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Brands must embrace the complexities of the digital landscape to enable ‘invisible’ customer experiences.
With all of the innovation taking place in customer engagement tools, it's hard for brands to know what to focus on: new apps, chat bots, virtual reality, avatars, the metaverse, artificial intelligence. The list goes on.
It's no wonder many brands feel stymied.
Julie Ask of Forrester Research addresses the Diebold Nixdorf Intersect Fintech Conference.
Julie Ask, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, has worked with numerous organizations on this challenge and learned it is important to recognize that future customer interactions will be "invisible."
By that, she means brands will know customer needs and meet them proactively rather than wait for the customer to come to them.
"Future experiences will be simultaneously 'more invisible' as well as more immersive," Ask said during the Diebold Nixdorf Intersect Las Vegas Fintech Conference at Caesars Palace. "The best brands will understand their customers well enough to anticipate some of their needs and engage them proactively.
"Today most consumers, when they want something from you, they come to your app, they come to your ATM, they come to your website and they navigate about and they grab what they want.
"But as we work into the future, we'll see more proactive experiences.
"We'll see more of what I call push-based experiences, more suggestions, more action that brands are taking on behalf of their consumers," she said. "Machines will mimic and enhance humans in the world around us as well as offer virtual alternatives."
But existing channels will not go away.
"This is an 'and,'" Ask said. "We will still make phone calls, receive direct mail…We're going to see a gradual evolution as technology improves and brands have more of the right data…to deliver increasingly immersive experiences…this is an 'and,' it's not an 'or.'"
Going forward, brands will start making suggestions to customers — taking actions on the customer's behalf.
As this happens, engagement in contact centers and apps will actually decline since the brand has gotten so good at understanding customer wants that they'll be proactively acting on their behalf.
"If a customer has to open their app, we have failed," Ask said. "We have failed to anticipate the need of our customer and push out information proactively.
"It's very counterintuitive for a lot of companies today."
Forrester's research indicates that most brands are not yet positioned to take the proactive measures that will make this "invisible" customer interaction a reality since they don't have the data and infrastructure needed.
Only a minority of executives interviewed — about 20% — said they can anticipate customer needs.
And that 20% may be overly optimistic.
The research, after all, indicates that only 4% of executives said they are actually seeing declines in website contacts, declines that become evident when brands truly anticipate customer needs.
"This is something that's out to the future," Ask said. "No one has it. No one can, and it's really, really hard to do."
While an abundance of promising new technology exists, consumer demand and use cases are missing for much of it.
According to Ask, brands need some core competencies to anticipate customer needs.
"You have to be able to anticipate and see into the future…Anticipation demands a really well-understood journey…or the ability to watch very closely and act really quickly in real time," she said. "You have to know what you want to do, and then you have to go and act on the information.
"We've seen banks create a virtual bank, with avatars walking in and talk[ing] with other avatars," she said. "Those experiences aren't going to win. What will win is when we fundamentally think about what can this technology do and how can we do something really different and new with this technology."
Brands need real-time insights to customers and channels, and this requires automation.
They can start by envisioning the future state of the services they offer, Ask advised, then assess their speed at every level of the organization.
Next, create a unified "on-the-glass" experience for customers.
Then design, fund and build the infrastructure to create invisible experiences and develop an enterprise wide data strategy to fuel these experiences.
It is important to consider the context of the customer's "in the moment" experience to build insights to anticipate the customer's needs quickly, Ask said.
"Where am I going to put that, and then when? What's the right time to trigger that message?"
Before deciding what you will put into this experience portfolio, it is necessary to know what consumers are comfortable doing.
Live chat offers a good example, as research indicates 41% of consumers are comfortable chatting with a brand.
"This is where we begin to see a gap between what consumers are doing and what enterprises are offering," Ask said. "Consumers are ready to chat but very few enterprises are."
Most brands are currently using live chat primarily on websites and less on mobile apps.
Extended reality is another technology brands are experimenting with, but consumers are not transacting with it yet. Consumers currently use extended reality more for consumer media like games and virtual events than for shopping.
The metaverse is another technology on the horizon, but Ask said this is years away.
Consumers are already using more than 12 devices and platforms to access the Internet, let alone interface options. Hence, a brand needs to know where the customer uses the internet.
Where and how should there be consistency across channels?
"There are a lot of challenges with these future technologies," Ask said. "You've really got to make smart choices." Smart choices will require the right investment, governance, processes, people, KPIs and more.
The journey from the brand's perspective won't be easy, but according to Ask, it is engaging.
Forrester encourages its clients who are exploring adding channels to have fun.
"We don't know exactly what the future's going to be or when it's going to happen, but we've got to get ready when it does," Ask said.
Don't start a conversation about strategy with "Let's do something in the metaverse," she said.
Instead, ask "Who are you targeting? What are your business objectives? What do you want to offer? And then make a decision about what the right technology may be."
If you decide to offer chat, for instance, you must decide what device or format to have it on.
"It's the invisible experiences that will differentiate you."
Elliot Maras is the editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. He brings three decades covering unattended retail and commercial foodservice.