2017 is well underway and already it's been a big year for technology and innovation.
Three foundational trends are going to define 2017 — artificial intelligence, IoT and personalization — because, when you strip away their distinct differences, these trends boil down to one specific end game: improving, enhancing and elevating the customer experience.
And in 2017, we all need to be in the experience business.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Comes Home
A few weeks ago the Amazon Echo was the holiday darling, topping tons of wish lists and earning the coveted spot as the company’s best-seller this season. During this holiday shopping season, Amazon sold nine times more Echoes than it sold at the same time the previous year.
And come on, who didn’t love the news story of the six-year-old who told her family’s Amazon Echo she wanted to play with a dollhouse and eat cookies, and a dollhouse and cookies showed up at her doorstep? And who didn’t love when a San Diego news anchor reported on the story and triggered a handful of other “Alexas” to order dollhouses and cookies to their homes?
So what does this all mean?
What it signifies is readiness for and comfort with — at least among early adopters — AI-based consumer products. But for me, AI also represents an opportunity for marketers to take a big step in their efforts to personalize customer experiences.
We’ve already seen how AI systems can enable deep learning and help businesses make rapid decisions at scale. But the real emerging opportunity lies in the way consumers actually interact with brands through AI systems.
Chatbots will start to rise into prominence this year because it’s not just about voice recognition. Rather, this is recognition of intent, motivation, context, likes and dislikes … recognition of the user as an individual. Marketers and customer experience professionals need to be thinking now about consumer expectations and the impact Alexa-like experiences are already starting to make.
2. The Internet of (Lots of) Things Fuels Smart Marketing
A few months ago I had the opportunity to give a talk on IoT and personalization. As I prepared for the conference I realized it's all about making experiences more personal, and therefore valuable.
It’s not enough for technology to simply “be cool.” To excel in this customer experience-focused landscape, IoT needs to bring serious value to the consumer, meaning anything that facilitates a valuable connection. We’re not just talking about internet-connected devices. Rather, we’re talking about devices that use the internet to connect me to what’s important to me.
One of the most interesting IoT examples I’ve come across recently is L’Oreal’s smart brush. This internet-connected hairbrush “listens” to users’ hair with every stroke, and recommends relevant L’Oreal-branded products based on hair type, texture and other key factors.
It’s an incredible piece of IoT technology and can bring tremendous value to users who strive for nice, healthy hair. By counting strokes, analyzing the force used to brush hair and even using a microphone in the brush to gauge dryness and split ends, the smart brush sends insights to the accompanying app. Cool, huh?
But the brush’s features aren’t the most interesting part of this story. This is IoT marketing at its finest. What we’re seeing here is a brand using a device to gather data about a consumer and do smart marketing to that consumer as a result. The product is going to retail at less than $200, but I think they could probably give it away for free and realize great marketing ROI.
In 2017, brands will need to figure out what their company’s version of the smart brush is — experiences (or products) that bring value to the consumer, but provide smart marketing opportunities.
3. Personalization: Less Personal = More Personal?
Okay, I’ll admit it. This could very well be the 20 year in a row I’ve hyped and harped on personalization.
Personalization stays on my list this year for two reasons: 1) it is more important than ever; and 2) the bar keeps getting higher.
In other words, the demand for personalized experiences is increasing, but so are expectations around what it looks like. While I’m positive we won’t reach a consensus this year on exactly what it means to "personalize," I’m convinced that most companies are on-board with using technology to scale their efforts to provide a better customer experience — to automate what they cannot curate.
One way to look at it is getting less personal to get more personal — think bots, self-service and intelligent escalation. By 2020 — just three years away — Gartner predicts “customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with a company without interacting with a human.”
It’s an interesting shift because when we think about personalization, we tend to think about those deeply personal experiences as ones that are carefully crafted with the individual in mind. But personalization doesn’t have to be so “just for me.” In many situations, leveraging personalization simply means creating positive and relevant, streamlined, simplified experiences — much of which can be achieved by not getting too personal at all!
Companies need to continue to get creative when it comes to upping their customer experience game, automating where they can, but remaining willing to go “old school” when the need arises.
We’ve got a big year ahead of us and I, for one, can’t wait. It feels like every day we’re making strides in the right direction and that, a year from now — really, even a few months from now — things are going to look, feel and be very different.
So start benchmarking and start goal-setting. And then buckle up — 2017 is going to be a great year for technology, innovation and, above all, customer experiences.