The future of customer dialogue: communication between intelligent systems
The dialogue between companies and customers is undergoing enormous and incessant changes. In their recent study “Customer Dialogue 2025,” the trend researchers of 2b Ahead examined where current developments are leading and how companies can adapt. Their research shows the opportunities, possibilities and risks that arise from the use of virtual voice assistants.
Up until recently, customer dialogue still meant that two people would communicate with one another. In the not too distant future, it will be AIs that exchange information. That is the scenario laid out in the current trend analysis “Customer Dialogue 2025” by 2b Ahead, Genesys and IBM, for which the authors surveyed numerous experts from various fields.
Far-fetched? Clearly not — digital voice assistants can already speak well enough with human beings In the not too distant future that people can’t tell they’re talking to a bot. An impressive demonstration of this was given recently by Google at its developer conference Google I/O with phone calls between Google Assistant and a hairdresser’s salon and a restaurant. So why shouldn’t two systems be able to “speak” with one another?
How customer needs and expectations change
The trend study “Customer Dialogue 2025” sketches a picture of the future of customer dialogue in five different fields and shows:
How customer needs are evolving
How data thinking influences the value of the customer dialogue
How customers will communicate via their bots
How companies can deal with the customer needs of tomorrow
How communication between bots will shape the customer dialogue of the future
The authors of the study forecast the following trend: The classic market pyramid of economy, standard and premium segments will become less important. The standard segment will erode, but the economy and premium areas will become more important. The reason is that digitization will increasingly lead to the customization of products and services, and communication will be tailored to customer preferences too. As a result, no customer will be satisfied with standard products and services any longer. This will lead to growth in the premium segment, where customers will look for products or services through which they can express their identity. The economy segment will continue to play an important role as well. Here, customers will weigh price against quality and focus on inexpensive products or services.
The increasing flexibility that digitization brings with it will also be reflected in communication patterns. In 2025, customers will expect to be able to enter into a dialogue with a company through whatever channel they prefer. They will want customer dialogue that is personal, human, simple, fast and automated.
Data are the key to the needs of the customer. And more and more objects are becoming data points — clothing, vehicles, machines, offices, even whole cities. Companies can acquire additional data about their customers especially when consumers use intelligent products. But communication behavior provides information too. As soon as customers enter into contact with companies, the latter can collect a variety of information, regardless of which channel is used: What is the mood of the customer? Is he in a hurry? Is he looking for something specific or just “browsing”? Etcetera. However, all of this data must be consolidated and put into a useful form in some manner, such as with machine learning.
But in the future, customers will still only agree to disclose their data when they receive some extra value in return. For example, the British insurer Direct Line offers customers who use the autopilot feature of their Tesla a discount of five percent if they share the resulting data with the company.
The bots of the customer
In the future, customers will be supported by a large number of AI-based bots that acquire information for them, analyze it, given them advice and manage many of their affairs. They will accompany customers every day and know their habits, needs and the criteria on which they base decisions. With this knowledge, they will analyze product ranges, recommend appropriate products, and in so doing change power structures in the market. In many cases, the decision for or against a product will be left to a bot, and the bot will continually optimize the customer’s environment: if an analysis of the data indicates that a different vendor has a less expensive product, the bot will suggest a change or make the switch itself when programmed accordingly.
Companies and the customer needs of tomorrow
The use of artificial intelligence will increasingly put customers on the same footing with companies. The companies will then increasingly find it necessary to use artificial intelligence themselves. On the one hand, this would mean collecting customer data in a central knowledge hub and analyzing it with intelligent algorithms to understand customer needs. This knowledge would then feed into product development and be used to personalize customer communication.
And it means, on the other hand, that the future of customer communication lies in a dialogue between intelligent systems. That doesn’t mean that human customer-facing staff will become redundant — as indicated above, customers will still want “human” dialogue, such as in customer service. But in 2025, customers will be much more accustomed to receiving appropriate product recommendations and solutions based on their data. This is driving the use of technology on the part of companies, as in the field of analytics solutions.
This technology helps employees provide customer support too: emotion analytics ensures that customers are connected to the right person, for instance. Intelligent analysis tools help provide customers with the right information and reduce the complexity of customer inquiries. Employee and machine work together during the interaction with the customer, and one of the principal concerns of the human side of that partnership is to ensure that customers feel at ease.
The civilization of bots
In the future, say the authors of the study, there will be millions or billions of bots — just as there are countless websites and apps today. Via interfaces, these bots can communicate and work with one another and thereby form a collective intelligence. This lays the foundation for a “civilization of bots.” These intelligent systems can manage companies by using “smart contracts” and storing them in a blockchain, and they can already replicate themselves.
All of this raises legal questions. After all, who is liable for the damage caused by an autonomous robot? In early 2017, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament recommended creating “a special legal status for robots.” So far, however, no effort has been made to implement that proposal.
Based on this scenario of the future, the authors of the study have various recommendations for companies with regard to the strategies they should adopt:
Break up customer groups and focus on the individual. In 2025, dividing customers up into customer segments and basing communication and production on that classification means failing to recognize the uniqueness of the individual.
Radically simplify communication for your customers; maybe even make it redundant. Identify and serve the needs of the customer in a predictable way; automate processes.
Let your customers decide when they want to communicate and the channel they want to use.
Deploy personnel and infrastructure in such a way that they enable an individual and adaptive customer dialogue.
View the customer dialogue as part of your whole value chain.