Catriona Wallace stage

SAN FRANCISCO — The end of personalization may be imminent, and individualization is on its way up.

That's the perspective Catriona Wallace, founder and CEO of Flamingo Customer Experience, shared yesterday with attendees at SugarCon, SugarCRM's annual conference for partners and customers.

A former police officer as well as a serial entrepreneur and academic, Wallace said customer experience is at the center of her life. She argues organizations need to move beyond segmenting and labeling customers and treat them as individuals — each as unique as proverbial snowflakes. We are now at a time where disruptive models of customer experience are emerging and businesses will need to transform their approaches, she explained.

“I am an individual,” Wallace said.

“You and your customers will also have their own identity. We call this vendor relationship management. The rise of individualization is no longer segmented, tagged and flagged or even branded. In the world of individualization, we’re not going to do that anymore.”

Wallace founded several companies including customer experience design firm, Fifth Quadrant; market research firm, ACA Research; and a co-working space for woman led start-ups, The Ventura.

Her most recent business Sydney, Australia-based Flamingo Customer Experience, provides cloud based "Intelligent Guided Selling" and "Guided Customer On-Boarding" platforms that can help companies increase online sales, conversion and customer retention rates. It does this using patented software that learns how customers and employees interact and then automates this process. Earlier this month, Flamingo was acquired by Cre8tek Ltd.

Customers Shaped by Global Forces

Customers lives are shaped by the world they live in, and understanding the customer relationship also means understanding the larger forces shaping organizations and people. Emerging digital and technology trends are transforming customers, Wallace said. B2B and B2C customers can’t be put in segments anymore, and organizations need to focus on more than their products and services.

Imagine how our children will graduate into jobs that don’t even exist right now, she said. That’s the power and speed of global technology trends.

“That’s about the limit of what big data can do when it thinks of us as segments. Now is the time for individualization,” she said.

And according to Wallace, individualization is caused by a few global forces that influence the technologies and customer relationships they manage. We started in the mass production phase, which then led mass customization and segmentation. We’re still going through the personalization phase, but we’re moving into individualization, Wallace said.

“Individualization is about creating experiences moving beyond product goods services into having the customer evolve.”

Businesses have to transform, because their customers are transforming into a segment of one, Wallace said. 

Wallace noted the significance of the silk highway, referring to powerful economic players like China and India. China, especially, will only continue growing in influence and commerce, ranking second to Luxembourg for highest GDP, she said.

Also notable as a global force transforming customers is the aging population. According to Wallace, by 2040 we will double spending on health care for the aging population. Another major force is porous boundaries, like the share economy or liquid office spaces, she said.

Most of all, customers will have great expectations that businesses provide not products, but experiences, Wallace said.

Digital Trends

Wallace believes there are several important digital trends organizations should continue watching, some of which make concepts like conversational commerce and chat bots possible.

“The best experiences will be when the customer is involved in designing it with you. This is the next frontier,” Wallace said.

For the first time, Gartner’s hype cycle will include conversational commerce, she said. Artificial intelligence is one of the key capabilities organizations need in order to provide individual experiences, Wallace said.

We’re already seeing businesses moving into platforms as services, and predictive analytics will continue growing as a trend. As more data, information and people become a part of the digital world, cybersecurity and ethics will play a bigger role in creating order in a more connected world, Wallace suggested.

As far as devices go, Wallace predicts we will move from devices that we hold and wear to embedded devices, either on us, our garments or otherwise.

The rise of smart machines will bring about significant changes in the machine learning sector, with 40 percent of our interactions coming from virtual assistants rather than apps, Wallace continued. By 2020, 3 million workers will be supervised by “robo bosses,” and 2 million employees will be required to use wearable tech on the job. As Wallace puts it, talent is “the next smart machine battleground.”

How Organizations Can Transform

Wallace said organizations must transform in seven ways to create the best digital customer experiences:

  1. Blow up the planning processes — get agile. Note the difference between corporations and disruptors — traditional companies will stand up to disruptors with their brand, scale and agile capabilities. Think about what startups do well versus traditional companies, as well as what consumers expect in companies.
  2. Choose digitally savvy executives to lead. Digital becomes the DNA of the company. It’s the way to become completely customer-centric and use CX analytics.
  3. Look at collaborative customer interfaces. Connect organization resources with its network of customers.
  4. Build platforms — CRM can be one. Operate off of one platform that provides a single view of customers.
  5. Investigate machine learning.
  6. Make privacy and ethics a priority. Customers will stick with companies that protect their privacy.
  7. Put conversations back into business.