For the past few years, information technology (IT) industry analysts have been emphasizing the critical importance of focusing on the customer and end-user experience. Web, mobility and social technologies have raised customer expectations to new levels. In response, companies must deliver a superior and consistent omnichannel customer experience — if they hope to compete and win in what Forrester calls the Age of the Customer.
Now, the pundits are shifting their focus to automation and supply chains. An emerging digital economy will drive massive digital transformation, IDC predicts. The resulting digitalization will revolutionize supply chains, Gartner forecasts.
What happens to the customer and the end user in this newly digitalized and automated world? Will employees be replaced by robots? Will customer centricity be pushed aside for operational efficiency?
Customer Experience Drivers
Fifteen years ago, IT began to transform automobiles. Navigation systems, traffic alerts, Bluetooth streaming music, wireless charging, rearview cameras and other options better connected drivers with their driving and with their vehicles. Today’s cars are veritable computers-on-wheels, with significant compute power.
Today, digital nannies, from parking assist to dynamic cruise control, lane-departure warnings, cross-traffic alerts and assisted braking, enable cars to practically drive themselves. In fact, actual self-driving cars have been so successful in testing that it was big news when a Lexus recently became the first autonomous vehicle to cause an accident. Within 10 years, drivers themselves may become largely irrelevant.
A similar phenomenon is occurring within the enterprise. Web, mobile and social commerce connected customers with brands in new ways. That was good for customers, because it gave them choices and leverage; if they weren’t satisfied with one brand, they could easily find another that met their needs. And it was good for companies, because it gave them more touch points with customers; that meant more opportunities to sell goods and build relationships.
But new layers of abstraction — the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence, the so-called Industry 4.0 — threaten to tilt the balance from customer to computer, from experience to automation. In their quest to digitally interconnect products, processes and partners, companies can lose sight of the end consumer.
The solution isn’t to forego emerging technologies that can benefit your business, but to leverage them to both accelerate processes and elevate people. For leading organizations, the point of nirvana is to increasingly leverage new technology to offer a highly personalized experience with each customer.
Inside the enterprise, IoT must connect not only machines but also the people who manage them. Robots need to not only work alongside people but also enable those people to shift their focus to more strategic work. Automation should be applied in ways that don’t alienate the workforce but actually improve the end-user experience, driving better job satisfaction and employee engagement.
Employee engagement has a direct impact on customer experience, by the way, as study after study has shown. But organizations have work to do here. While 81 percent of companies measure customer experience, only 31 percent take the temperature of employee experience, according to IDC.
Outside the enterprise, IoT, machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity and other automation shouldn’t merely streamline supply chains for cost efficiencies. The ultimate result should be a greater ability to understand demand signals and then accurately and rapidly meet customer needs. If automation improves your processes with simultaneously providing a lift in customer experience, you’re realizing only half the potential return on your investment.
Organizations need more focus here, as well. Nearly two-thirds of companies say they’ve created models to assess drivers of customer-experience quality, Forrester reports. But only 28 percent can actually show a link between customer experience and business outcomes.
In the auto industry, autonomous vehicles will fundamentally change how carmakers go to market. It will no longer be about how you drive the car, but about how the car drives you. Literally, people will take a back seat to technology. But figuratively, the customer must remain in the driver’s seat and firmly in control.
I welcome your comments and insights on this new era of technology and how it influences the customer experience.