December 12, 2016
by Vala Afshar
Consumers and business buyers expect emerging tech to change their experience with your company.
Do you think you know your customers? Are you fairly confident you understand how they experience your brand in a myriad of online and offline interactions? Well, here’s some sobering news: Even if you do have a firm grasp on your customer experience, that’s all going to change—and sooner than you think.
Customer experience is becoming the next battleground for business. Market leaders will be decided based not just on which company has the superior product at the lowest price, but on which company manages its interactions with customers the best. How you engage with customers before, during, and after a sale will dictate future success. And technology—from the mainstream (social media, mobile, and cloud) to the more bleeding edge (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the internet of things)—is a key weapon in your arsenal.
For starters, it’s a matter of keeping up with customers. The numbers are staggering: Today, 50 million adults in the United States say they are never or almost never offline. And more and more, phones and mobile devices are how people consume digital media (web browsing and apps)—65 percent is done via mobile, and the computer is an afterthought.
So it’s no surprise that in Salesforce Research’s recent State of the Connected Customer report, based on a survey of more than 7,000 consumers and business buyers, the vast majority of consumers said they expect technology to have a real impact on their daily life. They see a near-term future where they will rely on all manner of technologies, from smart appliances to connected vehicles. The younger the consumer, the more likely they were to feel this way. For example, 79 percent of millennials said they expect smart home technology to have a significant impact on their lives within just four years.
Customers want the companies they do business with to embrace technology as seamlessly as they have in their personal lives. In fact, 57 percent of consumers told Salesforce Research that it was very important or absolutely critical for the companies they buy from to be innovative. What does that mean? Consumers want not only smarter, internet-connected products but also service and support on their own terms and that anticipates their needs.
Don’t think you need to be a mind reader? Half of the consumers in the survey said they are likely to switch brands if companies don’t anticipate their needs. And business buyers are even more demanding: 64 percent said they will take their business elsewhere.
Five technologies for making or breaking the customer experience
The real question, then, is how to exploit technology to meet the demands of your connected customers. Here are five areas where your company should be leading the pack:
- Mobile: Mobility continues to rule the tech landscape, but the ecosystem is rapidly changing from “mobile-first” to “mobile-only,” and conventional computers are being abandoned in droves. Can your business make an introduction, complete a sale, and provide support—all without directing a customer to use a PC? If not, you’re at risk of being left behind.
- Bots: This technology has gained traction. Support bots let companies provide tech support on a 24/7/365 basis, and they’re always ready to respond to customer queries via email or social media. Today, bots are great at managing simple requests. But sometimes they backfire, and when they fail, they fail badly. Businesses must be hypervigilant in their management of automated support systems.
- Augmented and virtual reality: Dismissed by some as playthings for kids, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are poised to reinvent customer support. Two-thirds of consumers said they expect to receive support through VR soon. AR could allow customers to more easily perform repairs or maintenance themselves, which will mean fewer in-person service calls and less downtime. Have you considered a pilot with either of these technologies?
- AI-powered apps: Every business has an app these days; now the focus is on making apps smarter. Enter artificial intelligence (AI), which is revolutionizing apps by turning them into intelligent pocket-based companions. Today, for example, an airline app may simply tell you flight times and prices. Tomorrow, customers will expect it to offer smart thinking about the best routes, to understand which flights work with their schedule, and to present easily comprehended options in natural language. What is your company doing to leverage machine learning and data science—and trickle those technologies down to the customer?
- Internet of things: For many of your customers, technology is a part of the very fabric of their life. Connected cars and wearables, particularly, are poised to become integrated with daily activities. Is your business thinking about how to use the technologies embedded in today’s smart cars and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles? Does your mobile presence account for smart watches or headsets?
Digital transformation is a journey that’s well underway for many companies, and the connected customer is at the heart of it. How will your enterprise use emerging technology to meet and exceed their expectations?