E-Commerce has grown at an exponential pace over the last few years, and that trend shows no signs of slowing. In 2021 alone, retail e-commerce reached over $4.9 trillion in sales globally, more than doubling the worldwide totals from just five years earlier. In the next three years, the market is expected to top $7.3 trillion. So it’s safe to say that people enjoy digital shopping.
For businesses, that means leveraging the right technologies to improve your customer experience -- and boost your bottom line. Ready to attract that digital dollar? Here are our top 10 strategic technologies for the customer experience in 2022 and beyond.
1. CLOUD SERVICES AND PERSONALIZED DELIVERY
Today’s companies have more data and intelligence about their customers than at any other time in history. Working within their countries data privacy regulations, organizations can tap into profile information interactions and transactions, to see commercial data sets stored on the cloud, analyzing everything from purchasing trends to personal interests based on social media tracking.
In the future, this knowledge will help businesses more accurately target customers with advertising and experiences that appeal directly to them. Using linked relational databases and cloud-based services, on-screen interactive graphics and other content relevant to that particular consumer can be automatically generated and delivered to mobile devices to encourage further interaction. A content delivery network (CDN) can deliver personalized content to customers in the same way as the streaming media giants entertain us, determining the best bandwidth and screen scaling for the receiving device.
Giving their data freely in return for services, personalization is the trade-off customers are coming to expect. If used intelligently, personalization will immediately save customers time by tailoring the experience to their needs, and instantly filtering results for them – things like clothing by size and preferred colors, or preferred materials, for example.
2. VOICE ANALYSIS
Data from The Smart Audio Report by NPR and Edison Research suggests that at least 1 in 4 U.S. adults own and actively use a smart speaker. Activated with a voice prompt or keyword, these smart speakers (or virtual assistants on smartphones) are enabling a whole new way of interacting with technology. Voice-assistant usage expanded during the pandemic and likely won’t be slowing any time soon.
While they’re already revolutionizing the way consumers seek information and find entertainment, in the future, voice analysis could hugely improve the customer experience as well. If a customer has a problem, for example, it would be much faster to send a voice note explaining what went wrong rather than a long email – which also means less time for the company spent reading those emails, and more solving the problem. Cloud services that offer applications such as automatic speech recognition and speaker verification could also identify the speaker is, while natural language processing allows the voice assistant to determine what they want. These systems learn through practice, so the more the customer uses them, the more efficient the response will become, which means less time on hold for both the customer and the company.
3. BOTS THAT CHAT BACK
Online chatbots have become the first point of contact for many companies. By automating less complex customer service workflows, companies can save hundreds of hours on repetitive tasks, but chatbots have also been proved to boost customer satisfaction; they're available 24/7, and there's no waiting on the phone for a human agent to respond.
Where they fail to impress, however, is when they receive an inquiry from someone using more complex language, or encounter a previously undefined request. Soon, artificial intelligence will change this by performing predictive analysis of customer behaviors, which will power intelligent chatbots for more complex customer service interactions. Virtual agents with this "conversational AI" will use machine learning algorithms to have a conversation with customers in a more “human” manner. Basically, the AI chatbot can interpret the customer requests into language it understands, identify what the customer wants, pull out relevant information and then deliver the correct response. It also won’t be long until those AI-powered chatbots have digital personas and CG faces, making the experience more like a conversation with a digital person than an exercise in computer scripting.
Companies that must ensure tight security throughout any interaction, like banks, are increasingly turning on conversational AI to automate customer service. Armed with datasets detailing the customer's transactions and credit history, they can predict spending patterns and help resolve more complex inquiries. As businesses see the cost savings and customers get used to the convenience and quick resolution offered by these intelligent digital assistants, the use of chatbots can only increase.
4. AUGMENTED REALITY
Augmented reality (AR) is overlaying of digital content on the physical world. AR can be viewed through devices like smartphones already, and soon there will be plenty of options to have that data displayed directly in front of you on a near permanent basis using special glasses and other wearable options.
The latest iterations of AR don't need the tracking markers of old; smartphones are now packed with tech such as accelerometers that make them ideal AR devices. That means interactive 3D video, where the customer is helped to operate a product by helpdesk staff on the other end of the phone, could revolutionize customer service.
Applications for AR are getting smarter all the time. Imagine a streaming product launch where viewers can demo the product as a volumetric AR object. With live streaming, the company could show off their product from any angle and place it in a setting such as the home or office. That would give the seller a 3D showroom anywhere, and give the buyer more confidence in their purchase, which in turn should cut down on returns.
5. VOLUMETRIC VIDEO HOLOGRAMS
One of the most exciting and disruptive technology trends for the customer experience is volumetric video. Using multiple high-resolution cameras and sensors, volumetric video allows human subjects to be converted into a hologram that customers can interact with via a VR headset, mobile device or as an AR object.
Japanese clothing brand Anayi, for example, recently used volumetric videos to promote its 2021 Spring and Summer Collection. Rather than a static product shot, customers were able to select one of 19 videos of a catwalk model wearing the clothes, and view the clothes from any angle, including close ups. Customers could see how the clothes looked and moved in a photorealistic fashion, and even place a 3D hologram of the model in their room using AR. As a result, Anayi saw twice the average number of website views, and three times as many page views on the new collection compared to previous years. They also saw a massive drop in returns.
The possibilities for such a technology are endless — in addition to the novelty of seeing how products really look, the customer can avoid wasting time choosing something they won't like, as well as avoiding the dissatisfaction with the brand that this can cause.
6. THE RISE OF 5G
The next generation of network protocols promises great things for communications and entertainment, opening up bandwidth for live streaming of very high-quality video content. 5G offers low latency connectivity, approaching real-time video transmission. It allows for network slicing, basically hiving off part of the bandwidth for dedicated use, so that even in a crowd customers will experience little interference and stuttering.
With 5G providing the bandwidth, it'll even be possible to stream live volumetric video to a device over 5G with low latency.
The headline application for this is live music and sports events, with fans able to watch the event in real time from any viewpoint. But think about what it could do for CX. Instead of having to describe the solution to a problem, the customer service agent, whether human or digital, could demonstrate the solution to the customer in full 3D video, who can view it from any angle. In the same way, problems can be diagnosed far more rapidly. The business and the customer could share the virtual space, with the ability to judge reactions and understanding in real time.
7. VIRTUAL PRODUCTION
There has been an explosion in the use of virtual production techniques in film and episodics, where the computer-generated content usually found in post-production visual effects is used as a virtual, often animated, background for real-world actors to interact with in real time. Often the content is played on a curved LED screen (and sometimes on an overhead screen) to produce an enveloping, immersive feel. Game engine technology is used to play back the digital content as the cameras track across the set.
Brands that could benefit from virtual production include experiential retail environments or transporting customers to the same location they saw in a movie.
8. FACIAL RECOGNITION
Facial recognition is more common these days, with modern smartphones able to use a face to unlock the device. But the recognition technology is also being deployed in stores to track the progress of customers through the store.
With a combination of AI, knowledge from datasets and facial recognition, retailers could soon gain insights into why a customer bought (or didn't buy) a product. They could also identify a shopper’s favored sections of a store, and other mysteries of consumer behavior. Once these findings have been analyzed, the store or establishment can work to make sure that the customer experience is enhanced, with more successful transactions as a result.
Gaming is a huge industry with widespread appeal, but game mechanics are also increasingly being employed off to reward customers and keep their experience of the brand high.
The beneficial uses of game mechanics can include discounts for completing online tasks – such as subscribing to a mailing list or checking out a new product page – but a growing trend has customers being rewarded through digital assets in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). This all strengthens the relationship customers have with brands and helps pave the way to customer experiences in the metaverse.
10. METAVERSE: THE FINAL FRONTIER
The metaverse is a cooperative, multifaceted and interlinked virtual environment that promises to enable another level of customer experience.
Many e-commerce companies, banks and fashion brands are setting up shop there, such as Louis Vuitton, Marriott, Adidas and Alibaba. Virtual real estate companies already exist, such as Decentraland, where Ethereum blockchain technology allows plots of land to be traded using cryptocurrencies. Customers of brands visiting them in the metaverse incarnations can be rewarded for their loyalty with NFTs.
However, customers need something less cumbersome than VR headsets to go there. Once new interfaces develop, there's bound to be much more traveling to the metaverse and interacting with its denizens.
Ready to start creating next-gen customer experiences? Get in touch and learn how Arcturus can help you.