What are the implications of some of this year's biggest tech stories for customer experience management?
It seems that announcements from tech companies get bigger every year, and we have certainly seen some impressive ones in 2018. Of course not all these announcements will live up to the hype, but some will fundamentally change the relationships between companies and customers.
So, here are some of the announcements that I believe will shape the future of customer experience:
#1 Retail ecosystems
Retail has been in the media a lot this year, and while a lot of the news has been about famous store brands struggling, there has also been a lot in the evolution of retail that is really exciting for both customers and retailers
There are now hardly any standalone players remaining in the retail market, as retailers realise building “ecosystems” are the way to achieve the scale, build the capacity and attract the talent needed to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) market. Amazon purchasing Whole Foods in 2017 was a major announcement that turbocharged the trend, and subsequently Walmart opened up a collaboration with JD.com, Kroger found a Chinese partner in Alibaba, and Tencent and Google both partnered with Carrefour.
Over the course of just two years, the retail world has evolved from many standalone businesses into a complex ecosystem of partners, working together to meet the needs of customers better, and I think the same evolution will happen in many other industries.
#2 Near zero-cost prediction
2018 seems to have been the year that AI-based prediction became a major part of the toolkit of many companies. Uber, Google, China’s Didi Chuxing all make interesting announcements on how they’re using prediction within their customer journey, and it became even more clear that predicting our future purchases will be a big part of Amazon’s strategy.
Of course these new prediction capabilities have a lot to offer when it comes to customer experience, with two major implications. Firstly, as more and more companies predict your future purchases accurately, customers will be hooked in faster. Secondly, as prediction becomes more and more mainstream, the value of real human interpretation will increase in value rapidly.
#3 Cashierless shopping is about to become the norm
Back in December 2016, Amazon created a real buzz with the announcement of a concept store with no checkout and no queuing, called AmazonGo. The concept proved so successful that Amazon has now announced that they plan to open 3,000 of these stores over the next three years, all across the US.
Not to be outdone, JD.com has announced it intends to open 1,000 of these cashierless store per day in the next three years, while innovative start-ups like MishiPay are working on ways to bring the cashierless concept to small independent shops.
What seemed like a gimmick two years ago could soon become the level of convenience customers expect as standard.
What does it means for other retailers and businesses? Well, what seemed like a gimmick two years ago could soon become the level of convenience customers expect as standard. The concept might not be copied and pasted exactly into huge grocery stores, for example, but expect to see innovative new, faster checkout processes elsewhere in line with this evolution.
#4 US v China in the battle over AI
When Google’s Deepmind defeated the reigning human champion at Chinese game Go in 2016, it was seen as a major milestone in AI development. What we didn’t know at the time was that seeing a foreign technology company winning at one of China’s treasured cultural games would trigger an influx of investment in AI development in China.
In 2018, I visited China’s “AI Town” and it was an amazing experience exploring a campus of more than 2 square kilometers, filled with companies developing everything you can imagine using AI. Meanwhile, MIT and the famous financier, Stephen Schwartzmann, announced the launch of a similar MIT campus focussing on educating AI talent, backed by $1Bn in donations.
The evolutions coming out of these sites will lead to better understanding of customer data, create more convenient interfaces and have a huge impact on the development of customer experience in the next decade.
#5 Cars become data platforms
Anyone who has followed the fields of marketing and technology in recent years will have heard the debate about whether or not big tech companies are monitoring our behaviour through our smartphones. However, this year it became clear that our cars should now be part of this discussion.
General Motors has focused on the fields of smart cars and autonomous driving a lot, but we recently discovered that they are “listening in” to how people use their in-car entertainment systems. Their goal is to understand what their customers really want to help them develop new services. But what other services would you want in a car? Well, in a world of driverless cars, a car becomes a potentially lucrative entertainment and advertising platform, so General Motors want to get ahead of the competition.
We have also seen the development of AI assistants being used in cars, with Toyota integrating Amazon’s Alexa, while Nissan, Renault and Volvo announced partnerships with Google. Mercedes, on the other hand, decided to create their own AI assistant, but the reality is that most car brands don’t have the specialist talent to develop AI that is as powerful or cost-effective as the big tech companies, so they have no choice but to share data with one of the tech players.
#6 Voice controlled microwaves
When Amazon launched a microwave with Alexa integrated this year, I watched with interest at the harsh criticism they received. Ok, so microwave ovens might be technology we associate more with the 1980s, but I think many critics missed the point – Amazon isn’t just launching a microwave, they’re demonstrating the value of incorporating Alexa into other home appliances.
Off the back of the success of their smart speakers, Amazon want to put voice-activated devices throughout your home. More importantly, they want to make sure that it is their software that underpins voice controlled devices – voice will soon be the primary interface we all use, and Amazon know it.
Prof. Steven van Belleghem is an expert in customer experience in the digital world. He’s is an award-winning author, and his new book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com