With 2018 well and truly upon us, it's time to reflect on the year past and ponder the year ahead.
Last February, Fifth Quadrant reached out to some of Australia's customer experience (CX) Thought Leaders to find out where they believed CX would head in 2017. Fifth Quadrant spoke with experts from Microsoft, LogMeIn, Oracle, Verint and Flamingo who predicted that 2017 would see the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, bots, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in CX.
For the most part, they were right. Take retail banking for example. Australians are known for being early adopters of digital technology and the Big Four banks offer retail customers a wider range of account products online in comparison to banks from other countries. In September, NAB and ANZ introduced two notable AI-driven initiatives. NAB rolled out an AI-powered "virtual banker" and ANZ launched voice authentication technology which uses machine learning to record users' voiceprint. Ubank, a division of NAB, also unveiled a virtual chatbot trained to answer thousands of questions across 40 home loan topics.
Notably, VR and AR have yet to make a real impact on CX. There are many reasons for this including technological barriers, costs, perception issues and failure to provide compelling use cases that work seamlessly in our daily lives. It's still early days for VR/AR and in last year's article, Fifth Quadrant predicted that its effect on CX wouldn't be significant until 2020. So how about 2018? Here are 5 CX trends that Australian business should watch this year.
One of the things 2017 will be remembered for is being the Year of Blockchain. After eight years of relative anonymity, last year blockchain suddenly went mainstream. Spurred on by the meteoric rise of bitcoin, which hit $20k USD at one point, investors and speculators flocked to cryptocurrency. Mainstream media jumped on board, initial coin offerings (ICOs) became a daily occurrence and financial institutions announced investments into blockchain technology.
If 2017 was the year blockchain became big, 2018 may be when we see the technology begin to affect the life of everyday customers. The most obvious way will be in regards to payments, which are widely considered the "killer app" of blockchain. By adopting blockchain tech, banks will be able to create new banking products and compete with other fintech startups in the financial sector. Customers may receive discounts for using blockchain or bypass banks altogether, especially for smaller transactions. Aside from payments, blockchain can also be used for identity authentication and the creation of loyalty programs. Australian businesses should be starting to think about how they can incorporate blockchain into their operations. Expect to hear a whole lot more about it this year.
Blockchain explained: Why Blockchain Technology Will Transform Customer Experience
- Hyper-personalisation and "emotional" CX
Personalisation has been an important concept in CX for some time now, and in 2018 and it is likely to continue rising both in importance and intensity. Hyper-personalisaiton is essentially the strategic use of data to create an even more personalized, individual consumer experience.
Amazon, YouTube and Netflix all do this well, using past viewing and buying habits to serve up recommendations tailored for each user. Browse through any family's Netflix account and you will see just how different each user's profile is. We have come a long way from merely filling in blanks with different people's names. Starbucks also does hyper-personalisation well, blending its knowledge of its customers with a sophisticated rewards program.
The compromise is that in order to deliver hyper-personalised CX, companies need to know a lot about their customers. In December, Netflix faced backlash after tweeting about viewers that had watched a particular piece of content a number of times. Many raised privacy concerns, feeling that Netflix had gone too far.
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2017
The personalisation-for-privacy-trade is becoming one of the defining issues of our times in marketing. People want better CX but when they realise how much a company truly knows about them, they get spooked. The next wave of personalization will employ voice recognition and facial recognition and other biometrics to provide an "emotional" experience. Disney is already using facial recognition tech to discern if viewers like movies and with Apple introducing Face ID, it's only a matter of time before the Starbucks app is reading your face to decide what you want. It'll be up to customers to decide if this is creepy or wonderful.
Want to know more: Watch the webinar we co-hosted with Oracle on Ultra-Personalisation
- The omni-channel
Like personalisation, omni-channel has been around for a while, but in 2018 it will become more important than ever. Omni-channel is basically multichannel done well: the concept giving customers a consistent experience across multiple touch points. With an effective omni-channel, walking into a store, using an app, visiting a site and chatting with a bot should be a seamless experience.
Australia has performed well when it comes to providing omni-channel CX, taking third place on PwC's biannual Global Omnichannel Retail Index in 2015 and 2017. In 2017, PwC found that media products were at the most mature stage of delivering omni-channel CX followed by consumer electronics and appliances, and a range of other physical products. Grocery was at the bottom of the list, although PwC notes that this is primarily because the products are perishable and have a high cost-to-serve due to logistic issues.
"Across markets and categories, omnichannel retail is no longer a future aspiration but a baseline requirement," concluded PwC. "Tech-savvy customers demand it, and companies can either meet this expectation or watch those customers depart for more digitally savvy competitors."
Want to know more: Watch our webinar, 10 Principles For Omni-Channel Success
- Voice & natural language
Voice recognition technology has improved a great deal over the last few years and Apple, Amazon and Google have all entered the growing home assistant market. At present, roughly a quarter of web searches are done via voice and Comscore predicts that this will double by 2020. Emotion will also come into play in these home assistants which will eventually be able to detect users' mood and preferences based on their voices. This may not happen this year, but it is definitely on the cards.
Australian businesses should get ahead of the voice trend by ensuring that their websites are optimised for voice search. Since the mid-1990s, users have been searching for sites by punching in succinct, robotic-sounding key word phrases. Voice search differs because it is more conversational and, since usually performed on a mobile device, more location-focused. Keyword strategy must now mimic how real people talk and naturally request things. SEO-devoted marketing site Search Engine Land suggests creating FAQ pages filled with long tail keyword phrases as one way of optimising for voice.
- AI, machine learning and chatbots
AI, machine learning and chatbots will continue to be used to enhance CX across a variety of industries such as finance, insurance and retail. Customers' simpler queries can now be adequately handled by AI, which is having a profound effect on the modern contact centre. With machines handling the lower-level queries, contact centre employees are being skilled up to deal with higher level situations. AI, machine learning and chatbots are increasingly being viewed as a way to augment rather than supplement human capital and this trend will continue in 2018.
"When we started over a decade ago, the idea was to help you and I make better decisions amid cognitive overload," IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty told Bloomberg in September. "If I considered the initials AI, I would have preferred augmented intelligence. It’s the idea that each of us are going to need help on all important decisions."
Listen to our podcast with Catriona Wallace, CEO Flamingo as she discusses the future of AI and digital assistants
Emotion is key in 2018
According to Forrester's 2017 Customer Experience Index, CX in Australia declined last year. The report found that while many companies have an established CX practice, the quality of the CX suffered due to the prioritisation of convenience above everything else.
But convenience is just one piece of the CX puzzle. "Emotion holds the key to achieving CX leadership," said Tom Champion, Forrester senior analyst and author of the report. "Top-tier brands provided an average of 17 emotionally positive experiences for each negative one; while the lowest-performing brands provided only six emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience. Emotion is critical as CX has a direct impact on a firm's revenue."