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The future of customer engagement is… human

As the world goes remote, we’re seeing years’ worth of innovation in the customer experience occur in a matter of months. Digitalization enables engagement that would have been impossible not too long ago. But at the end of the day, what’s most exciting about recent technological leaps is the way they enable human-to-human interaction.

No matter where engagement tech is taking us, humanity will always be the purpose behind the innovation.

 

The virtual enables the real

A recent piece in The Verge talks about Microsoft Mesh and the amazing things it can do. Mesh uses virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) to create a 3D interactive space that users describe as “dreamlike.” 

It’s pretty wild. Users can have mixed-reality Microsoft Teams meetings using hologram avatars.

 

 

But when asked about the purpose behind this platform, Alex Kipman, inventor of the HoloLens technology that enables Mesh, gave a very human reason. He told The Verge,

“You can actually feel like you’re in the same place with someone sharing content, or you can teleport from different mixed reality devices and be present with people even when you’re not physically together.” 

 

Humans want to interact with humans

The purpose behind VR and hologram tech isn’t to give us a taste of what it would be like to be a character in The Sims. The point is to make virtual interaction as close as possible to meeting in real life.

For the foreseeable future, that will be the purpose of VR and AR innovation in business. 

This enablement of human connections is actually coming from a surprising place: companies who are successfully using AI and predictive technology to improve customer engagement. (McKinsey agrees, BTW). These businesses make CX a priority at every level of their organization and use technology to build core values into the buyer’s experience. 

Advanced tools are never an after-thought for a customer-centric company, they’re a way to make customer-centricity possible.

 

AI helps customer make better choices

Choice is at the heart of the customer experience. With AI, customers can enjoy online shopping that integrates their preferences, past purchases, and other pertinent details into the shopping experience.

These tools haven’t taken the human element out of shopping. They’ve enhanced the customer’s power of choice by doing what AI does best: processing massive input to give intuitive, actionable output.

 

AI is a win-win for businesses and consumers

The same advanced AI tools that allow businesses to deliver next-level personalization also help foster a more comprehensive understanding of those customers and their needs. 

This, in turn, helps businesses further tailor the customer experience. As AI and predictive analytics continue to improve, companies that get in on hyper-personalization will find themselves taping-in to exponential growth. 

Hyperpersonalization already includes things like:

    1. Upselling & cross selling items that go together. 
    2. Local and location-specific sales.
    3. Personalized product images and artwork (H/T Netflix).
    4. Bespoke playlists, bestseller lists, and recommendations.

The data supports this. According to a survey by Quantcast and Forbes Insight, 51% of marketers saw an increase in customer retention after adopting AI marketing tools. 

 

Lessons from the Online Buyer’s Journey

Based on what we’ve seen over the past year, it’s clear that the constantly co-evolving relationship between new technology, like AI, and customer engagement will continue to have a dramatic impact on the buyer’s journey. That’s where we’ve seen the biggest shift in the use of Surfly. 

2020 was an interesting year to be in the co-browsing business. We’ve learned a lot here at Surfly as we’ve watched businesses use our platform to bring customer engagement online in new and exciting ways.

 

Expensive and complex purchases require a human touch

In theory, you could use co-browsing to do almost anything online. But when it comes to remote customer engagement, we’ve noticed two trends:

  1. People use co-browsing to make expensive purchases

    Pre-pandemic, buying luxury goods online was not the norm. Customers want a special experience when purchasing a high-end item that’s hard to replicate with an online shopping cart.

    Co-browsing has closed this gap, allowing shoppers to setup co-browsing appointments to shop with a sales associate. This has been a lifesaver for high-end clothing brands whose products customers would prefer to try on, both for fit and the opinion of a knowledgeable salesperson.

    SuitSupply uses Surfly to create a “virtual fitting room” experience. They blend this online engagement with in-person shopping. Someone can pick out a suit with one of their salespeople and come in to have it fitted in person.

 

Image: SuitSupply

 

2. People use co-browsing to make complex purchases

Some purchases require a lot of paperwork. Setting up a bank account or buying life insurance is hard to do on your own, and compliance regulations sometimes require that you sign paperwork with a rep from the company.

Co-browsing makes this possible remotely. AXA uses Surfly to take their customers through every step of the insurance shopping process, from comparing plans to signing paperwork and making their first payment.

In both of these use cases, it’s likely that ongoing improvements in AI will help salespeople hone the customer experience and deliver an even more customized experience. 

For example, a Suitsupply salesperson equipped with analytic info about the customer in their virtual fitting room would already know about the customers fit, color, and style preferences and could make suggestions informed by AI insights.

 

Customer engagement = human engagement

Over the past year, we’ve all had to get used to a world with less face-to-face contact. And not just with our friends and family. We’ve been missing out on in-person commerce too.

I didn’t fully appreciate this absence until I saw people rushing back to shops in Amsterdam when confinement was lifted. One of Amsterdam’s more popular local shopping destinations, De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets) was crowded with people carrying five or six shopping bags, something I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.

I could see that it wasn’t the stores or the products these shoppers missed–they could have shopped online from home. They were seeking the human and social side of shopping—something that’s easier to find in a store. 

 

Keyword, customer

It may sound obvious, but the keyword in customer engagement is “customer.” 

Nobody can say for sure what the business tools of the future will look like. Nobody knows what customers will come to expect as predictive analytics and AI start to look more and more like magic. 

But we do know this: human interaction in its many forms—online and offline, remote and face to face—will always be what customer engagement is all about. 

 

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