Using emerging technologies for better CX

Technology such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality is at our fingertips to facilitate better CX, if we can identify the right uses cases

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and speech recognition, are changing experiences. For better or worse, these technologies have arrived, and customer expectations are rising because of them.

Starcom’s Future of Connected Living research project, which took existing homes and transformed them into connected smart homes over a period of six weeks earlier this year, observed the resulting changes to behaviour of the inhabitants. It saw consumer expectations rise exponentially when living in a connected home.

And like it or not, emerging tech will only increase customer expectations for better experiences from here. However, customer experience (CX) is also becoming the key differentiator for smart brands, with consumers increasingly willing to pay more for great experiences.

A recent Forrester study found experience-led businesses have 1.6x higher brand awareness, 1.5x higher employee satisfaction, 1.9x higher average order value, 1.7x higher customer retention, 1.9x return on spend, and 1.6x higher customer satisfaction rates.

WPP AUNZ executive director of marketing technology, Adam Good, said this kind of CX-facilitating technology is more than emerging, it is on top of us. Marketing and customer engagement teams who aren’t testing and learning in this space now risk being left behind.

“AR and VR are a grouping tech, and AI is a tech only more recently being used for CX. What’s important is where we are at in regards to these emerging technologies,” he told CMO. “Retailers like Bunnings are really pushing a digital economy strategy led by data, and it’s really interesting to see in the retail space. For AR especially, there is innovation work happening to show how people can merge digital and real world experiences.

“This will become even more important over the next five years because everyone has a mobile phone in their hand. AR capabilities, smart watches, smart speakers, and more are becoming more important in an omnichannel strategy. This is where the digital revolution promises those immersive experiences. If you are not playing in this space you are going to be left behind.”

According to recent research by Oracle on the impact of emerging technologies in customer experiences, top use cases for AR could include, training, virtual tours and for delivering more one-to-one service. In the medical space, meanwhile, use cases include 3D modelling or organs to better assist medical practitioners to explain conditions and ailments to patients, while in the retail sphere, AR and VR are being adopted as a way of trying apparel before you buy, or envisaging products in the home.

Hyundai recently announced an AR car manual, due to be released later this year. Using AR, users point a tablet at different parts of the car where 2D and 3D overlays will identify what goes where.

Similarly, PNB MetLife India Insurance Company announced an on-demand VR customer service platform called “conVRse”. The platform enables insurance agents to interact with their customers through a VR headset, in a 3D simulated environment.

A trigger for product innovation

With consumers demanding seamless, personalised experiences from their brands, regardless of channel, the only way to effectively facilitate this is through clever use of technology. ThoughtWorks head of experience design, Kate Linton, said new and emerging technologies are becoming the trigger for new product innovation that can drive both business and customer value. Just take AI.

“Businesses are increasingly able to realise the benefits of AI as they get easy access to storage and ever increasing computer power, advances in learning algorithms and an ever increasing deluge of consumer data," she commented.  “AI systems have jumped from science fiction to the real world in a short space of time. Who we meet, what we choose to do, and the costs of our choices, are increasingly influenced [or even decided by] software algorithms."

However, lagging behind is investment into the ethical, moral and societal implications of our rapid adoption of AI and algorithmic decisions. As Linton acknowledged, there are also many associated risks and unintended consequences of this new age in AI.

For founder of CX Lavender, Will Lavender, this means that while AI is a giant leap in terms of CX, it should not be replacing human service (yet).

“AI could be perceived as a giant leap in interactive sophistication. But I’d argue, from the customer’s perspective, it’s also potentially unsophisticated. AI is great to a point. It’s great for easy access to relatively intelligent information, 24/7,” he said. “However, it can become robotic and sterile when you need service or when you need help with a decision or you have a problem to fix.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen much call centre resource move offshore to lower cost centres. This more scripted approach has lowered received service levels from the customer’s perspective. 

"Care is needed so we don’t go the same way with AI. Yes, it’s efficient and it seems progressive. The risk is that the customer ends up with a more simplistic service that is less useful to them. So for the foreseeable future, AI is best linked to complement people service—not a solo solution, which it isn’t. Human service is not over yet.”

To do or not to do

To make the most of emerging technology for CX, it must be aligned with your marketing fundamentals – solving a pain point and offering added value to the customer, rather than it being applied for technology’s sake. When a solution is being implemented, marketers also need to ensure there are metrics in place so they can measure the business outcomes the technology is aimed at improving.

“Moving a CX strategy towards the product, and providing a frictionless experience, is where these technologies become important,” Good said. “The power of AI gives us the ability to build CX based on data points. But that’s also the most challenging part, because the only way to get that right is to embrace that technology so machines can help us predict a journey."

When it comes to AI and enhancing CX, Good cited three main areas: Insight, developing a customer interaction plan, and then moving it into automation.

"If marketers can get the behind the scenes processes working well, and customers love the experience, it’s a wonderful thing. Once consumers use these technologies, they don’t really go back," he claimed. “To do this well, you have to have a single view of customer and data unification. Data has to be brought together for insights, experience and automation to work well.

“It’s a space where everyone needs to be constantly learning. But once we start building capabilities to remove friction in experiences or to offer an AR to solve an issue in the retail space, like to link digital and physical experiences, the CX is improved."

Good agreed the technology is there for all businesses to start looking at those experiences right now, and they are absolutely changing the way the shopping experience is going to work.

"Now’s not the time to be scared, now’s the time to be testing, to play and learn in this space. Have budget set aside, because if not, you’ll be left behind. Use these technologies to create a new advantage,"  he said. 

“We are looking at solid use cases for increasing sales conversion using AI, AR and VR, because in some high-touch product categories you can create those experiences and allow the user to see what something can be virtually. Use cases for deepening brand interaction are also really important, and how-to tutorials, replacements for paper, that kind of thing are working very well.”

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