In the build-up to 2019, I predicted that emphasis would be placed on user experience and the humans behind it. After all, though data was growing in stature to become the industry staple it is today, without the engagement of consumers and users there would be nothing to analyse, study or anticipate. The premise behind the advent of such technologies was initially conceived to serve audiences, yet it seems that, as technology advanced, people were pushed from the focal point and denigrated to mere statistics to feed algorithms for marketers and products.
For 2020, most sources and outlets seem to emphasise the advent of innovative uses of data, highlighting its impact on relevant sectors. Supporters underline the importance of data and the benefits it results in, and detractors decry privacy breaches and the collection of unauthorised information. What seems to be missing from this conversation, however, is the potential for both notions to coexist rather than be mutually exclusive.
Taken as a case study, retailers have embraced the concept of customer experience management, with many making it a guiding principle. After all, according to a study by Barthel, Hudson-Smith and De Jode, one of the key drivers in retail is an increasing demand for a seamless experience between online, mobile, and in-store shopping.
Establishing superior customer experience, therefore, is one of the most crucial objectives in retailing environments today. I believe it is important that businesses assess the real value that accompanies the use of smart technologies and the impact they have on consumer dynamics and creating a new customer-shopping experience.
This is far from being a novel concept, however. In The Practice of Management, Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author, said: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” The book was published in 1954, and emphasising and retaining customers is still at the heart of most intra-company conversations today.
This is consolidated through reports that reveal 40 per cent of Millennials and Gen Z-ers are willing to pay for curated experiences offering deeper engagement, while slowly becoming disillusioned with innovation for the sake of innovation. Digital transformation heralded by data that is fuelling algorithmic processes is a by-product of the technological zeitgeist, but it should not diminish the human element; nor should customers be made to feel like they are merely compounds of statistics and information.
Different pieces of research suggest that more than 70 per cent of all digital and customer experience transformation efforts fail to meet expectations because they underestimate the people component at a time when consumers and corporate buyers have used their voices to demand better experiences from the companies with which they do business.
As we head into 2020, content development and targeting will have to become curated to individual audiences to replace the blanket formula being applied by a multitude of companies more interested in short-term growth predicated by underlying sentiments of irreverence towards existing and potential customers. This will undoubtedly require dependence on AI and machine learning to collate the data, which further strengthens the coexistence of both target demographics and data-driven innovations. Companies will also need to look within their ranks to focus on creating remarkable experiences for their employees, and then use these as ‘teachable moments’ to train their teams how to deliver the same to their customers.
The adage ‘knowledge is power’ is certainly relevant, but its influence on the technology sector seems to be waning, with the emphasis being placed on people, not the data that they resemble. Perhaps it is time to evolve this phrase to ‘knowing is power’ or, better yet, ‘people are power’.
2019 was an exceptional year for innovation, advancement, and evolutions on global, human and technological fronts. These trends will continue in 2020 and beyond. The emphasis on the human experience is not just a prediction for me, but a necessity. If industries fail to cater to it, they will find themselves in a race to a data-driven bottom there the only audience they will be able to engage with is themselves and their counterparts