This article is the first in a series of publications to share the results of Customerfest, an online experiment to co-create the future of customer experience which ran late 2017. A big shout out to the team of InSites Consulting for making the event possible
In Bavaria, a driverless bus scoots across the countryside. In China, a man enjoys his dinner thanks to a dental implant set by a robot. In Northern Ireland, a toddler sports a 3D printed kidney. A Caribbean robotic bartender mixes cocktails on a cruise-ship.
The world has changed, and customer expectations are changing with it. 2020 will be a world where technical customer loyalty is dead. Where customers can buy what they want, when they want it, where they want it and even at the price they want it.
To adapt to this new reality, we will all need to reinvent ourselves. In fact, every company will need to develop three specific capabilities (*):
We need to learn how to solve customer problems before they occur. As devices around us get smarter, customers will expect smarter environments. Interfaces that only show the stuff they like. Mechanics that repair machines before they break down.
Customer insight collection needs to become instant and continuous. Sensing technologies and algorithms need to predict customer needs before competitors do so. Even before customers identify these needs themselves. This will allow further simplification of the customer's life. Cut transactional steps and touchpoints. Even complete journeys.
As long as humans are paying the bills, we want to be more than an organic interface to a digital process. Before we part with our money, we want attention, empathy and warmth. So while a more digital experience can add value, you will always need to infuse it with a human touch.
Tactically, you need to truly understand the customer's emotions at every stage of the relationship. Strategically, your business needs to develop a human face. A purpose and business model that transcends the simple pursuit of profit.
The experience we offer IS the product. But the opportunities to deliver this experience are getting scarce. Customers already tuned out of (intrusive) marketing efforts years go. Digitalisation now helps them avoid our showrooms, stores and offices. Unless these visits make their life easier or more enjoyable.
So when they do give you their time and attention, you need to pull out all the stops. Immerse them in your offer and the story of your business. Give them an experiential memory that can lasts months, years or even a life-time. After all, there’s no telling when you’ll get another chance to interact.
Bonus checklist item: reinvention
I realise that the above may feel like customer experience science fiction. Especially as many of us are still coming to grips with journey mapping and VOC programmes. But unfortunately, I'm not making the rules. Technology will accelerate. New players will disrupt existing markets. Customer expectations will rise.
Above all, this means mastering the skill of reinvention. The ability to challenge our own habits and beliefs. The willingness to learn new techniques and skills. Even if they are far outside of our comfort zone.
Does your business have a process to challenge itself on a regular basis? Do you deploy red teams to find weaknesses in your system? Set up think-tanks to explore new business models? In short, are you ready for reinvention when the need presents itself?
Every year, I force myself out of my day-to-day to attend The Future of Storytelling Summit in New York. This is one of one of those rare events that don’t just inform, but challenge - even change - your belief system. After a week of experiential overdose, I'll be sharing some of the lessons I learned this year. I’ll focus on the ones which are relevant for brands and customer professionals. I’ll split them over multiple posts.
FOST LESSON 1: UX as we know it, just died
Every serious conversation about quantum physics has a tendency to melt your brain. It doesn’t make sense, and yet it is. So when my first work session at Fost started looking at the influence of quantum field theory on user interface design, I knew I could be in for a rollercoaster ride (OK, I’m a nerd, sue me 😃).
Jumping straight to the end of the story, the workshop's message was that we should forget everything we know about today's user interfaces.
Ever since the beginning, we have modeled digital interfaces on an industrial age paradigm. If you wanted a machine to do something, you had to press a button. This could be a physical button, a Siri command or a wave of the hand. But metaphorically, it was always “a button”.
Using this new paradigm, these buttons disappear. By installing a wide variety of sensors around us, our machines monitor our every move, micro-expression, heartbeat, temperature, pupil dilation. And just to be clear, our sunglasses, jewellery and clothes can all be machines.
This allows the development of probabilistic models that predict our intentions at the speed of our brain. In other words, the machines watch us and calculate the probability that we want to open a door, open a file or are in the mood for ice-cream. Once the probability is high enough, they automatically provide us with the things we desire. No commands. No instructions. No buttons. Only intent.
This can happen over short distances, but also across larger ones. Even at the other side of the planet. After all, if you think about vectors in a quantised field, space is a very relative concept. All that matters is the expression of intent/probability.
If this sounds like science fiction, it partly is. The technology is available today and all major players are working on it. But it does require 5G, a ton of sensors (IoT anyone?), more advanced AI and - as an AT&T executive observed - “a massive amount of processing power”.
Also, the ethical implications will need sorting out. If my primal brain says I want bacon, but salad is the smarter option, which will the digital restaurant menu show first? If I tell my vendor that I’m satisfied with the service, but my micro-expressions contradict this, is he allowed to know? If I’m depressed and consider killing myself, will the machines help me? Or stop me?
But all these elements will eventually be sorted out. Especially as first user tests indicate that after 20 seconds of usage, people have figured out the new way of working. They also prefer the intuitive nature and nanosecond speed over old-school UX.
So, there is still a number of years mileage in today’s user experience design practices. But the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no way we’ll put it back in. In my mind, UX has we know it, is a dead man walking.
What are your thoughts when you read the above? Good? Bad? Ugly?
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Lately, I've been wondering a lot about the future of CX. Notably about what lies beyond our current pre-occupation with the customer's voice, journey mapping and getting better at what we should be doing anyway.
To many questions, I can't find a quality response. So I summarised the main ones in this article, in the hope that you might have some answers, or at least thoughts that could help us all to solve the puzzle.
If you do, I'd appreciate if you could share them in the comments, or even better by joining the team from Insites Consulting and myself on Customerfest. This is an online experiment where customerati from all over the world try to co-create the future of customer experience. Either way, I'd love to hear your views.
Also if you are of the opinion that I ask too many questions ;-)
I've been asking myself a lot of questions about the future of customer experience. Four, I seem to be unable to answer by myself. So I thought I'd share them in the hope that you could throw in your 2 cents to solve them.
You can do this in the comment section below. Or even better, by joining www.customerfest.eu. This is an online co-creation experiment I've set up with my friends at Insites Consulting. It's free. It’s educational and it promises to be great fun.
Either way, I'd love to hear your views. Also if you are of the opinion that I ask too many questions ;-)
Question 1: How do we pick the right technologies to enhance our customer’s experience?
A tsunami of technologial change is coming our way. Every day, new developments in AI, 3D printing, genetics, IoT and more hit our newsfeeds. But it’s not always clear how these breakthroughs benefit our customer’s experience.
So, without 20:20 foresight, how do we pick the ones that matter? How do we find out of the box use cases and combinations that will - as vendors promise - disrupt our industry?
In theory, it's simple. We need to observe our customers. Go out and experiment. Learn. Prototype. Rebuild. Design thinking and all that jazz.
But the real world doesn’t work that way. On the one hand there is opportunity overload. On the other, resource limitations exist. What's more, not everyone has reinvention skills. So, no matter how dedicated we are to exploring all avenues ahead, we will need to make choices.
But how do we choose? Is there a method? Or will success be a randomised game where the winners are the ones that guessed right?
Question 2: How do we maintain a human touch?
Whether we like it or not, the world is going digital. Supply chains will continue to automate, AI’s will respond to customer requests. Robots already greet us at airports. But, until further notice, humans are still the ones paying the bills. Regardless of machine efficiencies, our flesh & blood type still like a human touch.
So how do we design for emotion in a world of digital assistants, predictive services and robots. Do we need to give our technology a more human face? Do we need hybrid solutions where humans complement machines and vice versa? Or is there a business case to go 100% human and reject technology all together?
How do we marry technology and humanity? And where do we draw the line? Commercially, but perhaps also morally?
Question 3: How do we engage employees as machines start taking their place?
The reports are unanimous. Machines are going to replace as significant amount of humans in the workplace. Some say that this is fine. People will move to new jobs that don’t exist today. Others are more pessimistic. They press us to make work of universal basic income. Either way, we’re heading for a period of transition. This will bring job insecurity and possible employee hostility towards automation.
So, what do we do? Do we play Darwinistic hardball and let the most adaptable survive? Do we start preparing our people for a fuzzy future? And how do we keep these people motivated to deliver the best customer experience they can? Especially if some will realise that it’s only a matter of time before a machine starts gunning for their job.
How do we deal with this? We cannot take a wait and see attitude. Morality aside, today’s employees are still tomorrow’s customers.
Question 4: How do we stay in control of the coming customer experience chaos?
Big data. Personalisation. Fragmenting supply chains. Many factors are making our world a lot more complex. According to some, current developments are only the beginning. Technological change will continue to speed up. Changes in one industry will exponentially influence customer expectations in another.
How will we stay on top of this complexity and acceleration? How will we deal with big data if most companies still struggle with their CRM system? Will we outsource our thinking to AI? Are we heading towards a counter movement with radical simplification and small data?
And as individuals. How will make sure that we keep our own knowledge fresh and relevant? All while doing our regular day job?
When confronted with this barrage of questions, you may raise your hands and say I don't know. Most of the time, I do the same.
But, sooner rather than later, we will need to come up with answers. The world is changing at the speed of light. While there is still time, the customer experiences we work on today, may not exist 5 years from now. Many will definitely be gone in a decade.
So, help myself and 50 other customerati from around the world look for answers. Register for our co-creation project at www.customerfest.eu. It's free, educational and promises to be fun.
Image (cc) Jonathan Simco
Not so long ago, customer expectations were fairly siloed. Customers didn’t really compare the way they banked to the way they shopped for cars or were treated in their local hospital. To compete, all you needed to do was keep an eye out for the competitors in your market and be better. While challenging, this was conceptually quite easy.
Today, this has changed. Once customers had a certain experience anywhere, it will become their expectation everywhere. Regardless whether this is fair or realistic. If CitizenM can get me through check-in in 30 seconds, why do I have to stand in line in my medical centre? If Coolblue can tell me EXACTLY when my dishwasher will arrive at home, why can’t my vendor do the same for the widgets that are due in my warehouse?
Customer expectations are increasingly driven by the sum of all customer experiences a person has. Anywhere. Anytime. So if you’re selling B2B widgets, suddenly dishwashers matter.
I’ve been looking into this a bit as part of the upcoming Customerfest. It led me to formulate three areas in which you might want to look at the customer experiences you offer. I’m sure there are more, so if you have idea, do share below!
Shorten the customer journey
The simplest customer journey is the one that doesn’t happen. Places like Amazon or AirBnB have taught us that you can buy things in one click and get all the services to match. The more this happens, the more we start expecting shorter journeys everywhere. Every inefficient step, every address detail re-entered, becomes an irritant.
ACTION: Rather than improving your customer journey, look at eliminating complete steps. Can you do what Warby Parker eyewear did, and let customers take their vision tests at home? Can you create your version of the one-click-buy or Amazon Dash ?
Virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, combined with the AI that powers them, are teaching customers to think about the ways they interact with brands. As a result we'll grow increasingly irritated when navigating that IVR or working through 3 call-centre agents that can’t seem to get our problem solved. Instead, we want our answers fast, accurate and with as little hassle as possible. Even if we’re not asking the question.
ACTION: Explore ways in which you can make your products and services more intelligent. Solve customer problems before they occur. Take inspiration from examples like the Pirelli Connesso system that proactively manages a car's tires through a mobile app. Or Nudge for Change, which helps consumer’s spend money at establishments which align with their beliefs.
We are living in the on-demand decade. Think Netflix. Same-day delivery. Soon even our cars will appear when we summon them. These developments are rapidly reducing our tolerance for waiting around and committing ourselves when there is no immediate need. We want our solutions instantly, and if we don’t use them, we’d preferably not pay..
ACTION: Think about the places you are making customers wait. Not just for delivery, but for answers. Service. Information. Payment. Take a look at Avvo, which gets you on the phone with a new lawyer within 8 minutes, or Verifly which has just launched drone insurance by the flight. Whether any of these services actually become a business success, is irrelevant. They are changing expectations, one customer at a time. This will eventually affect your business.
So get going, and look at the way other industries are changing your customer’s experiences. But remember. It's not because technology can be used that it should. Empowering the customer doesn’t equal digital force-feeding. Personally, I love gizmos that make my life easier. My wife, on the other hand, just wants to talk to another human that makes her problems go away. If you want to do business with our family, you have to keep both of us happy.
Just to keep your life a challenge :-)
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.