Real change in customer experience requires proactive management of data
Advanced technologies open up fascinating opportunities for creating proactive services. However, only a few pioneers have started to redesign their customer experience in truly distinguishable ways that aim for a partnership with the customer.
“Only a few companies and organisations are using the data provided by customers and modelling it to gain a competitive edge. However, the true pioneers have already moved to a proactive future where customer needs can be anticipated through advanced arrangement of data,” says Belinda Gerdt, who has made an impressive career in some of the world’s leading technology firms.
“For example, customers used to contact a car repair service when their car was anymore functioning normally. Now, the car is constantly sending data to the manufacturer and dealer who can then anticipate the need for maintenance and proactively contact the customer.”
Gerdt, who has previously held international management positions at Microsoft and AWS, is currently at Philips in the Netherlands where she oversees the company’s global marketing in healthcare. Gerdt has always been interested in customer experience technologies, and she has even written four books on the topic. Her latest book, The Swipe-Right Customer Experience (co-written with Sanna Eskelinen), was published in the USA in November 2022.
“In the past few decades, technology has taken giant strides, but I feel that the principles of customer experience remain much the same. However, these days, new technologies, such as AI, robotics and 5G, allow the customer experience to be taken to a whole new level,” Gerdt says.
Four pillars of customer experience
According to Belinda Gerdt, whether the customer experience is digital, or analogue is not relevant. In the past, technology was mostly used to enhance customer communication and make interactions more efficient. In this era of the fourth industrial revolution, technology has become invisible and it is embedded deeper in a company’s strategic background processes. Customers do not see the data, sensors and robots that are improving their experience and making their life easier.
“New technologies, such as AI, robotics and 5G, allow the customer experience to be taken to a whole new level.”
Gerdt divides the development of the customer experience into four areas. The first base pillar is a relevant offering. “Your product or service selection must be relevant to the customer. Needs always change over time. If you are still in the video rental business, no matter how amazing your customer experience is, there is simply no demand for that anymore,” Gerdt says.
Another pillar is related to accessibility and communication. “Some companies continue to think that good accessibility brings an competitive edge, but I do not believe that. Accessibility and good usability are already commodities: you can no longer compete with that, it’s simply something that has to be in order in all of your channels,” Gerdt states.
The third factor in the customer experience is the effortlessness and speed of the service. “As customers, we are extremely comfort-seeking. I believe that queueing and waiting will become obsolete. Time is our most valuable resource,” Gerdt states. During the pandemic, we learned that almost everything can be delivered home. “Logistics services and the delivery communication have much to improve: companies still try to deliver things to customers between 8 am and 6 pm and asking them to be at home waiting.”
Perhaps the most surprising pillar of customer experience is consistent quality. We tend to trust the service providers who behave predictably and as expected. “If a company achieves top-quality customer service once, that is the expectation the customer sets for the next time. It can be hard to reach again, which will disappoint the customer,” Gerdt explains. “We seek safety and comfort, and variance makes us uncomfortable. Chains do well in terms of customer satisfaction since their services usually have uniform quality. Technology can help achieve a more consistent quality.”
Pioneers focus on true partnership and proactive service
Digitalisation brings a real competitive edge when the company focuses on building an authentic partnership instead of transactions. According to Belinda Gerdt, the prevailing model of communication between service providers and customers has long been based on transactions and reactivity, in which the customer leads the communication.
The future model of communication is based on proactivity, in which the service provider approaches the customer and can anticipate their needs through data. For this, advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence, is needed.
“It’s inspiring how various neo-banks, such as Monzo, are building their customer approach. They didn’t ask from themselves how to improve internal processes and if they can provide a good online banking experience. They asked how we could reduce people’s financial stress,” says Gerdt. “They provide added value services that help them reach an experience of true partnership.”
Gerdt gives another example: the Chinese Meituan, which aims to do to services the same what Amazon has done to products. “Meituan can proactively deliver services to customers before they place their order. Through algorithms and data modelling, they can accurately assess the level of demand at a given time. At the moment, they are able to deliver all services in 29 minutes. In future in five. These are fascinating scenarios.”
AI directs purchase decisions
Data processing, AI and robotics have revolutionised the customer experience, Gerdt says.
“While AI has conventionally been used mostly in background processes, soon it will be a part of the customer interface. Algorithms are increasingly prevalent in filtering and directing purchase decisions. Even now, people rely on guided buying,” says Gerdt.
“With new technology, buying is increasingly divided into two segments. We want to buy products that have low emotional value automatedly and with little effort. Most people aren’t really interested in how their toilet paper or washing liquids end up in their cabinets, as long as they are available. Conversely, people are prepared to spend more and more time on purchases that involve a strong emotional bond and are close to their personal values.”
You can experience the unique keynote speech by Belinda Gerdt at Tampere Smart City Expo & Conference, held at Nokia Arena in June.
The international Tampere Smart City Expo & Conference on smart urban development and ICT will be held at Nokia Arena, Tampere, Finland, on 6 and 7 June. The event theme, Beyond the Abstract, deep dives into the urban metaverse, with Digitally Smart, Urban Intelligence and Responsible ColLAB as its special points of view. At Tampere Smart City Expo & Conference, international interaction and networking for talented professionals play a key role.
The Expo part of the event is free of charge and open to all registered attendees. It includes the main stage programme. You can redeem entry to the Conference programme via website.