Companies are closer to customers through technology
When it comes to new technology, businesses have benefitted massively from adopting innovation. From 3D printing to online banking, tech has brought companies closer to their customers than ever before, leading to the improvement of business to consumer (B2C) relations. Whilst it’s true that technology can transform business infrastructures and business to business (B2B ) negotiations for the better, the success of a corporation heavily relies on the customers that they serve. Failing to offer good customer care is the Achilles’ heel of so many companies, but through implementing new tech and analysing big data, strategists can understand the exact requirements of their clients. However, technology adoption hasn’t come without its challenges. Companies are constantly faced with the Innovator’s Dilemma – which is, in short, a question of working out what consumers really want. It can also be difficult to integrate technology into existing business models. Pitfalls aside, how exactly have businesses used innovative tech to improve the customer experience, and how will this change B2C relations in the future?
How is technology driving customer experience?
The quality of customer experience is already influenced by technology in so many ways. The most obvious example is alternative payment methods such as online banking via financial companies themselves or third party sites like PayPal. Starbucks is just one company that has implemented a seamless system by which customers can settle their bill without having to visit the checkout. Another key development is 3D printing, which has allowed new ventures like Shapeways to offer personalised, bespoke products. 3D body scanners are also being used to offer personalisation in retail fashion, creating clothes that fit the wearer perfectly. Artificial Intelligence is moving into the business sphere in a big way, and is already used by companies like RBS as an aid for human operatives. When establishing out-of-store strategies, businesses have taken full advantage of the smartphone revolution. Through mobile apps, companies and brands send customers real time information about products and offers. Various startups have used the popularity of smartphones and apps to create a brand – Pypestream, for example, allows businesses to converse with customers via an app, establishing ‘excellent customer service’ through a direct dialogue. And for when you’re not in the mood for human interaction, McDonald’s – and many other establishments – have installed self-serve kiosks. It might not be as flashy as a 3D body scanner, but it’s making the process of ordering food even more convenient for customers. When it comes to advertising, Virtual Reality experiences have allowed companies to give customers a unique insight into their products (from alcohol to holidays), encouraging positive associations with their brand. As developments drive innovation and adoption curve rates rocket, the influence of tech on B2C relations is only going to increase.
What does the future hold?
Soon, AI systems will deal directly with customer queries. RBS has recently announced plans to do just this when the system is ready. Social robots like Pepper already work in customer services, but their use is limited to a handful of institutions including hotels. In future, consumers can expect to see the use of robots on the shop floor, powered by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms. Clients should also be prepared for the expansion of VR as an advertisement tool, especially in travel and tourism. Big data analysis will continue in full force, but security measures and strict guidelines need to be established to make sure data collection remains ethical. At the moment, most of this data is collected via social media, web statistics and mobile apps. The widespread use of smartphones has fuelled the usefulness of apps, however there seems to be a new, easier option. Instead of having loads of separate apps for different brands or companies, a single chatbot living in a messenger app could become the main point of call for online searches.
Disruption seems positive, but. . .
Tech has revolutionised the way that businesses interact with their customers, but it’s not all good news. Companies like Shapeways are threatening small artisans by giving consumers pick-and-mix options that makes the product unique to them, as opposed to just unique. Other businesses have to rely on the tried and tested salesperson’s smile, simply because they can’t afford to invest in new tech. Despite assurances that prices will plummet, installing a $5,000 3D printer isn’t a decision to be taken lightly by SMEs. Even though 3D printing has proved to be a versatile and efficient investment, the growing availability of domestic stereolithography may lead customers to question why they need a middle man. From the customer’s point of view, technology can also be off-putting. The thought that data is being collected about every move you make during a retail experience is somewhat unnerving. Most people simply don’t like being watched, even if the reason is purportedly benevolent. It’s also easy to bombard clients with changes when they’ve become used to the way that a company operates. The task for businesses is to find a balance between adopting innovation within the company, but also retaining their less technophilic customer base.
Technology is incredibly valuable to businesses when it comes to pleasing customers, as it enables customisation and personalisation. Market trends show that this is what society (in developed countries, at least) will happily invest in. For the most part, B2C relations have been massively improved by innovation. However, some firms have been left behind due to legacy infrastructures and cost issues. This doesn’t mean that any company without a social robot behind the counter is going to be liquidised – but showcasing tech undoubtedly sets brands apart. Sometimes, innovation can be unsettling. The availability of personal data and its examination has caused tension between companies and consumers, for instance. Despite this, most new technology has been positively received. As they continue to invest, businesses should move slowly to help customers adjust. . . but not so slowly that they are overtaken.
Does your business use innovative technology to improve B2C? How important is customer service to your company? What other kinds of new tech could be used to improve customer experience? Share your thoughts and opinions.