Extreme Customer Experience: Making the ‘Segment of One’ a Reality

Imagine you’re sitting on your couch on a Friday night and decide that you want ice cream. Since you don’t have any in your freezer, you order a pint using your mobile device. Your personal fitness tracking device notices your glucose level is high, predicts that you are unlikely to work out for the next week due to your calendar, and recommends the sugar free frozen yogurt instead. Your revised order is bid on by multiple merchants who price depending on their current inventory, and the winning vendor reroutes a delivery truck to your home. On the truck, your chosen pint will move automatically to the front for easy unloading.

This will all happen within minutes of your first ice cream craving.

This vision of customer experience may seem extreme – but it’s a real possibility. Advances in Big Data analytics, wearable computers, 3D printing, and dynamic supply chains will help companies create increasingly hyper-personalized experiences that bring the “segment of one” closer to reality.

As part of our ongoing look at key trends that are shaping the future of business, we’ve been digging into the topic of customer engagement. Discussions with SAP colleagues and customer experience experts reveal four key elements that are converging to drive significant advances in the way businesses and customers interact.

Context: The smartphone is just the beginning of a wave of intelligent mobile devices that constantly process data for and about consumers and their surroundings. Juniper Researchpredicts that 130 million smart wearable devices will ship in 2018 – 10 times the number in today’s market. That figure does not include the billions of sensors residing in otherwise inert devices – everything from parking meters to digital signage – that are increasingly interconnected across wireless and wired networks.

At MIT’s Media Lab, researchers are exploring new ways to embed sensing devices into physical objects, enabling consumers to interact directly with the things around them. Imagine a retail store in which the displays are aware of contextual information about your current state and can tailor an experience based on that particular moment in time.

Customization: This type of contextual information, accessible to and from devices all around us, can be paired with Big Data analytics to enable a new era of highly personalized experiences.

“Human beings like personalization,” said Ramesh Ramakrishnanfounder of RR Marketing Advisory and author of the FuturistCMO blog. “When technology enables them to achieve high degrees of customization, then the products they use or wear will become an ‘extended self’ – created by them instead of purchasing what someone else created.”

The rise of 3D printers will take customization to an entirely new level and is already disrupting markets and replacing traditional business models, Ramakrishnan said. A company such as Protos Eyewear, for example, has developed an algorithm for creating customized, 3D-printed eyeglasses. LayerWise, a Belgian metal parts manufacturer, designed and built a3D printed artificial jawbone for an 83-year-old woman – the first transplant of its kind in the medical industry.

Enhancement: Successful companies such as Apple, BMW, Virgin Atlantic, and Nike have already transitioned from selling products to selling experiences. The next wave of innovation will be finding ways to enhance those experiences.

Engagement enhancement can be physical (activating more of a customer’s senses), mental (soliciting their ideas and influence), emotional (providing peace of mind, laughter or some other positive feeling), or any combination of the three, according to Steve McKeepresident of McKee Wallwork & Company and author of When Growth Stalls and the forthcoming Power Branding.

“Watching race cars is fun. Riding in a race car is more fun. Driving the race car is the most fun. There’s your template,” McKee said. “Viewed through this lens, there’s no end to what we can do.”

Consistency: Extreme customer experience is not a one-off event, nor is it delivered through a single channel. As more companies reorganize their businesses around customer-centricity, innovation will require a consistently superior experience that spans multiple channels and geographies – in essence, every conceivable touch point between a brand and its customers.

Cross-channel consistency will require breaking down silos, which may portend a move toward collaborative planning, replacing traditional top-down/bottom-up functional planning methods. The goal, as my colleague Volker Hildebrand points out, is achieved through the lens of the customer: Does your company meet my expectations in terms of reliability, convenience, relevance and responsiveness? Does it make my life easier and avoid negative surprises? The most extreme customer experience, is simply to get it right, consistently.

Of course, all of this speculation about the future of customer experience is based on our current perspective. The future, however, is not a linear extension of today’s reality. The truth is that customer experience a decade from now is likely to be something none of us can even conceive at this point in time. If we can envision it already, it’s probably not that extreme.

What’s your idea of an extreme customer experience? I look forward to your comments.

Photo: Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Originally posted on LinkedIn Today on January 28, 2014.

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