Technological innovation is the catalyst that will determine our future experience and relationship with brands.

Already progress in this field has transformed how we buy and sell goods. Now we pay with a fingerprint, control our finances through our phone and even have our goods delivered into our front room while we are out.

Waitrose’s recent ‘in-home’ delivery initiative, powered by smart-lock technology, is the latest effort from a major UK retailer to make the shopping experience even more convenient for customers. Concepts like this may be exciting, but implementing the latest tech isn’t a guarantee of success.

The brands that unlock long-term customer loyalty will be those that embrace the latest technology without losing sight of what really matters to their customer. They understand that technology alone cannot solve customer challenges. Like a car without an engine, installing the latest tech may look great at first glance, but without that substance it simply will not go anywhere.

At every stage, businesses have to consider what the problem is they are trying to solve, how technology can help provide a solution, and how this will integrate into the operations of the wider business.

Make the right choices

At the heart of getting this balance right is a concept that Forrester has called ‘customer obsession’. As the analyst house recognises, customers expect a level of personalisation and speed of service, never experienced before. Therefore, brands must not only have an ever more granular and current understanding of these demands, they must be able to act on them. 

An example of getting this balance wrong can be seen in the recent influx of AI and chatbots. Such technologies are known for cutting costs, but the lack of human interaction can often alienate customers. Further to this, in its Consumer Intelligence Series Study, Experience is Everything, PwC found that 60 percent of respondents claimed the use of technology to enhance customer experiences has seen companies lose touch with the ‘human’ element. However, if applied thoughtfully to a specific challenge and demand within the customer base, technology can have a positive impact. 

Recent research from Context Consulting on behalf of Valitor, found that 87 percent of mid-large retailers claim omni-channel payment solutions play either a ‘critical’ or ‘important role’ in improving Customer Experience. Payments are no longer confined to a shop floor – a customer may try an item in a shop, leave, then purchase the item later on a smartphone. Implementing omnichannel technologies will ensure the payments experience is consistent across online and offline channels. In turn, customers aren’t frustrated or deterred by a disjointed shopping experience.

Good things come from the unexpected

The relationship with a customer is only as strong as the weakest link. Innovation sometimes comes from the least expected areas and payments is on the front line. Customers don’t care about payments, they simply want to buy more easily, and the merchant wants to meet customer expectations without losing sales to competitors. There is little attention on this element of the Customer Experience, but getting it right can determine the entire impression a customer has of an organisation.

It is understandably tempting for a business to be keen to adopt the latest technology and earn the tag of a ‘first-mover’ in a certain space, but if this pioneering attitude is not matched by a clear customer need or expectation, it will ultimately prove fruitless. The true business leaders will match a technological solution with a challenge their customers are experiencing. Innovation doesn’t have to be sexy – it has to work.

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