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7 ways tech will change how retailers compete with customer experience

Delivering a superior customer experience (CX) is key to a company’s success today.

Companies in Asia Pacific are increasingly realising the importance and benefits of customer experience such as positive word-of-mouth and improved brand image – a 2017 Gartner survey found that 84 per cent of organisations are expected to increase investments in CX technology in the year ahead. How, then, can the brand ensure that they are differentiated from their competitors?

Improvements in technology drive innovation in many fields, and there are few arenas where these efforts are as visible as in the customer experience. The emerging tools and techniques for customer teams provide new, insightful avenues for interaction, but are still grounded in the concept of tying a brand to a positive, happy experience.

Customers notice details, either when they are particularly good or particularly bad, so it is always in a company’s best interest to make sure they are innovating in the right way. Here are seven ways technology will aid Asia Pacific companies in creating – and taking advantage of – compelling experiences for their customers in 2018.

1. Improved churn prediction helps companies hang on to customers

People outside of the industry are often surprised to learn how much money companies spend to acquire customers. A recent Strategy Global Consumer Pulse Research by Accenture noted that poor personalisation is resulting in almost half (45 percent) of Singaporean customers switching brands and in turn, costing businesses S$19 billion.

Tremendous cost and effort goes into the process of finding customers in the marketplace, attracting them to a specific brand over competitors and — most importantly — keeping them. Smart companies are also spending money figuring out how to make sure customers never leave. By the end of 2018, companies will be so good at spotting a consumer’s potential defection that they may be able to predict when a consumer will defect even before the consumer knows it themselves.

2. Customers expect instant service and delivery as a standard

Any CX manager will tell you that responding to customer complaints and demands needs to be as close to instantaneous as possible. The next frontier in service is instant delivery, or as close to it as realistically possible. With companies like Amazon and Walmart investing heavily in same-day delivery and rapid response, many others will follow suit. As consumers begin to expect instant service, smart companies must figure out how to provide it or provide a product of such intrinsic value that it would be worth wait for.

3. Consumer-to-manufacturer feedback takes a step forward

A 2017 Qualtrics report revealed that more than half of Asia Pacific customers (68 percent) consider it very or extremely important that an organisation responds to feedback they provide. Consumers expect to provide feedback on products but often do not expect to see improvements for months – if at all.

Manufacturing costs and sophistication contribute to this delay but one of the biggest challenges is the “knowledge chain” of feedback. This is a process where – once feedback is shared – someone must first learn and understand the problem, then approach and convince the next link in the chain to make a change, and so on until it finally gets to the right person.

To address this problem, we will see a rise in feedback mechanism on the product itself, so customer problems and defections are sent directly to the manufacturing plant and product manager in real-time. This creates urgency and transparency between these groups and will improve the speed of production and marketing in 2018.

4. A new era for the Internet of Things (IoT)

The next level of the IoT is smaller and more personal.

Beginning in 2018, everyday products will have “smart” features, such as tech inside of containers that can determine how fast a product is being used, how soon it will run out, and add itself to an automated delivery list. The problem of “customer awareness” will cease to be a part of the process altogether. This is a step beyond a fridge with a camera in it; this is the milk carton determining that it will run out before Sunday and popping up on a shopping list today. It can also be a prescription communicating patient adherence to the doctor and pharmaceutical company, or retailers receiving just-in-time product deliveries to prevent low inventory of products. Companies in Asia Pacific can expect to see several new patents both in the space and in-product before the end of the year.

5. Improved anomaly detection leads to better marketing

Identifying anomalies in behaviour is very easy to do, but understanding the meaning behind them is difficult. If you do not have a history of buying jewellery, it is easy to notice when a diamond necklace pops up on your customer information. However, retailers will need to ask themselves many questions to truly understand the customer’s purchase intent: is it fraud? Do you have a new significant other? Did you receive a raise and are trying to improve the gifts you give?

Marketing firms used to simply bombard potential customers with advertisements. Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence will enable more complex anomaly detection in 2018, thinning out the marketing span and delivering real value opportunities that are more germane and timely to a purchasing decision.

6. DIY service for routine problems becomes the new standard

People are increasingly impatient and refuse to accept that easy ideas should require difficult processes to execute. Many industries — from medical care, to automotive sales, to college admissions — are ready to be disrupted by innovative methods of service delivery. Much like the self-check line at the grocery store, many customers are choosing to forego human interaction in favour of solving their own problems.

The motivation is easy to understand: nobody takes care of me like I do.

By anticipating customer needs and implementing smart software to address issues, companies are putting routine problems in the hands of their customers and saving their customer teams for more complex issues. For companies that want to retain service as part of their value proposition, those services must significantly outpace the perceived value of the self-serve alternatives.

7. Better personalisation through enhanced data

Talking about personalised experience as a “north star” is nothing new in the CX space. However, in 2018, retailers will see significant progress toward this goal as they finally align existing legacy systems and enhance them with better experience measurement and experience management platforms. Coalescing the data streams from operational warehouses and meshing those with attitudinal data and analytics unlocks heaps of potential within companies to get personalisation right.

To put these new practices to use, most retailers will need to spend time and resources building equally new systems. Flipping the switch to “on” should be the last box left unchecked. As organisations properly combine tried-and-true practices with new concepts, they will continually uncover innovative ways to reach customers and their pocketbooks.

Perhaps the single biggest key to future growth is moving beyond earlier predictions and expectations. Many firms spent 2016 and 2017 trying to live up to 2015 predictions. Cutting loose any anchors of ineffectiveness will let companies simply move on to a leaner and more productive 2018.

Foo Mao Gen

Foo Mao Gen is the Head of Southeast Asia at Qualtrics.