Imagine having a personal assistant who is always ready to answer your questions, play your favorite music, prepare your shopping lists, make sure your home security alarm is set at night, and even crack jokes when you could use a laugh.
Now imagine that personal assistant is just a nine-inch-tall black cylinder that plugs into a wall outlet and sits on a shelf in your home.
Meet Amazon Echo, the latest innovation from the ecommerce company that may have failed to corner the smartphone market but still hopes to beat Apple when it comes to making “digital assistants” that work as advertised. The Echo is like a distant cousin of Siri that actually understands you, providing information, news, music, or controlling connected household appliances and apps when you ask it to. And if the 15,000 five-star reviews on Amazon are any indication, real customers are using it and loving it, just like the fictional family in Amazon’s ad:
But what does having a device like this in your home mean for the future of customer experience?
Your Own Personal Customer Service Agent
In addition to playing music and answering questions, the Echo also interfaces with a growing variety of third-party devices, such as “smarthome” lights and switches from WeMo, Philips Hue, and Wink.
By interfacing with gadgets like these, the Echo becomes a command center for your physical home, turning off lights or activating security alarms with a simple verbal request. Smart devices continue to proliferate, bringing the Internet of Things into every aspect of our lives. Who knows what’s next?
Consider this: Amazon recently unveiled the Dash button, which allows customers to reorder common household items from Amazon’s warehouses at the mere push of a wifi-enabled button, and the new Dash stick, which does the same thing but through product barcode scans or verbal commands. So it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine the Echo soon interfacing with your refrigerator, detecting when you’re running low on milk and automatically ordering a new gallon from Amazon Fresh without you needing to request it first. It’ll be proactive, anticipatory CX — or even purely automated CX — at its finest.
Amazon became the global enterprise that it is today by creating an easy self-service shopping experience like no one had done before. Customers didn’t need to need to leave their houses to browse and buy their favorite books, and as Amazon’s warehouses and product offerings grew, its ability to appease its customers’ every desire grew along with it. When its big-data algorithms began tracking its customers’ purchases and habits, it started informing customers about products they might want based on the habits of similar customers, thereby becoming anticipatory, recommending products its customers might want to buy before they even knew they did.
Now, as Amazon further embeds itself in customers’ homes, listening to their every spoken word (a major privacy concern to some), it’s not hard to imagine that the Echo will eventually know more about its users than they know about themselves — at least when it comes to their shopping preferences and habits.
The End of Customer Service As We Know It?
Just how smart will the Echo’s artificial intelligence become over the coming months and years? Will it become the new Amazon Mayday service, replacing human customer service representatives with its superior intelligence and efficiency? And will it eventually integrate with third-party organizations to provide customer service for them as well?
Will saying the Echo’s activation word, “Alexa,” be your route to resolving issues with your cell phone company or garbage collector? Will contact centers become fully digitized, replaced by a single cloud-connected Echo in every home? Or will customer service issues and complaints simply become a thing of the past, as the Echo goes about its business flawlessly, keeping your lights on and your fridge stocked as it decides to download a new novel for you to read, one that customers like you have been raving about?
It’s a brave new world of automation and AI, but perhaps the biggest question of all is: Can it still be considered a customer experience if the customer no longer needs to be involved in, or even aware of, the experience?