Over the last year, it’s felt like digital technology has gotten a shot in the arm. We’ve seen new devices, new ways of interacting, and new paradigms come on the scene, along with some long-awaited promises being fulfilled. It’s like the 20th century visions of “The Year 2000” are finally showing up (albeit 15 or 16 years later than we had dreamed).
Amid all of this, our clients are still looking for ways to provide a better experience and more value to their customers – and while expectations have been raised in some ways, many of the fundamental problems still feel very familiar.
One trend that continues (and has for years) is the need to bring disparate systems together. Even in 2017, large firms are still struggling to provide a seamless experience across many applications that must work together to create a smooth workflow – and it’s not as simple as just connecting back ends behind a dashboard. The end-to-end experience often requires hand-offs between tools, if not actual people (and it is still often actual people), sometimes within a visit, sometimes over the life of a relationship, sometimes in between, and often all of the above.
Mobile is still growing – what’s surprising perhaps isn’t the continued growth, but the amount of remaining room to grow. Customer service businesses have yet to truly empower their teams through mobile solutions the way they have their customers. Using a tablet as a walk-around register is one step, but it’s only the first. On any bank branch floor today, dozens of devices with the power to connect customers to service are literally strolling around the space. Some belong to the bank, some to the customers, and some to staff…but they could all be talking. Some firms are beginning to experiment with “bring your own device” strategies, but it’s too soon to tell where these will succeed.
Given the trending need for the physical and digital spaces to connect, this is certainly a huge opportunity. More and more of our clients are thinking in terms of how to unite and empower the brick-and-mortar experience using digital technology, as we move further and further from the world where “online customers” and “in-store customers” are two different people. Customers expect a seamless connection between the two ways of doing business, with the flexibility to adapt to their needs. The digital experience needs to integrate into the in-store experience, not stand in for it. Retail and Hospitality have been doing this for years – visit an Apple store, a Starbucks, or a large theme park and you’ll see mobile apps that are meant to support and integrate into your direct physical experience. Check into a hotel, and your phone can be your room key (without going to the front desk). Financial services can and should do the same.
A year ago, terms like virtual reality, augmented reality, digital agents, the Internet of Things, and many others were, while familiar in discussion, not put into practice in any but the most experimental ways. Those experiments are starting to yield viable products, thereby creating a new challenge – that of determining which are meaningful for our clients.
At Forrester’s CX conference this year, Harley Manning’s opening keynote theme was “Future Shock” – too much change over too short a time. A whole host of technologies and innovations are becoming feasible. Big Data is attaining enough mass to support machine learning and digital agents in a meaningful way. As sensors and controllers become cheaper and more interchangeable, the Internet of Things is starting to become more than just a hypothetical reality. And Augmented/Virtual Reality is no longer seen as an expensive solution looking for a problem as the hardware platforms come down in price. The surrounding trend in digital is beginning to look like the primordial seas again with many experiments fighting to achieve long-term survival. The challenge for many of our clients in the coming year will be to avoid chasing distractions, without opting out of the innovation race altogether. So when you can’t do it all, what do you do?
Start with the fundamental need and then try on ideas. Don’t spend time trying to figure out how Alexa can be used in your business. Instead, find a need that you haven’t been able to satisfy, and see how a voice agent, or a collection of simple sensors, or any of the new realities can help meet that need. Can’t figure out how a technology fits? Ditch it, and move on to another. Right now there are plenty of options, but don’t let that distract you or freeze you in your tracks. The needs are still there; your customers are still waiting for you to meet them. What is changing is the context of what is possible. New solutions don’t require us to find new problems – if they do, they aren’t solutions.
The digital landscape has definitely changed, but the fundamental needs of customers – for security, for convenience, for trust, and to feel valued and taken care of – have not. The good news is that even with the shades of future shock that come with it, this period that punctuates our business equilibrium may put an end to some problems that seemed impossible to solve.