It is no longer a debate. Companies who provide great customer experiences will be winners in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — where intelligence will reign supreme. According to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Study, 73% of business leaders say delivering a relevant and reliable customer experience is critical to their company's overall business performance. An astounding 93% agreed that customer experience would be critical two years from now. Acknowledging the importance of customer experience is one thing, having the technology in place to undertake the cultural and organizational change to achieve great customer experiences is a different matter.

 In the Harvard Business Survey, a mere 15% of business leaders rated their customer service strategy and approach as "very effective." The lack of effectiveness is not because of a lack of available data or technology to transform customer customer experiences when you consider:

  • 44 zb of data is created every day
  • Tools are now available that increases application development by 44%
  • 80% of consumer cars and homes are now connected
  • 100+ MM consumers will shop in VR and AR bye 2020
  • 30% of web browsing will be done without a screen by 2020
  • By 2030, AI and automation will increase global productivity by 38%

The Harvard Business Review study digs into why, despite the technology trends, there continues to be such a gap between the importance of customer experience and the effective of use of technology (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 - Harvard Business Review Study, Customer Experience Technology Gap

The three significant gaps all came back to data visibility and integration. Capitalizing on the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires company to have integrated data about customers and products across all channels and products, using that data to better understand the end customer experience, and having visibility across all functional areas in the company. The data then comes to life by using technologies such as AI and predictive analytics to anticipate and provide guided experiences that exceed customer expectations. The problem is not that a company does not have the data, its the ability for a company to act on it. The HBR study states only 20% of companies say they act on most of the data they collect. What that means is every day, a company wakes up knowing less about their customers than they did the day before. It is obvious that the winners in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are going to be those who are able to take actions on data faster to deliver superior customer experiences.

The question is why is it so difficult. It is first important to consider that customer data is collected and managed in a number of different systems such as POS, ERP, Social Media tools, and online commerce systems to name a few. The HBR study showed that the number one source of data is CRM systems. Over 72% of companies stated that the most important and most-used source of customer data is a CRM system. However, not all CRM systems or CRM implementations are alike. So the effectiveness of using CRM systems to deliver exceptional customer experiences will vary substantially from company to company.

The first question a company often asks is is where should all those sources of customer data flow into? It’s hard to manage data, keep it fresh, and make it standard and usable. That is actually the wrong question to ask. It’s not about normalizing, and storing the data. With the amount of data created every day, it’s not possible. Single source of customer intelligence is about the links that you build across those data sources to serve your purpose in the moment vs bringing it all together. The data is actually on the edge, on devices, you just need a place to operationalize all of it and not necessarily bring it all in one place. This is why companies are increasingly using events-based architectures (see Figure 2) built on Artificial Intelligence platform that processes all the workflows, while accessing all the different sources of customer data elsewhere. Offering exceptional customer experiences will not be dependent on trying to get data in one location, it will be based on processing events through AI where the data is generated. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution it is not about storing data, it is about taking action.

Figure 2 - Event-based customer platforms

The best way to discuss the impact of event-based customer platforms is through a real example. Let's take a motorcycle company — for the company, providing a signal view that all key employees and partners share is the main first step (see Figure 3). This is the bare minimum when it comes to achieving a single source of customer intelligence — something that the HBR Study cited as the number 1 way companies share insights across employees.

Figure 3 - Shared Customer View

Providing a view is the first step to providing good experiences. Leveraging AI and predictive analytics is the key to offering customer experiences that builds advocacy and customers for life. Let's look at one of our motorcycle company's customers. Meet April: April works at a high tech company and she loves motorcycles. And lately she has been on the market for a nice higher-end bike. You know, to make it roar on the streets of San Francisco. And just when she’s ready to make that next step, she receives an e-mail from this bike company to do an exclusive test ride featuring just the bike she’s been interested in. You see, prior to receiving this invite, April has configured bikes on the company's website, engaged in their customer community and clicked on an ad on Facebook. All of this information behind the scenes lets the company recognize that April is ready and likely to respond to this particular test ride campaign. April immediately responds, and to reserve her spot at the test ride event, she registers with just a few clicks, using nothing but her social profile. She arrives at the dealership, and immediately the dealer, equipped with a complete profile of April, greets her with her bike ready for her test ride. She easily places her order for the bike, and gets it delivered right to her door.

A proud owner and she’s ready to go on her first ride. And guess what? As soon as she gets on her bike and presses on that sturdy steel pedal to ride, the app starts to record her speed, lean angle, power and acceleration and sends all that information right back to bike company in real-time. As she reaches her first 10 miles the app records her first badge. Later the bike company realizes that she drives a lot during winter months and sends her an offer for a biker’s jacket just right for the weather she lives in.

Next, the app predicts the issues April might have with her bike based on power and acceleration data it’s been getting, and sends her an offer for maintenance. To follow through on maintenance April doesn’t have to call the motorcycle company or go on their website. All she has to do is start a chat and even set up an appointment on Facebook with the company's service bot using nothing but simple text. As April goes through these moments, her experience with the brand and product grows more positive and turns her from just a buyer into a loyal fan.

Event-based architectures combined with AI and predictive analytics is not the future, it is now. There is no end state, but it is a journey all companies must begin as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One CEO for a Financial Services firm in the HBR study was quoted: “We’re doing reasonably well. But it’s something we can never become complacent with. It’s a journey.” The best action companies can take is map out a direction to leverage customer intelligence and pave the way for ongoing improvement and innovation.