Global consumer patterns are being permanently rewritten along the lines of influence, personalisation and trust. Indeed, personalisation is reckoned by Boston Consulting Group to drive a revenue shift of $800bn by 2022 for the companies that get it right[i]. The most obvious conduit for addressing these levers is technology. Engagement technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality that give rise to immersive retail will help create new and increasingly personalised consumer experiences. However, the gap between promise and execution will be a treacherous one for many organisations. In a Pew study (2018), 47 percent of respondents predicted that individuals’ well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next decade. Interestingly 32 percent say people’s well-being will be more harmed than helped[ii]. Despite the advantages of digital, there is clearly a degree of mistrust, resistance and antipathy towards processes seen as ‘impersonal.’ Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than with customer service.
It has been suggested that by 2020, 85 percent of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent[iii]. Chatbots could account for a full quarter of all customer service operations[iv] and 90 percent of retailers believe A.I infused virtual assistants will improve customer service[v]. However, PwC data suggests that 75 percent of consumers say they want more human interaction in the future, not less. Indeed, around two thirds of consumer feel that companies have lost touch with the human element of customer engagement[vi]. Whilst emotionally intelligent applications of artificial intelligence can undoubtedly improve overall service – whether through advanced natural language processing or cognitive systems/ machine learning, only 3 percent of U.S, consumers say they want fully automated experiences[vii].
The answer will in part, lie in empowering frontline workers with precise and accurate technological tools, as well as augmenting backend systems to work as seamlessly as possible. Indeed, a fully human system is unlikely to satisfy consumer demands at scale since it cannot match the efficiency provided by expectation setting companies such as Amazon. Those who find how to balance ever spiraling expectations and a desire for ‘connection’ will likely be tomorrow’s winners. To succeed at scale will require close attention to design principles and crafting truly consumer-centric business models that incorporate technology ‘invisibly’ and unobtrusively as well as significant investment in change management and human skills and preparedness. Some 83 percent of shoppers currently believe they’re more knowledgeable than retail store associates[viii]; such perceptions are simply unsustainable. Firms need to ‘…adopt a customer-based approach that considers value within the broader context of a customer’s lifeworld[ix].’