From a CX point of view there is going to be far more interaction with brands and products through online channels. This is not just about eCommerce and buying from a portal. It is also about using tools like Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms more widely. It is about learning to interact with the customer in multiple ways and touching their journeys at multiple points, all virtually using the web – mostly the mobile web.
Ecosystm research shows that almost three out of four companies have decided on accelerating or modifying the digitalisation they were undergoing (Figure 1). It is fair to expect that this gives a further boost to moving to the cloud. For the customer it will mean being able to access information in many new ways and connect with products, services, brands at multiple points on the web.
Since interacting with the customer at multiple points is new for most services, I foresee a lot of missed opportunities as companies learn to navigate a completely different landscape. Customers pampered by digitally native organisations often react harshly to even a small mistake. It will become critical for companies to not just become a bigger presence online but also to manage their customers well.
New solutions such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), as opposed to CRM will become common. Players who are into Customer Experience management are likely to see huge business growth and new players will rapidly enter this space. They will promise to affordably manage CX across the globe, leveraging the cloud.
#2 Virtual Merges with Real
AR/VR has so far been seen mainly in games where one wears an unwieldy – though ever-improving – headset to transport oneself into a 3D virtual world. Or in certain industrial applications e.g., using a mobile device to look at some machinery; the device captures what the eye can see while providing graphical overlays with information. In 2021 I expect to see almost all industrial applications adopting some form of this technology. This will have an impact on how products are serviced and repaired.
For the mainstream, 2020 was the year of videoconferencing – as iconic as the shift to virtual meetings has been, there is much more to come. Meetings, conferences, events, classrooms have all gone virtual. Video interaction with multiple people and sharing information via shared applications is commonplace. Virtual backgrounds which hide where you are actually speaking from are also widely used and getting more creative by the day.
Imagine then a future where you get on one of these calls wearing a headset and are transported into a room where your colleagues who are joining the call also are. You see them as full 3D people, you see the furniture, and the room decor. You speak and everyone sees your 3D avatar speak, gesture (as you gesture from the comfort of your home office) and move around. It will seem like you are really in the conference room together! If this feels futuristic or unreal try this or look at how the virtual office can look in the very near future.
While the solutions may not look very sophisticated, they will rapidly improve. AR/VR will start to really make its presence felt in the lives of consumers. From being able to virtually “try” on clothes from a boutique to product launches going virtual, these technologies will deeply impact customer experience in 2021 and beyond
In the immortal words of Captain Kirk, we will be going where no man has gone before – enabled by AR / VR.
#3 Digital CX will involve Multiple Technologies
AI, IoT and 5G will continue to support wider CX initiatives.
The advances that I have mentioned will gain impetus from 5G networking, which will enable unprecedented bandwidth availability. To deliver an AR experience over the cloud, riding on a 5G network, will literally be a game changer compared to the capabilities of older networks.
Similarly, IoT will lead to massive changes in terms of product availability, customisation and so on. 5G-enabled IoT will allow a lot more data to be carried a lot faster; and more processing at the edge. IoT will have some initial use cases in Retail, Services and other non-manufacturing sectors – but perhaps not as strongly as some commentators seem to indicate.
AI continues to drive change. While AI may not transform CX in 2021, this is a technology which will be a component of most other CX offerings, and so will impact customer experience in the next few years. In fact, thinking of businesses in 2025 I cannot believe that there will be a single business to customer (B2C) interaction which will not feature some form of AI technology.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the technologies which will impact CX in 2021 – Connect with me on the Ecosystm platform.
But this does not mean the hotel or destination must make the investment alone, or even all on-site. Using systems integrators and cloud resources to create digital enabled platforms for guest management, hygiene process management and physical mapping of the capacity of the facility using sensors and mobile are all methods for enabling the digital acceleration of tech investment in the property.
And personalisation of the experience is key, which leads to a discussion of personal data usage and management.
Social Distancing and the Hotel of the New Normal
Retailers, hoteliers and convention centres have the same thing in common, they are all physical locations trying to become safe yet contactless, socially distant yet memorable at the same time. As we have mentioned in previous reports, the comfort, safety and hygiene of the customer is paramount for their return to Hospitality. Using customer location data on a reliable online platform to track their movement, enable their facilities and services and limit the density of customers per square metre for health, safety and comfort are all aspects of tech-enabled social distancing.
Imagine that you are considering a day stay, for home working alternative or for having a local event. This needs to be within the sanctioned numbers of your locale. Guests want to know the population density of the location to determine their comfort level. Having a mobile app where potential visitors can see the state of the visitor density of the hotel would provide reassurance as to a safe visit.
Rich Contactless Content
With the encouragement of expanding the scope of technology and social distancing given priority, automated or contactless transaction technologies have seen an increase in implementation in the last six months. Having sensors and IoT technology implemented to see the footprint of the facility in use provides real-time insight for both the customer and the hotel, as to usage.
In order to be able to highlight the functions of both the room and the facility, augmented reality (AR) can demonstrate the use of interactive elements within hotel rooms without human contact.
AR applications within the hotel sector include offering in-house interactive elements (such as location maps and relevant points of interest). These provide digital history of the property and supply guests with relevant information when they are located within certain areas of the hotel (such as a menu if they happen to enter a restaurant).
Use of Space: Location & Hygiene for a Better Experience and as a Precaution
Hotel environments have evolved to add a healthcare layer, including well-being programs, and individual room controls. This includes materiality/ sanitised covering that protects against the spread of infection with clearly defined and explained roll-out cleaning protocols.
With contact tracing in the news, many of us are already aware of the digital footprints we leave everywhere we go. And people have a wide variety of personal responses to this.
So how does a hotel use the information a guest either willingly offers or the hotel learns via services provided? If the hotel knows preferences prior to arrival, should they customise the room accordingly? Lighting, scent, preferred pillow choice, allergies – all are useful information. But what if preferences change or implementations are seen to be presumptuous?
Hilton is continually updating its guest technology offerings, from increasing in-app functionality to making further improvements to the entertainment system. One of their ideas is allowing guests to load personal or family pictures. These display on the TV, giving their hotel room more of a familiar sense of home.
And to be both keyless and cashless means the hotel needs to be mobile data enabled. All of this data, including mobile data, should flow like fine wine. But to do that requires knowledge, and learning – gained from experience and AI. How can I check your preferences are still the same? How should I use information I collected on you from a previous stay? Is that data kept on your mobile device, or on my hotel server? Is this in the cloud or on-premise in some manner?
Using Data and Intelligence for Personalised Experiences
The final point shown in Figure 3 from the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study on technology direction from the pandemic, combined with Figure 4 from the Ecosystm AI Study showing the use of AI, highlights the need for technologies that support customer experiences and automate processes. Whether it is customer authentication at check-in, virtual customer assistance or rate pricing for appropriate engagement, technology can enable guest appreciation.
Summary – Three Post-Pandemic Takeaways
1. Demand for rooms will have to be viewed differently during this period, and cancellation policies already reflect this. To view recovery, use metrics that look at how the whole asset is being used on a physical basis.
2. Re-imagination of the physical asset will involve some agility and re-purposing within the business. Technology can help enable this, with some wise additions to add value. Voice, IoT and contactless mobile apps all are good candidates for enablement.
3. Data helps with understanding of guest preferences and can be used for staff learning and knowledge. But it must be held and used correctly. Listen carefully to what the guest is telling you and respond accordingly.
Today’s crisis creates opportunities for platforms such as ProperyGuru to engage customers throughout their journey. It can potentially transform the residential property business, by becoming an Uber-style platform for agents, movers, shippers, storage companies, interior designers, renovation firms and all other stakeholders within the residential property ecosystem. Subject to regulation, it could also act as a mortgage broker and an agency for the exchange of contracts. In other words, it could ‘own’ the customer journey and act as a platform for all services associated with residential property. From the customer perspective, such a platform would be a welcome way of enhancing the experience associated with buying, renting, maintaining, improving, managing, and selling residential property.
IoT and the Commercial Property Sector
From a commercial property perspective, the COVID-19 crisis can also be expected to accelerate the digitalisation of many activities associated with the construction, maintenance, and management of buildings.
According to the findings of the Ecosystm IoT Study, the Construction industry is evaluating several technology solutions that are expected to benefit the industry (Figure 1).
While the industry views these solutions as beneficial, the adoption has so far been low. This will change. Drones have been used to inspect the outside of tall buildings for several years, but this is not yet standard practice. Structural inspections and maintenance of buildings will be automated at a much faster rate post COVID-19. IoT technology will be used for building management. Using IoT technology for the predictive maintenance and management of lighting, climate control, elevators, security, windows and doors will become standard as firms seek to reduce human interactions. Technology that measures footfall, manages safe distancing, takes peoples’ temperatures and identifies those who enter and leave buildings will be introduced, as organisations guard against disease clusters developing within or around their premises.
In essence, the COVID-19 crisis will act as a catalyst for the digital transformation of the property sector. There is a huge opportunity to create new business models not least by offering customers a digital platform on which all of their property-related needs can be addressed. For the commercial property sector, a similar platform can be offered. Additionally, many core activities ranging from construction to building management will be automated, fully leveraging robot, AI and IoT technologies.
These are two examples of why now is the time for implementing a mobile AR app solution.
Invest Now in AR
At this moment you have a captive audience with more time on their hands than normal, and eager to consume. And many are building home offices or making medium-term travel plans and need more than what a flat website experience offers them.
So now is the time for investment in augmented reality mobile apps. How many firms are seeing this and what has been their experience?
Only about 1% of organisations have a mobile AR app, with another 5% evaluating it in 2020
Average current implementations tend to look at a CapEx spend of about 45% – however, those who are planning to implement a mobile AR app expect to pay about 53% CapEx
7 out of 10 organisations say that implementation cost was less than US$10,000
8 out of 10 organisations say the implementation took more than 3 months (with 4 out of 10 saying it took 6 months to a year)
Extending to digital experience
Traditional print publications already understand the need to extend the digital experience for readers. The New York Times has been rethinking how it can connect the print and digital reading experiences. In partnership with Google Lens, smartphone users can access additional information online that corresponds to the print version of their New York Times Magazine. In the next three months, all New York Times Magazines will have some features that are Google Lens-enabled.
It is a great moment for both product and experiential marketers to be taking advantage of time at home by using an augmented reality mobile apps to bring the product into the home or home office, and the experience to life in your own kitchen or living room. And in return, getting great real-time feedback on what customers are looking for.
We’ve all seen the demo of the IKEA mobile app on where to place your couch. But product location placement is missing from any number of key categories. This is including computer monitors and TVs, as well as office furniture and professional lighting equipment for that better quality of video con-call.
What other kinds of market engagement uses are there?
Packaging links to AR
Create custom “trackers”, either printed or on-screen icons, when scanned with a white labeled app to trigger a video or a 3D model overlaid on the real world. Design a scannable package with customer experience in mind and include tracking engagement and sharing links. Set up an AR trigger based on a packaging feature and invite the customer to scan the same with their phones. Note that you can also add AR as a feature into your existing Android or IOS app. Dependency on dedicated app or app plug-ins is gone. Brands can now leverage the potential offered by augmented reality using just a URL. Users can open the URL in any mobile-based browser and augment interactive digital content on their camera view.
Reverse product placement
As the opposite of how locations tried to link to Pokemon Go, your product could be an element in a popular Augmented Reality game. It could attract new customers who would link to more AR provided information on the product.
Weather as a factor
These types of apps can show what the weather may be like at a location. Possible app usage for showing residential real estate. It could show impact in a flood zone as to how much water may enter the area. Or it can warn people on urgent physical issues.
Practical advice before consumption
Too much time on your hands and hate your hair? See what the color will look like before you make a hair color mistake. Perhaps more AI than AR. Note that right now you may be able to buy hair dye. But you will likely not have access to the person who can repair any mistakes you make at this point. Think carefully.
Now is this time to engage bored consumers and eager potential users. Take advantage of what this uncertain time can bring to your firm. Use Augmented Reality as a benefit to create value and content stickiness for your customers.
An example of AR is Ikea’s mobile appdeveloped specifically to showcase its furniture catalogue – A piece of furniture such as a dining table or a television cabinet can be virtually displayed as a digital image overlaid on top of the real image of your home space. This lets you easily judge the appearance or gauge how it will fit in your home space.
Some of the more well-know AR devices include Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, and Sony Leap. AR is also used in mobile gaming applications such as Pokemon GO, where virtual creatures are placed into the real world.
Where does Mixed Reality fit?
As an independent notion, Mixed Reality combines the best of both worlds and covers all the possible disparities of the physical and the simulated worlds.
Also known as hybrid reality, Mixed Reality covers the spectrum where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Somewhere, between AR and VR, there is an overlap between the physical and the virtual worlds – that is where Mixed Reality comes in.
Both AR and VR require users to step out of their own reality – or to use another device (typically a smartphone) to access digital or “virtual” content. The experience is either all-encompassing (with VR – where the content overrides your current reality), or underwhelming (with AR – where the content is limited, does not understand your current reality and/or is at arm’s length on a relatively small screen).
Mixed Reality is designed to add digital assets to your current environment. It adds to the current environment in a natural way that gives the user benefits that non-users would not have.
For businesses, Mixed Reality can offer the most benefit and potentially offer limitless opportunities. Defining the polar ends of AR and VR spectrum Microsoft introduced Hololens in late 2016 as a groundbreaking device and showcased capabilities blending the real and virtual world. Despite being a promising product, there have been hiccups such as a limited field of view (FOV) restricted to only 30°, scaling and sizing holograms and others.
Learning from the failures, Microsoft recently released a new version of its Mixed Reality device – the Hololens2. Microsoft’s Hololens2 takes Mixed Reality beyond niche use cases using more natural gestures, a larger FOV and a multi-user environment – powered by Azure Mixed Reality services.
Mixed Reality in the Enterprise
The use cases of Mixed Reality are many and as the continuum builds, the testing, adoption and deployment cases will become wider. Microsoft’s device is not aimed for the consumer market and is primarily targeted towards business use cases.
Tim Sheedy, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm, believes, “Most of the short and medium-term use cases are really suited to businesses. There are definitely some longer-term opportunities for consumers, but that will require substantial miniaturisation of the hardware and change of form factor. Current MR systems won’t become mainstream devices in the consumer market.”
With Mixed Reality in the play, organisations will be able to explore newer ways of doing things:
Training. Training is a perfect use case. If you can imagine taking a typical guided software where tips pop up on a screen (such as “click this button to personalise your experience, click here to see current leads, click here to add an opportunity) and move this training to the real world (this lever shuts down the machine, this valve reduces pressure etc) then you can get an idea of what is possible.
Engineering. This applies to any job that requires engineers or repairers to work on equipment, where they can be guided through a fix. Any sensor that sends information back to a computer can now be visualised – a mechanic may look at a car and see green for all the components operating within standard range and red for those that need attention or repair.
Construction. A construction worker or site manager can see the entire building or components of the building in advance and make plans for the location of materials, staff, safety etc.
Graphics Designing. A designer can picture how a new product might look in an environment and can design the product with respect to the actual surroundings.
Healthcare. A surgeon could have a CT or MRI scan overlaid onto the patient as they operate to ensure they are targeting the right area.
Anywhere that digital assets or information can assist a worker or drive a more effective, faster or safer outcome are all potential use cases for Mixed Reality services.
A Look at the Field
The theory behind Mixed Reality is that it adds to the user experience in a natural way. Organisations are exploring opportunities to leverage these technologies in the real world. Despite numerous use cases and de facto descriptors, the technology cannot be manifested until it comes to real use.
“Mixed Reality will be a success when it is seamless to use for the first line workers – when it doesn’t feel like a computer you wear on your head!” says Sheedy. “You should be able to interact with these assets in a standard way – and this is where Hololens2 is a big step above the first iteration – as it will allow more natural interactions with the digital objects – you push something or turn something and it moves, versus the “finger click” approach of the first version.”
Imagine your first day at work at a new employer, and instead of a person showing up to give you the tour, you put on a Mixed Reality device (standard or industrialised for those in mining, construction etc) and you are given a tour with virtual overlay and audio guidance.
Sheedy believes that “Mixed Reality may never be a mainstream technology – well not in our generation at least. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a commercial success. If it is easy to deploy, manage, use, and code for and makes financial sense for businesses to deploy them then these devices will be used. The previous Hololens had commercial users – but Hololens2 should see more success as it is a better solution that can help businesses overcome even more challenges.”
The longer-term success of Mixed Reality will be how well it works with existing software platforms out-of-the-box. Support by SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, IBM and others will help to drive adoption.
How is it going to evolve in the future?
At present, the mobile device is the interface of choice for consumers and workers. But voice is quickly taking off (e.g. Google Home ). Mixed Reality adds an extra impetus to devices that are looking to supplant the smartphone as the interface to information, entertainment and data.
The longer-term future will likely see the emergence of standards that deliver the right information at the right time on the device of choice – whether that device be one with a screen, a microphone and a speaker (smart speaker like the Amazon Alexa), a screen and a speaker (such as a Hololens device), a smartwatch or another form factor.
“Mixed Reality devices will get smaller, smarter, faster, have better resolution, be more integrated (with cloud services and software platforms) and more integrated with another non-screen interface” says Sheedy.
“Access to the right information at the right time on the best device that drives the right outcomes will be the ultimate goal – and Mixed Reality will be one of the form factors that help consumers and businesses achieve that goal.”
It’s still too early to tell the direction this technology will take but the promises surely appear to be overwhelming. What do you think will be the future of Mixed Reality – is it another gimmick or will it really live up to its promise?