taking center stage

January 22, 2018

What is it stretching to the horizon? Have you read Origin, the latest masterpiece from Dan Brown? I felt the emerging socio-business environment of today or the one we are heading to probably can be appropriately paraphrased by this quote from Origin.1 “Human beings are evolving into something different. We are becoming hybrid species—a fusion of biology and technology. The same tool that live outside our bodies—smartphones, hearing aids, reading glasses, most pharmaceuticals—in fifty years will be incorporated in our bodies to such an extent that we will no longer be able to consider ourselves Homo Sapiens.”

It was only in 1983, Compaq Portable, considered as the first personal computer clone, was released. World Wide Web started taking shape around 1989 when CERN opened the first external TCP/IP connections. Google registered the domain in 1997 and the first true smartphone, iPhone, was launched in 2007.

However, in the last two-and-half decades, technology has permeated like never before radically transforming every sphere of human life. Look at the following statistics:

  • In a population of 7.4 billion, there are 4.9 billion unique mobile users, 3.8 billion Internet users, and 2.8 billion social media users
  • In an Internet minute, 16 million text messages are exchanged on WhatsApp, 3.5 million search queries
    are run on Google, 4.1 million videos are viewed in
    You Tube.2

And if it sounds mind-boggling, that is about just only a fraction of what happens in the digital world. Putting all in perspective, the current business universe can be contextualized by a few phenomena as delineated below:

  • speed of digital evolution – Moore’s law3: The digital revolution in terms of ‘processing speed’ and ‘degree of connectedness’ are two vital factors that significantly influence the competitiveness of a firm. As per Moore’s law, digital processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years.
  • technology adoption time4: technology adoption time has reduced drastically in case of digital, or more in case of internet-based products. For instance, for reaching a diffusion of 25% (per cent of ownership), radios took more than 25 years. However, in case of internet, it took less than ten years to reach the same figure.

digital expanse and connectedness

Across domains, there is a gradual shift towards a digital space diminishing the physical borders. Unlike a decade before, there is a market siege by companies based on technology convergence. Quoting from ‘These are the world’s most digitally advanced countries’, there are few salient features of today’s digital landscape. Few relevant in this context are:5

  • digital technology is widespread and spreading fast: Cross-border flows of digitally transmitted data accounted for one third of increase of global GDP in 2014 and it is rising.
  • digital player wield outsize market power: In 2017, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook were the five most valuable companies leaving behind their bricks-and-mortar brethren.
  • digital technologies are poised to change the future of work: This is what is often being adduced as ‘Second Machine Age’ when automation, big data and AI-enabled by application of digital technologies could affect 50% of the world economy.

While research to advance the digital age further will be in the core technology domains, it is critical for the business to recognize and work on the emerging trends in every other area like customer experience management, to
stay competitive.

Here, I would like to quote from Shelley, which exemplifies the clamant need round the corner:6

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

As we would see in the next section, customer experience management will be a game changer for a business rather than being on the periphery as in the past. Following is an outline of what one can expect in customer experience management in the coming few years. The output presented combines integration of current research along with a pragmatic field experience. The trends are industry agnostic.

01 an all-powerful and choosy customer will emerge

The basic ingredients of customer requirement can be stated as ‘right’ (product), ‘now’ (time to deliver/recover) and ‘free’ (cost). If not exponentially, digital technologies will push the boundaries of customer requirements faster than ever. Connectedness will make the customer choosy and he will settle for not less than what he wants.

02 customization / individualization of products will be the key

Once the customers become choosy, firms will have to shift focus to product individualization/customization. This will be similar to what I refer as ‘patient model’ where each patient in a medical center requires different types of medical care. This customization has been referred to as N=1 by C K Prahalad, when a firm will be exacted to tailor the product as per individual preference.7

03 companies will have to focus on problem-free product (simplification)

How many times have you called up WhatsApp call center (do they have one in fact)? WhatsApp is one of the best examples of problem-free product when a customer never has to reach out to the provider with a complaint. Many have written about strong correlation between a product and a satisfied customer, and loyalty.8,9 Due to vast choices available at the fingertips and customization, customers will tend to select problem-free products more and more. With more demanding customers, companies will have to invest in creating products free of defect. This will necessitate more rigor in building customer requirements from the design stage itself.

04 not product, customer service will be a determinant of brand choice

More and more customers will decide on a particular brand depending on the quality of the service provided. According to American Express Global Customer Service Barometer 201710, there is an emerging trend of importance of customer service while deciding to buy a product. As per the survey, the top three countries where customers had not bought a product due to bad customer service are India (66%), Singapore (66%), and Mexico (63%). Similarly, there is a trend of customers willing to spend more due to good customer service. Top three countries in this category are India (21%), US (17%) and Singapore (16%).

05 there will be a strong need for creating real-time experience

New consumer journey is shifting from ‘sessions’ to ‘spurts’ which Google has mentioned as ‘micro-moments’. This is when consumers turn to a device and make a decision. 65% of them agree that while doing a search in their smartphone, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing information. This will emerge as the new battle ground for the brands to ‘be there’, ‘be useful’, and ‘be quick’.11 And, wins at the micro-moments will be dependent on creation of relevant and personalized real time experience at the right moment.

06 big data and strong analytics will be leveraged

Real time analytics will require processing of huge influx of data. Analytics orientation will shift from ‘horizontal touchpoint’ based to ‘customer lifecycle’ based. Apart from the three big ‘V’s—volume, variety, velocity—big data will play a critical role to create ‘value’ at the relevant moment. It will be used in four stages—collection of data from the relevant touchpoints and interactions, processing and analyzing it in conjunction with past data, extraction of actionable insights, and measuring impact.

07 artificial intelligence is here to stay, bringing in accuracy and speed

If you are fascinated by the buzz around chatbots, it is just the tip of the iceberg. AI is on the way to transform the fundamental rules that traditionally used to define customer experience. It is important to take cognizance of the fact that AI is not a single technology, rather it refers to discrete technologies or platforms, which individually or in combination can add intelligence to applications. Adapted from Oracle’s Internet of Things Value Framework, a Forrester report mentions the following five ways how customer experience will be radically fueled by use of AI—increased efficiency, reduced friction, enhanced customer empowerment, proactive action, and preemptive service.12

08 there will be a gradual shift towards online channels

If one can turn the clock back by a few years, you will see customer support being equated with contact centers. However, there is a gradual shift towards customers resorting to online channels for resolution and support and the numbers are significant. For the countries which top the list, the percentage of customers who use online channels for problem resolution are: India 30%, Hong Kong 26 %, Italy 26 % and Mexico 25 %.13 One offshoot of this would be reduction of dependency on call centers. They will cater only to the core service needs where human intervention is inevitable.

09 customers will depend more and more on mobile phone for required service

As much as 87% of smartphone users keep their phones by their side any time and 91% often turn to their phones for ideas even in the middle of a task.14 Another critical indicator is conversion rates from mobile, which shot up by

29% in the last year.15 This tiny gadget, unnoticed, is gradually becoming an integral part of our lives and more and more people will be using it for making an informed decision including when looking for a service.

10 companies will shift to relationship from resolution

While conversion from mobiles has increased by 29%, the time spent per session by consumers has reduced by 18%. At the same time, 65% of the consumers agree that while doing a search on their smartphone, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing information.16 This insinuates a transient nature of relationship with customers focusing on ‘what’ rather than ‘who’. This will entail business firms to invest in strengthening the relationship rather than being a provider of resolution. This is where predictive modelling will play a part as basis of success, leveraging AI and analytics.

lastly…

The imperative will be to stay relevant ‘at the moment’, and companies that would act ahead of the curve will survive. This quote which is attributed to Darwin is apt here, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”17

Follow the author at  @gautamkborah

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article is of the author’s and do not reflect the views of anyone else including the organization he is working for)

01 Brown  Dan (2017) : Origin :Bantam Press, London, p 411

02 http://www.businessinsider.com/everything-that-happens-in-one-minute-on-the-internet-2017-9?IR=T

03, 04 Borah Gautam (2015): Monetising Innovation: Bloomsbury, New Delhi p. 74

05 Chaturvedi Ravi, Bhalla Ajay, Chakravorti Bhaskar (2017): These are the world’s most digitally advanced countries: World Economic Forum

06 Shelley Percy Bysshe, Ode to the Wind

07 Prahalad C K, Krishnan M S (2008): New Age of Innovation, Driving Co-created Value Through Global Networks, Mc-Graw Hill

08 Krivobokova O V (2009 : evaluating Customer Satisfaction as an aspect of Quality Management. Proceedings of World Academy of Science.Engineering and Technology

09, 13 Chai K H, Ding Y, Xing Y (2009) : Quality and Customer Satisfaction Spillovers in the Mobile Phone Industry

10,14,15, 16 American Express Global Customer Barometer, 2017

11 Adams Laura, Burkholder Elizabeth, Hamilton Katie : Micro-Moments – Your Guide to Winning the shift to Mobile :Google

12 Legget Kate (2017) : How AI will Transform Customer Service : Forrester

17 https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/05/04/adapt/