Welcome to the Age of the Connected Customer / Vala Afshar

Vala Avshar – Chief Digital Evangelist, Salesforce

Digital is the application of information and technology to improve the stakeholder experience. Diplomacy is the art of dealing with people in a thoughtful, caring and effective way. Therefore digital diplomacy is the application of information and technology to educate, inspire and ignite positive action for stakeholders – employees, partners, customers and communities.

We are living in a hyper connected, knowledge sharing intelligent economy, where everyone and everything will soon be connected to the Internet. We are at the beginning of the connected customer revolution. The rise of the connected customer is driven by revolutions in technology – cloud computing, mobility solutions, social networks, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

The age of the connected customer is defined emerging technologies and mega-trend adoption of said technologies. The numbers are staggering: Today, 50 million adults in the United States say they are never or almost never offline. And more and more, phones and mobile devices are how people consume digital media (web browsing and apps)—65 percent is done via mobile, and the computer is an afterthought. Today, 80% of Internet uses now have smartphones – nearly 2.6 billion. In 2016, for the first time ever:

  • Mobile and tablets have overtaken desktop share of page views
  • The world’s media consumption on mobile devices is greater than television
  • Sales from mobile shopping accounted for 20% of total digital commerce
  • Per Gartner, there are nearly 8 billion install base of mobile devices around the globe.

It is important to remember that behind every connected device and thing on the Internet is person – connected customers will generate trillions of transactions.

Today, the number one use of the web is for social networking. One out of every five minutes on the web is on a social network. By 2020, more than 6 billion people around the globe will have a smartphone and 3 billion will be active on multiple social networks. In 2016, social took over search as the primary vehicle for digital discovery.

In a hyper connected, knowledge sharing economy, companies must re-invent and significantly enhance or replace their existing processes in order to be a relevant part of this customer revolution. To stay relevant means companies must evolve and develop the ability to maintain and foster 1-to-1 customer relationships.

Customer experience is becoming the next battleground for business. Market leaders will be decided based not just on which company has the superior product at the lowest price, but on which company manages its interactions with customers the best. How you engage with customers before, during, and after a sale will dictate future success. And technology—from the mainstream (social media, mobile, and cloud) to the more bleeding edge (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the internet of things)—is a key tool in your business toolbox.

Here are the six technologies for making or breaking the customer experience

  1. Mobile: Mobility continues to rule the tech landscape, but the ecosystem is rapidly changing from “mobile-first” to “mobile-only,” and conventional computers are being abandoned in droves. We are transitioning from a ‘mobile firs’ to a ‘mobile only’ economy. Can your business make an introduction, complete a sale, and provide support—all without directing a customer to use a PC? If not, you’re at risk of being left behind.
  1. Cloud Computing – According to IDC, cloud computing is the prime enabler of digital transformation. By 2020, 67% of enterprise IT infrastructure and software spending will be related to cloud-based technologies, per IDC. New business model innovation will be powered by the cloud, whereby companies will deliver subscription based services using cloud platforms, enabling their customers to deliver new cloud enabled products and services. According to Forrester, software delivered by the cloud is set to reach $351 billion worldwide spend by 2017.
  1. Bots and Messaging Apps: This technology has gained traction. Support bots let companies provide tech support on a 24/7/365 basis, and they’re always ready to respond to customer queries via email or social media. Today, chat-bots are great at managing simple requests. In 2016, for the first time, time spent on messaging apps exceeded time on social networks. Today, 2.6 billion people use at least 1 messaging app. But sometimes they backfire, and when they fail, they fail badly. Businesses must be hypervigilantin their management of automated support systems. Smart businesses will only invest in artificial intelligent powered bots, where machine learning algorithms and natural language processing technologies can iteratively increase bot intelligence over time. Conversations apps will lead to explosive growth in conversational ecommerce, where voice is the new user interface (UI), and enabling business to deliver automated mass personalization at scale using AI technologies, communities, and intelligent apps.
  1. Augmented and Virtual Reality: Dismissed by some as playthings for kids, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are poised to reinvent customer support. Two-thirds of consumers said they expect to receive support through VR soon. AR could allow customers to more easily perform repairs or maintenance themselves, which will mean fewer in-person service calls and less downtime. IDC expects AR/VR to reach mass adoption by 2021 with more than a billion people worldwide regularly access apps, content, and data through an AR/VR platform. In 2017, 30% of consumer-oriented Global 2000 companies are expected to experiment with AR and VR in their marketing initiatives, per IDC. Have you considered a pilot with either of these technologies?
  1. AI-powered apps: Gartner identified AI and machine learning as one of its top 10 strategic tech trends for 2017. Every business has an app these days; now the focus is on making apps smarter. Enter artificial intelligence (AI), which is revolutionizing apps by turning them into intelligent pocket-based companions. Today, for example, an airline app may simply tell you flight times and prices. Tomorrow, customers will expect it to offer smart thinking about the best routes, to understand which flights work with their schedule, and to present easily comprehended options in natural language. According to Venture Scanner there are 1,521 AI startups that have raised $10 billion dollars. What is your company doing to leverage machine learning and data science—and trickle those technologies down to the customer?
  1. Internet of Things: For many of your customers, technology is a part of the very fabric of their life. Connected cars and wearables, particularly, are poised to become integrated with daily activities. Is your business thinking about how to use the technologies embedded in today’s smart cars and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles? Does your mobile presence account for smart watches or headsets?

The business of business is to improve the quality of the world. Business leaders must establish trust and add real value to stakeholders. In the age of the customer, business leaders must establish and maintain trust with employees, partners, customers and their communities. To establish trust and maintain relevance, business leaders must passionately and aggressively practice the art of transformation, transparency and diplomacy. Digital transformation is a journey that’s well underway for many companies, and the connected customer is at the heart of it. How will your business use emerging technology to meet and exceed their expectations?