The evolution of the digital customer is changing how business gets done. And this “new consumer” is impacting not only financial services, healthcare, and retail, but just about every business. As the systems and technologies that we use to support and understand the digital customer have advanced, a time of great change is at hand.
“In both B2C and B2B, optimizing how digital customers interact with a brand has become a primary goal not just for marketing, but for executive management and the board as well. Indeed, successful companies will not only keep up with the changing digital customer, but will learn how to read digital data to anticipate those needs,” says Cynthia Stoddard, CIO of Adobe.
While many changes come and go, some take hold. Looking broadly across the landscape, these three trends should be top of mind:
- Pervasive Digital Intelligence
Pervasive digital intelligence describes gathering and managing the detailed information about every action a customer takes, regardless of channel or mode of interaction. New technologies make it possible to understand customers as never before. However, to be useful in providing a complete perspective, this digital intelligence must be managed.
“Pervasive digital intelligence enables the business to gain insights that deliver substantial competitive advantage earlier in the process,” observes Stoddard.
A common barrier to pervasive digital intelligence is information silos that separate customer data by channel, product, or some other artificial aspect. These silos make it impossible to understand the “whole” customer. Leveraging pervasive digital intelligence requires one platform that integrates, stores, and makes available a comprehensive portrait of the customer. And in today’s high-speed business climate, it’s essential that the information be collected and made available for use in real time. Reporting after the sale or interaction has very little value.
Pervasive, customer-centric digital intelligence benefits every functional group. Successful companies use this intelligence across the firm. For example, understanding what features are used as the most common sort criteria when customers order a product provides insight to the development team about what features have the greatest impact on a sale.
A single platform for managing pervasive digital intelligence makes it much easier to link this data with other critical corporate data sets. And the marketing data must include both online and offline data to be useful. For example, integrating customer intelligence with CRM systems gives sales, service, and marketing teams unique insights into things such as how customers behave in their broad interactions with the business and even with competitors. Integration with finance can provide valuable insight on optimal price points or verify that pricing is negatively impacting sales. There are multiple layers of value for firms that deploy pervasive digital intelligence.
- Humanizing Digital Systems
Humanizing or personalizing digital systems changes customer interactions. With AI processing the data, humanization allows a company to combine data and analytics to personalize any interaction that customers have with the company. When customers perceive more individuality in communication, interactions, and offers, they feel as if the brand is making a real connection and not treating them like a faceless number.
Stoddard notes, “AI and machine learning can be a business enabler. We see it as human and virtual workforces coming together to take the human element out of repetitive tasks and shifting people to higher-value work to create capacity.”
There are many ways that AI and analytic tools can help to humanize digital systems. One of the most promising is using intelligent systems to mimic human interaction to humanize the app. Another new approach is to blend human and artificial intelligence into digital systems. This utilizes the best of both machine and human intelligence, offering the chance to truly enhance customer interactions. A related development is that some businesses are focusing on technology that shortens the feedback loop for getting human review and evaluation of how the AI-driven systems are acting.
One essential design point for humanizing systems is that all personalization must use a single, consistent database. Using different data sets will cause the AI tools to deliver different versions of personalization, resulting in a confused message and causing customers to believe “You have no idea who I really am.”
- Deploying “Multiexperience” in Customer-Facing Systems
Multiexperience is a relatively new concept but one that’s having a substantial impact on how organizations interact with customers. According to Gartner, “Multiexperience refers to the various permutations of modalities (e.g., touch, voice, and gesture), devices, and apps that users interact with on their digital journey across the various touchpoints.”
Multiexperience provides customers with their desired or optimal means of interacting with a brand. “Multiexperience requires new thinking. Brands have to change from merely supporting ‘mobile’ to being able to support everything,” says Stoddard.
The new way of thinking about the digital customer is to move past a channel-based mindset and understand that all modes of buying and interaction are equal and need attention. This is a sea change from the “desktop vs. mobile” approach that has been common for years. Digital customer interaction is driven by customer experience and needs, not by a firm’s internal processes or organizational chart.
Needless to say, supporting multiexperience requires investments in technology and expertise. Investments must be made to offer the same services, capabilities, and features—supported by the unique interface demands of each style of endpoint—across all modalities. Adopting this mindset requires that all silos, whether of data, interfaces, or functional capabilities, be eliminated.
Moving to multiexperience is also important for simplifying the integration of emerging technology trends. With a single, customer-focused multiexperience model, integrating new technologies such as IoT or wearables is simplified because those technologies don’t have to be integrated with multiple systems or as new and unique capabilities. Integrating them within a single, comprehensive multiexperience model is far simpler.
These three critical digital customer trends speak to the dynamism and rapid rate of change that organizations must take into account within their strategic outlook. Unlike internal processes or systems, customer-facing systems are seen every day, and poor functionality can negatively impact results immediately. The converse is true as well. Many businesses will deploy new capabilities and technologies that provide a vastly better customer experience and form the foundation for sustainable competitive advantage. Business is at an inflection point where enhancing the customer experience is taking center stage. Those who move quickly will be rewarded for years to come.
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