This article was contributed by Ryan Gould, VP of Strategy and Marketing at Elevation Marketing.
How we live and communicate are evolving at lightning speed thanks to one thing: Technology. Consider the realities: as recently as even 2007 the modern smartphone didn’t exist, AI was still a science fiction notion, and the idea of self-driving cars wasn’t on the general public’s radar.
Of course, with all these exciting changes comes the one word that polarizes many in business and marketing circles: disruption. How are these rapid changes going to disrupt business as usual? But rather than looking at it as an intrusive occurrence, perhaps it’s better to view emerging technologies as tools with the power to reshape, not disrupt. To that end, here are four technologies reshaping the customer experience as we know it.
AI is one of the most popular buzz-terms in marketing at the moment. To put it simply, artificial intelligence is machine learning that uses data to improve operational efficiency and customer engagement. And what’s the most popular feature of AI right now? Undoubtedly it’s chatbots.
These smart assistants simulate intelligent conversation via messaging apps and can perform a multitude of tasks to heighten the customer experience. Some examples of brands utilizing chatbots to place orders, get recommendations, or to tailor media selections to personal taste include Lyft, Whole Foods, Fandango, Mastercard, Sephora, Spotify and more.
Regarding Spotify, not only are they utilizing chatbots to facilitate music searches, but they are also harnessing AI-powered data-analysis algorithms. Their intelligent playlist feature “Discover Weekly” leverages this machine learning to provide users with even more personalized music recommendations. Being able to micro-target customers with personalization is what artificial intelligence excels at, and it’s the key to developing positive lifetime customer value.
Machine learning is also being used to improve the customer experience by automatically analyzing customer feedback. Algorithms quickly tag thousands of customer or employee comments into themes and even determine how the person was feeling. Companies like Ancestry.com are using this technology to improve its product and boost customer loyalty.
If you’re still skeptical of AI’s raw power, consider this stat compiled by Servion: AI is predicted to handle 95% of all customer interactions by 2025. If you want an even more bullish prediction, just see Gartner, who says that by 2020, 85% of all customer relationships will take place without human interaction. Juniper Research even translates this into dollars and cents, predicting that AI processes will be responsible for eight billion in cost savings per year by 2022.
If you’re looking for an example of augmented reality’s ability to take the world by storm, look no further than the wild popularity of the smartphone-based video game “Pokémon Go.” But rather than playing hide and seek with digital creatures, developers and marketers are realizing its raw potential as a commerce tool.
Just look at the app Vivino, which turns your average Joe or Jane into a wine expert by projecting comprehensive info about any wine simply by scanning the bottle.
While there are many examples of consumer-facing brands utilizing apps like this, what’s really exciting is how augmented reality is reshaping B2B commerce. Now any vendor can walk into potential client’s office, and with nothing more than a mobile device present to them exactly how that carpet will look, or how a medical solution or application can benefit their customers, or any number of scenarios. The potential for effective presentation with augmented reality is near-limitless. This potential for promotion extends to the world of trade-show marketing as well.
Pfister did exactly that with their Xtract filtration solution. They put their water purification system on full display at KBIS 2017, the bath industry’s largest trade show. But they let augmented reality do most of the promotion. What appeared merely as a box display turned into a digital presentation of the filtration process when guests held their smartphones up to it. The result was that Pfister became one of the standout exhibits at KBIS that year.
Robotics and automation
Yes, automation at the hands of machine workers is nothing new—it’s generally regarded as one of the root causes of the decline of manufacturing in America. And while we’ve seen countless examples of robotics being used in commerce, up until about last year or so it was mostly seen in the supply chain. Amazon has its robot workers in the warehouses, as do many other brands.
But 2017 saw the first real emergence of robotic automation outside the supply chain, and that trend will only increase in the future. Amazon is still flirting with the idea of drone delivery, but we may also see fully automated robots in the customer aisle. Home Improvement giant Lowe’s is testing customer helping robots in 11 stores in San Francisco, and Russia is experimenting with helper robots in grocery stores.
What this portends is a near future where many of the aisles of all remaining brick-and-mortar outlets are abuzz with helper robots eager to assist befuddled consumers. Expect these android assistants to feature a certain level of AI and facial recognition software as well, allowing them to recognize regular customers and engage on a personal level.
You only need to look at modern retail stores to see the power of virtual reality in commerce. What VR does that traditional shopping can’t do is immerse the customer in the experience while providing a wow factor in the form of panoramic virtual environments. It’s also worth noting that retail businesses that implement in-store VR save extra money on space by not requiring so many display aisles.
It’s not cumbersome to implement, either. Now any customer with a VR headset and smartphone can virtually browse the store of their choice. Not only can they search for items, but when a potential purchase catches their eye, VR can present upselling and cross-selling options that wouldn’t otherwise have been readily handy in a regular brick-and-mortar environment. There’s less of a need for sales associates, too, as customers can now select their items and move them to the digital shopping cart with ease.
Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first brands to implement VR in their stores, with their “VR catwalk.” This placed customers in the front row of a virtual catwalk where they could view fashion models display the new seasonal line firsthand. As for the numbers, Goldman Sachs predicts that VR retail software will be a $1.6 billion revenue opportunity by 2025.
Make no mistake, these new technologies aren’t mere trends—they’re here to stay. Sure, they will continue to grow and evolve, but they have already reshaped commerce in contemporary life. The key for marketers and business owners is not to ignore the changes in the hopes they go away, but to harness them, invest in them, and utilize them to grow your business now and into the future.
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