It’s no secret that intelligent virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are changing how people work, live and play. That’s a common refrain in the digital era. Technology advances are coming along so fast and furiously, and the capabilities are so incredibly exciting, that consumers and businesses alike can hardly wait to see what’s next.
Expectations are tremendously high, and not only for the technology companies who are introducing all this innovation. The immense pressure is just as intense on nearly every business as they try to stay on the forefront of this transformation or risk becoming irrelevant.
In today’s hyper-connected environment, to stay competitive, businesses must adapt by embracing three critical currencies for the digital age: Personalization, Predictive Intelligence and Speed. Here’s what each of these currencies mean and why your business needs them right now:
Customers want to be treated like people, not numbers. For many decades, they’ve gone through checkout lines in physical stores, exchanged a few pleasantries with clerks (maybe) and then off they went with no lasting connections. That’s just how it was.
In the digital age, though, this must change. And while it would be easy for all commerce to be purely transactional and impersonal since so much of it is now done online, customers today demand more customized service than ever before. They’re constantly connected, have access to massive amounts of data and are extremely empowered by that information. They know which brands offer the best products and who is going out of their way to please them. And they appreciate it when brands take the time to learn something about them and personalize communications to their wants and needs.
Indeed, 62 per cent of Canadians surveyed for Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report said they would likely switch brands if they were treated like a number instead of an individual, and more than one-third (38%) said they would probably make a change if a company didn’t provide personalized communications, such as buying suggestions, offers or promotions based on previous purchases.
Customers also indicated that they want personalized, quality experiences whenever and wherever they engage with a brand – before, during and after a sale. In fact, nearly 79 per cent of Canadians say they expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them, according to the “State of the Connected Customer” report.
One reason consistent personalization hasn’t become more widespread is that it hasn’t been technically simple to do – until recently.
With advances in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, companies today have an unprecedented opportunity to understand customer preferences and behaviours in previously unimaginable ways. More importantly, thanks to AI and emerging predictive analytics technology, we’ll soon be able to anticipate customer desires and offer targeted products, services and support – often before they even realize they need them.
Gartner defines AI as “technology that appears to emulate human performance typically by learning, coming to its own conclusions, appearing to understand complex content, engaging in natural dialogs with people, enhancing human cognitive performance (also known as cognitive computing) or replacing people on execution of nonroutine tasks.”
What this means is that, with the right data science tools, you can use big data to predict what customers will want or need and then automatically deliver relevant suggestions to improve or enhance their brand experience .
Make no mistake about it, although AI has been used successfully to power those buying recommendations we get on Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, this is still bleeding-edge stuff.
Artificial intelligence will be the definitive technology of the 21st century. That’s a major reason global spending on cognitive systems is expected to reach US$31.3 billion by 2019, with 80 per cent of that taking place in North America according to an IDC report. Much of that investment will initially go into software to enable things like text and rich media analytics, intelligent advisory and question answering or conversational commerce.
Customers want to engage with brands that anticipate their every need, but if it takes forever for that to happen, what good is it?
We’ve all been conditioned by our connected experiences to believe that all information should be available to us on a moment’s notice. Gone are the days when customers would be satisfied with calling a 1-800 service number and wait 20, 30 or 40 minutes for the “next representative” to help them. We live in a culture of immediacy, and that has fundamentally changed the nature of customer engagement.
It is critical, therefore, for brands to implement systems that allow customers to reach out and connect with them at any given moment and from any device. In fact, 63 per cent of Canadians say they expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time. And nearly half say companies they engage with must have an easy-to-use mobile experience, according to the “State of the Connected Customer” report.
These three critical currencies are not merely industry buzzwords or a “nice to have”— they are essential for doing business today. Successful companies will make these currencies a central part of their strategic plans because they serve the most important master: the customer.
The customer experience is the new competitive battlefield and companies that embrace all of these currencies will thrive, win and keep of their customers today and tomorrow.
Vala Afshar is Chief Digital Evangelist for Salesforce.