Content brought to you by: IE School of Human Sciences & Technology's Master's in Customer Experience and Innovation
In recent years, making life easier for consumers has been all about smartphone apps and websites. But as the Internet of Things (IoT) extends our engagement with businesses beyond the screen and into our cars, shops and even our homes, are we swapping ethics for a hassle-free customer experience?
Resurrecting customer experience
The term “customer experience” (CX) may be jargon that has fallen by the wayside in recent years as companies have desperately tried to keep up with tech trends, considering the consumer’s app-centric journey more and more as a “user experience” (UX). But as IoT connects us to our services and devices through voice recognition, artificial intelligence and sophisticated sensors, our role as an active user is diminishing, allowing us to focus on being the customer again.
That’s not to say big companies aren’t continuing to invest heavily in user experience as it relates to our mobile devices and computers. LinkedIn recently launched a sleeker design for its desktop interface, while app developer Fuse just announced a $12 million round of investment to focus on providing user-friendly apps for clients with a far shorter turnaround. Fuse CEO and co-founder Anders Lassen told TechCrunch, “Winning today’s app battles comes down to having a killer UX.”
But Andrew PW McCarthy, program director at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology’s master's degree in customer experience and innovation, says, customer experience is seeing a resurgence as the current trend of taking away user interfaces begs the question, “What are we really using?”
“We just take it for granted that our washer and dryer talk to each other,” he says. “The Internet of Things is our way of talking about these kinds of interactions when there’s no specific interface to refer to.”
Everything is connected
According to a recent poll, 81% of online shoppers have had a bad experience while using an e-commerce site or app. More shockingly, 76% of them say they would actually avoid those sites for future purchases after just one problematic transaction.
Amazon is pioneering internet connectivity for seamless CX to avoid these risks with innovative tech. Sticking a simple Amazon Dash button on your washing machine will get your detergent delivered to your door before you even get the chance to run out. No login, no screen and, certainly, no frantic rush to the supermarket.
And in what may seem to many as a step backward, Amazon is making moves on the bricks-and-mortar retail industry with Amazon Go. But rather than bog its customers down with having to ring up their products, shoppers just take what they want and walk right out of the store thanks to a clever system of sensors and artificial intelligence connected to their Amazon account.
But as we relinquish more and more control over our shopping experiences, is our hard-earned cash flowing more freely for our own benefit, or the companies that profit?
A more human experience
While it seems developers are trying to pack microchips into everything these days, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re moving closer to a future of robotic services that were once provided by human beings. In fact, the whole idea of improving CX through IoT is to make our products more human.
Toyota has emphasized the human approach in its new Concept-i vehicle. An advanced artificial intelligence agent (called Yui) sees to the driver’s every need and learns his behavior to provide a more comfortable journey. And of course, Yui will even drive the car for you if you want.
Cognitive systems like this are not only connected, they’re programmed to understand more about us.
“The challenge is that these systems have to learn the behavior of all kinds of people. For a young man in his early twenties, driving might be about the sport of it. But as a parent of young children, you probably want the safest possible mode of transportation for your family.”
Humans are complex
According to McCarthy, the biggest obstacle that CX faces in the age of IoT is not connectivity issues or power failures, but actually getting to the bottom of what complex human beings want, especially when they may not even know themselves.
“When we talk about offering a more ‘human’ experience we’re really talking about human behavior, which at the best of times can be completely illogical or unconscious,” says McCarthy. “On top of that, a lot of ethical questions arise when trying to understand and affect human behavior, because what you’re really trying to do is get to the inside of us. Ethics are not just nice to have in customer experience. Real progress can never be made if we build what we can build instead of what we should build.”
Joshua Saxon is a business and technology journalist currently interested in digital marketing trends and tech startups. He has written for several high-profile newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK and internationally. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.