Over the past decade and a half, technology, from computers to wearable devices to sensors and the cloud, has become the greatest game-changers of today. This digital era that we live in is defined by the rapid evolution and injection of new and innovative ideas and technologies, which are shaping our environment, and has reframed the competitive landscape and the way brands and consumers engage on all levels.
For consumers living in Europe, Middle East & Africa, the online era has arrived. Physical and digital realms are merging to leverage global communications channels and emerging technologies like AI, IoT, and mixed reality to offer consumers a range of immersive and engaging experiences.
While understanding the consumer, the essence of customer experience cannot be ignored. The more understandable customer experience, the more it can be shaped, developed, and better serviced to the customer.
As consumers adopt new technologies they feel empowered, with their behaviour changing rapidly, and exerting tremendous pressure on the technology needs of marketing organizations. For market leaders, it’s hard to gain a leading edge on something that’s constantly advancing.
We are now at the point where many markets are no longer recognizable or even exist as they did a decade ago. New products, new services, new consumers, and new competitors have arrived. As consumers have embraced technology as a consumable item their behaviour, likes, and dislikes have evolved as well. From social media sites to mobile phones, consumers are no longer where they were or engaging as they have in the past.
The brands that survive today are those that are nimble with both products and in uncovering new ways to engage and drive loyalty with consumers. This has not been an easy task, and many long-time established brands have faded or even disappeared, either pushed aside by new, innovative companies or left behind, unable to keep pace with the right time, right channel needs of today.
Five key themes are framing and driving the evolution of customer experience now and into the future, each of which is highlighted as:
► Smart Technology: Consumers Don’t Use Digital, They Are Digital
► Immersive Technology: Bridging the Customer Experience Divide
► Digital Trust: The Evolving Nature of Trust
► Loyalty in the Digital Age: Be a Loyalty Company, Not a Loyalty Program
► Agility & Automation: Better Engagement Through Technology
Tomorrow’s customer journeys and personalization will be smarter, immersive, and trustworthy. More customer experience initiatives will be run by AI and machine learning algorithms, automated software applications or bots. But, are brands and consumers ready? The future gives us something to ponder.
Today’s consumer, whether searching for movie tickets or information about a community event, is increasingly agile, online, and immersed in consumer technology —that has itself evolved from a consumable to a product that is enabling the consumption of other products and services. This has not only led to changes in consumer behaviour, but also to changes in how customer experiences are created, measured, valued, and shared.
Understanding how people are adopting and using technology is crucial to understanding the magnitude of change that is upon us today, allowing us to begin to map out how consumers will engage with brands, organizations, and governments in the future. From mobile phones to smart home assistants, EMEA consumers have embraced a digital world.
Digital technologies are reshaping today’s consumers. Generations, who are Born-digital to the early adopters to those who resist to the end, digital has become part of their lives. Mobile phones; wearable devices, such as smartwatches or fitness bands; smart devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, or other app-based security or environmental systems in the home); to emerging Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) devices.
EMEA consumers have embraced the online lifestyle. From social sites to banking to government engagement, consumers are now using digital apps and going online for everything, and they plan to do a lot more of it in the future. Here’s what some EMEA consumers are doing when they go online:
More than a third of all consumers we surveyed also indicated that while they may go online often today, they expect to do it even more over the coming five to ten years. While just over a fifth of EMEA consumers use three or more financial apps regularly, they trail consumers in the rest of the world (31 percent to 23 percent), Social media has become the place consumers congregate for a wide range of activities. For many consumers, being digital means being social, and that means connecting with both their friends and their favourite brands.
Consumers use a lot of technology today, but they anticipate using a lot more. Here are a few of the technologies and experiences consumers in EMEA anticipate within the coming five years.
The value proposition of smart devices and their ability to expand the amount of information available to the consumer with little or no effort on the part of the consumer is worthwhile. Smart devices have the potential to replace (or embrace) the mobile ecosystem and blend with augmented reality devices to drive immersive engagement experiences.
For brands, the new level of consumer acceptance and expectation opens up a whole new level of opportunity for broadening the way they engage with consumers, from interacting with products and devices to having access to better services and conveniences as citizens. But brands and government entities alike must understand it will require not just a customer-focused approach but a new level of people, process, and technology to make it happen.
Immersive technologies are the future of engagement
Immersive technologies are the ultimate agents of change and are being used by brands to help bridge the consumer divide. From wearable to embedded to augmented, these technologies can both capture and leverage data insights to provide the elements of mobile, immersive experiences where the consumer doesn’t just experience the brand, they become part of the complete brand experience. While our research showed that the use of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, or Mixed Reality (AR/VR/MR) devices are in the nascent stages for most consumers, consumers are clear about what they expect about the future and the evolution of AR/VR/MR — they expect more!
By 2025, 53 percent of EMEA consumers expect to be able to use an AR, VR, or MR app to see how a product looks without the product being physically present (for example, how a piece of clothing might look on them or how a piece of furniture might look in their home). But there’s a deeper level of immersion when these technologies are used not just to bring a product or information into the consumer’s surroundings, but to bring the consumer into a different, more immersive surrounding.
Within five years, 58 percent of EMEA consumers say they’d visit or tour a remote destination or event (vacation, concert, performance, interesting site or similar) using AR, VR, or MR technology. Brands are embracing the value of immersive technologies as well. Brands are recognizing the need to bring immersive technologies to market, and to weave them into their existing products, services, and customer experience strategies — immersive technologies can be of value to both consumers and brand representatives in areas such as marketing and customer support (including the use of immersive technology as an instructional tool for consumers while using a brand’s product or service).
Can technology be too immersive (and become invasive)?
One of the great risks that brands face today is implementing technology that becomes invasive too deeply into the consumer’s personal space. While 47 percent of EMEA consumers say asking an AI assistant (like Alexa, Siri, etc.) for assistance in a store might be a good way to get information, 38 percent also admit to being uneasy dealing (or engaging) with in-store tech. Certain technologies that can be part of immersive experience can also be problematic by themselves. For example, 53 percent of EMEA consumers agree with the statement “facial recognition creeps me out” — a sign that brands need to be mindful of consumer concerns as well as their desires with immersive tech.
Immersive technologies hold tremendous potential, particularly augmented reality. Originally a consumer product in the gaming market, augmented reality is making its way into most households through applications on mobile devices, where the value is considerable. Looking beyond Snapchat or Instagram filters, the ability of a consumer to “see” directions through the camera on a mobile phone, to “try on” apparel without the apparel, to see how a product might look when placed in a home, or to view a product or an event “virtually” — this opens up a new visual window for brands to engage with consumers, to be part of the experience, and to enhance the value of existing products while also creating new services that enhance the customer experience. That’s the real promise of immersive augmented and virtual reality technologies, the in-store experience without the store, the enhanced information on a map without the map, the product instructions overlaid on the product without the manual.
The future of consumer engagement involves digital trust
Data is definitive on the point of trust: Trust-enabling technologies and a security-first mindset are the definitive factors to deeper customer relationships. Technologies like IoT, edge computing, the cloud, and block-chain enable brands to behave in a way that can inspire consumer trust. Trusted transactions, data security, transparent auditability — all these things help create both an informed experience on the part of consumers, and an experience that engenders trust. But the issue of trust isn’t just one of technology use, but how consumer data is secured.
Do EMEA consumers see value in providing their data to brands?
Absolutely and yes;
- 49% are willing to trade their private and personal information for free products or services.
- 50% are willing to trade for improved or paid products and services.
Despite the efforts of regulators to improve data privacy rights for consumers, EMEA consumers still have their doubts;
- 59% agree their data is out there, there's nothing they can do about it now and every company gets hacked sooner or later.
- 69% are concerned about the amount of data brands are gathering from them when they search for, or purchase, a product.
- 67% are concerned with the way brands are using their data, agreeing it’s “out of my control.”
- 70% believe they should be able to see what data a brand has captured on them, and be able to change, update, or delete it whenever they desire.
- 59% don’t like being tracked or recorded on camera when in a store, at an event, or in public.
Trust spans the digital AND the physical.
Consumers aren’t just wary of their online data; they’re also concerned about how data is captured in the physical world as well. That is the direction many brands and organizations are moving toward, with an eye on learning as much as possible to create a 360-degree, up to the minute, a profile on the consumer — an issue that touches on many aspects of immersive consumer experiences. How brands deal with this issue today is likely to shape how consumers perceive brands five or even 10 years into the future.
What type of brands is trusted, and which is not?
Consumer research identifies which industries had the most trust, and which were the most distrusted.
The level of distrust on the part of EMEA consumers is high, a point that brands must address today to remain viable five or 10 years into the future. Less than half of all EMEA consumers (48 percent) agree that their governments currently do a good job of regulating consumer privacy and business transparency. Brands must leverage technology, processes, and policies in a secure, transparent manner.
Loyalty in the future isn’t a consumer action, it’s a brand attribute.
Loyalty is infused into the customer journey (moments of truth) even before a consumer becomes a customer. The first “engagement” or experience a consumer has with a brand is the first time they hear of the brand. This continues to build through the brand’s narrative — the total of everything a brand does that the consumer can see, hear, or experience (before, during, and after anyone purchases, interacts, or engages). Loyalty from a consumer doesn’t just happen — like trust, it must be earned, and it starts with a customer experience that reinforces the image of the brand. The challenge, however, is that consumers don’t believe brands today are delivering on that experience.
What drives consumer loyalty today (and in future)?
Today and in the future, cost and quality are the top attributes, with immediate availability and sale notifications or recommendations coming up second. They want it now, they want it to work, and they want it for a low price. Similarly, when asked about technical features, consumers say mobile apps, high-speed access to information or content, and being able to order through smart home systems will be the top technology features driving loyalty. We anticipate the vast majority of brands will offer these, with little differentiation.
Do brands match up and provide a high-level of satisfaction (and drive loyalty) today?
Yes, but not as often as they should. Brands surveyed throughout EMEA are confident that they possess the attributes and offer the experiences to drive customer loyalty today. But 41 percent of consumers say only three or fewer brands hit the mark. We expect that cost, quality, and availability are likely to be the shared “must-have” attributes to be considered, but the real decisions will be made on lesser ranked, but more significantly differentiated features that focus on personalization and overall experience.
However, for features and attributes to even be considered, brands must be trusted by their customers. Without transparency, digital trust and mutual respect between brands and consumers, true customer satisfaction, rewarding engagements, and loyalty cannot exist today and certainly not in the future.
The future of customer experience a decade from now depends on the evolution of technology and the behaviour and perceptions of consumers and brands. A personal, human-to-human relationship that grows over time and provides value to all is only possible if there is a high level of mutual trust, honesty, and respect. The relationship between brands and consumers is no different, but the challenges are increasingly high. Based on research, the following insights and findings are present:
1. Technology and Consumer Behavior: From apps to smart technology to social media, consumers don’t just use digital, they are digital. Consumers are increasingly using technology to engage with brands, searching for information, purchasing products and services, and obtaining help and advice. Looking forward to the future, consumers are expecting more technology in their brand engagements, from drones and autonomous cars to chatbots and smart assistants. But more technology isn’t necessarily better, and brands must be judicious in their use of technology at the right place in the right time.
2. Immersive Experiences: Consumers are increasingly looking for experiences that are immersive and allow a deeper level, or richness, of engagements and value. Technologies such as augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) are becoming key to the delivery of experiences consumers expect. These experiences go well beyond enhancing existing products, services, or support — to new areas, such as participating in remote events and activities without being physically present. On the topic of Digital Trust: Consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for value but are deeply concerned about a loss of privacy and control over the data brands have acquired. For consumers, trust is an issue of control, and consumers generally feel they have none. For brands, trust is not a given — it must be earned and can easily be lost. Even for brands or organizations within highly trusted industries, a loss of trust can result from just one data breach or abuse of consumer data. And for brands in industries that are less trusted, there is a tremendous opportunity to set themselves apart from their competition by instilling an element of trust throughout their brand promises and experiences.
3. Loyalty: Consumer loyalty is primarily driven by low-cost, high-quality products and services that are available when the consumer has the need (often immediate or same day). Consumer loyalty is also driven by features that enhance the overall brand experience, features such as special recommendations or upgrades, attention to a consumer’s needs, and, of course, mutual trust. But while an overwhelming majority of brands feel they currently provide the highest level of satisfaction to drive loyalty, almost half of all consumers say only three or fewer brands they engage with provide that high level of customer satisfaction (to justify their loyalty).
4. Customer Experiences in the Future: Brands are increasingly embracing technologies that enable agility and use extreme automation to drive the future of consumer engagements and customer experience. In the digital age, the relationship between consumer and brand is increasingly machine-to-human, and in future, it will almost certainly be weighted heavily in favour of a machine-to-machine relationship. Forward-looking brands are already investing in smart, AI-powered technologies that offer the ability to automate engagements and processes, capture data and drive actionable insights more intelligently, and deliver more immersive, rewarding, and valued experiences to their consumers.