In the realm of customer experience, today’s consumers are more informed, more collaborative, and have higher expectations for retailers and lower thresholds for dealing with impersonal, unresponsive companies. Thanks to the Internet and social networks, everyone’s voice, positive or negative, can be heard and companies have the opportunity to provide a more diversified approach to reach their audiences. Within the next few years, this space will continually innovate and things that we never thought possible will become completely possible…and even the norm.
Here are ways the customer experience will be transformed.
1. What you want to buy will never be out of stock
Smarter supply chains that factor buying behavior and other conditions, such as the weather, into their algorithms will make forecasting easier and will help retailers plan with improved accuracy. Because of the convergence of data, sensors, and predictive analytics in supply chain management, customers won’t experience the disappointment that comes with unavailable products. Also, digital disruption will remove the need for traditional means of assembling user data and will replace it with innovations such as in-store applications that monitor movement, point of service, store traffic management, and in-store promotion. Thanks to these changes in technology, we may never be disappointed by our favorite product being out-of-stock and we can avoid that uncomfortable duel for the ‘last one on the shelf.’
2. Everything will be exactly what you want
From shoes to shirts to electronics – everything will have the opportunity to be completely customized. At CES 2014, Whirpool showed off some of their new products. They had dishwashers and microwaves with customizable skins making the not-so-attractive appliances appear as personalized pieces of art. And in the fashion world, individualize looks and styles are taking over and retailers are embracing individuality with styles and offerings (leaving cookie-cutter companies that promote one look losing ground). And honestly, if you want something completely unique, like a figurine of your favorite pet, 3D printing makes it possible. With some 3D printing options, you can create just about anything to be exactly as you want. From the 3D scanning photo booth that can create a blueprint of your dog (and print a 3D version) to creating custom products online and sending the specs to a 3D printer, just about everything is in reach. As the cost of the printers decline, these options will become more mainstreamed.
3. Online purchases are delivered in 30 minutes…faster than a pizza
Could you really get your online purchase in less time than it takes the local pizzeria to deliver your Friday night dinner? Sounds like a dream, right? With last year’s news about the potential of Amazon drones dropping packages at your front door within 30 minutes, we were excited about the speed and opportunities of this service…but then we were quickly schooled on the reality of these flying vehicles and how they could impact the world on a larger scale. On one hand, there is actually a lot of air traffic – just with airplanes, there are between 25,000 and 27,000 flights taking off and landing every day. And on the other hand, drones can serve more purposes than just delivering consumer products. Either way, the concept of drones for daily use may still need some work to operate within regulations, but this in-the-works concept is something that could be a reality sooner than later, and a flying vehicle might get you that last minute delivery before you’ve even closed your laptop.
4. “Can I tweet your order?”
Want a pizza? Go tweet your order. Need a new shirt? Tweet your style and size. With customer service fully transformed into a multi-level approach forcing companies to power phone lines and tweets, the future is now, and when you want to order something, picking up the phone or heading to a website isn’t the only option. Businesses such as restaurants and hyperlocally-focused services are taking to Twitter and text messaging to manage and respond to customer requests. Companies are using the omnichannel approach to bring convenience into the palms of customers and changing the experience to be as seamless as possible.
5. Companies use people like you for product design
There is beauty in crowdsourcing and companies embracing and implementing this strategy seem to be reaping the benefits. Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers, has been championing crowdsourcing and,earlier this year, its online community helped invent the world’s first socially-created wine. The product was shortlisted and the crowd proposed the branding. In an article posted on SAP’s Business Innovation site, Deola Laniyan, account director at Tesco’s social and PR agency, is quoted as saying, “Consumers now have an expectation that their voices will be heard, they want to be more involved in the process and this campaign answers that beautifully.” Other companies who have jumped on the crowdsourcing train with success include Vitamin Water, Doritos, and NetFlix.
6. There’s something it in for you if you let your favorite brands get to know you
As consumers, we are pretty much walking data generators. From our loyalty cards that we swipe at the supermarket to our online accounts at retailers – we are blatantly sharing information about our habits to retailers who are using the intelligence to tailor their offerings and marketing messages. As a result, retailers will continue to collect, store and use data, which will result in two things – more of what we want and less of what we don’t want. As we continue to consume and reap the benefits of retailer data collection, we as consumers, will have to decide what we really want and determine if we appreciate the relevant marketing or want to pay a price to keep our data private.
7. The weather, demand, availability, and YOU can make prices fluctuate by the minute
We all know that as oil prices increase, our pockets eventually feel the pain at the pump as we get less for our dollars. But we often expect this price change and are willing to pay to power our vehicles. So what about companies changing the prices of shovels during a snowstorm? This isn’t just merely an Economics 101 case of supply and demand, but now, with the ubiquity of connectivity, vendors are suddenly able to use algorithms to change the pricing of their goods and services at a moment’s notice. This works well for retailers who can dictate their prices and change in an instant, and it can actually be beneficial for consumers who are willing to pay that perfect price for that perfect product or service. It’s a personal demonstration of price equilibrium and we need to remember that in a networked economy, consumers have all the power.
8. Shop, buy, and return: Automation takes over retail stores
Ever hear of the cupcake ATM? Or have you ever purchase something from the Best Buy Express vending machines? These hyped-up vending machines are examples of automated retail and fall into the category of self-service shopping, which is a popular way to provide convenience at places such as airports, malls, and resorts…and even the street corner in NYC. There are also supermarkets and other retailers adding automation to their in-store experience, which is allowing customers to check out sans a cashier and complete other transactions on their own. As these machines and automated practices become more connected and intelligent, the full customer experience, from purchase to service, could be automated to deliver a superior, self-serve customer experience.
9. Keeping your personal information private may cost you
With the understanding that we create data all day long and offer it up to ecommerce companies, brick and mortar stores, mobile devices, and wearables tracking our athletic performance, there are some companies capitalizing on the trend of being privacy-friendly. For example, Mozilla, a presumed underdog in the browser market, suggested that it would allow its users to disable third-party tracking software altogether. And search engine DuckDuckGo promotes the same advantage – no tracking. So with all this data floating around and all these companies jumping at the chance to capture some, consumers will begin gravitating toward companies that offer privacy, even if it’s for a premium.
10. In-store shopping becomes as intelligent as online shopping
With e-commerce, consumer behavior data is as easy to track as web analytics, which let retailers know exactly where a customer is coming from, what he or she is doing when they are on the site, what that same shopper purchased in the past…and even where they go after they leave the site. Thanks to the information online shoppers “give away,” ecommerce sites create experiences that use algorithms to make suggestions (to upsell and cross-sell) for product purchases. This same experience can be duplicated by offline retailers as they strive to make stores more intelligent and understand consumer behavior within a physical space. Bonobos, a men’s retailer, is taking on that challenge with their showcase stores. These 1000-square-foot storefronts give a customer the ability to touch and feel the products while an associate guides him through the shopping process, creating a personalized and exceptional customer experience. During this process, the store captures customer behavior and, through human interaction, suggests products and converts the opportunity to a sale. And, with the blending of offline and online data via social check-ins and apps like Foursquare’s Swarm, the store associate can become that much more informed before the initial conversation.
Get involved in the conversations on the Future of Business and read, watch and learn about how the customer experience will be impacted by technology, consumer needs, and data, and continue to transform.