important than you realise.
As Scheibenreif says, “We’re a very youth oriented culture – do you have products and services that can address the aging population?”
7. The power of me
The hypocrisy of predictions means that whilst you’re considering an aging population, it’s important not to take your eye away from the youth movement, especially in relation to crowdfunding and the sharing economy.
Scheibenreif refers to this as “the power of me”, and believes that engagement strategies around both areas will be vital.
“This is where innovation is happening. Let’s say you’re in a manufacturing company. Are you tapped into the crowdfunding platforms on something like FirstBuild? Are you following these platforms for ideas and inspiration? Do you have a social media policy geared towards spotting interesting people with interesting ideas in your marketplace?
“If you’re not paying attention, you might miss something. How are people and customers bringing new ideas to your marketplace? It requires constant monitoring.”
8. Digital business
Customer experience is now seen as the top priority for CEOs. How to deliver improved experiences is the sticking point.
Many businesses are looking to digital transformation as the means to drive improved experiences, but this is a contentious point.
“Digital is important, but how do you get started?” says Scheibenreif. “This boils down to customer experience – if you’re doing something that makes your customers lives’ easier using technology, that’s great. But after efficiency is done, you have to shift to making your customers lives easier.”
Scheibenreif believes this means doubling down on technological advancements outside of your core products, in order to satisfy a broader customer need. He points towards BMW’s purchase of the mobile app Park Now as a significant example.
“Who would’ve thought automotive companies would evolve from being manufacturers to being mobility companies? Historically this industry hasn’t moved much, but in the last 5 years it’s changed dramatically.”
9. Digital workplace
The final trend takes place within the workplace itself, and how employees and machines will coexist in order to perform tasks above and beyond their current customer remit.
By 2020, 1 billion people will be influenced by an algorithm at work. This changes behaviour in the workplace.
Forrester expects that cognitive technology—including AI and automation—will replace 7% of U.S. jobs alone by 2025.
Whilst the fear of machines rising up to take our jobs and then threaten our very existence is a common one within the sci-fi movie genre, the likely outcome is more benign. “These types of technology will eliminate routine jobs, but that frees up time for more value-added jobs,” says Scheibenreif. “There may be part of your customer service function that’s automated, but that will free-up staff for more value-added tasks.
“Not everything needs to be automated – if you think about customer experience, it’s not all about automation. Many people still wish to talk to a live person rather than go through eight branches of telephonic automation. Part of the journey we’re on with automation and the workplace is about establishing what the right thing to do is, not just what technology offers us.”