Visiting the dentist is associated with pain. This time, however, in addition to the usual prodding and pricking, I experienced another agony – the affliction of bad customer experience.


Instead of being treated like a seven-year regular, I was given the newcomer routine. The reception desk handed me a dense, two-page form requesting my name, address and other details like my email address – even though an email reminder from their office got me there in the first place!


Why do businesses invest so little in making customer interactions easier and more pleasurable? They clearly invest in advertising and marketing: sophisticated databases, algorithms and campaign rules routinely interrupt our enjoyment of content. Yet brands rarely apply technology to make doing business simpler and hassle-free.


Another example of a poor experience was being bombarded by emails to register for a conference right after I signed up. Not only is that inefficient, it’s really annoying. Unfortunately, these are not exceptions. Why?


Designing great customer experiences is hard. Being a truly digital business goes extending the customer experience beyond the sale to include the entire Customer Journey. Being digital requires that your product or service is interactive and intelligent.


For example, what interactions would make a visit to the dentist less tedious and more enchanting? What if it were possible to walk in for cleanings and other minor procedures without an appointment (like Jiffy Lube) and to shop for the lowest-cost dental insurance (like esurance)? Eliminating these two hassles – scheduling and out of pocket fees – would be a game changer.


My dentist’s office is not unique.  It seems that in spite of the plethora of new devices, faster bandwidth, and easy-to-deploy cloud applications, customer experience has stagnated for many brands and industries. There’s been a failure to imagine what’s next, making many brands easy targets for “Uber-ization”  – the phenomenon of being wiped off the face of the earth by more satisfying and efficient customer experiences.


I believe the next transformative enablers are natural language and artificial intelligence. We see signs of “cognitive computing” everywhere. Natural language got its biggest boost in awareness through Apple’s Siri. Then came Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now, the Amazon Echo and of course, the incredible feat of IBM’s Watson winning Jeopardy.


Recently, IBM has raised the bar with their call for “cognitive business,” as reported in Fortune Magazine. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty says, “Digital is the wires, but digital intelligence is much more than that. This next decade is about how you become a cognitive business.” She goes on to make specific recommendations for building a cognitive business such as “putting learning into every product.”


Much has been written about Uber and Airbnb radically simplifying and transforming their customer experiences. Certainly designers helped imagine the apps, but to a great extent, the elegance and “magic” of the services were enabled by data scientists applying machine learning to predict the most desirable options for users.


Finally, the Campbell Soup Company proved that you don’t have to be high-tech to go high-tech. According to Advertising Age, Campbell’s developed a “voice app” for the Amazon Echo, the voice-controlled device for the home introduced last year. Imagine sitting in the den and asking aloud to the Echo device, “What are Campbell’s recipes for today?” Echo reads out a list, you choose one, walk over to the kitchen and with your hands free, you’re guided by the Campbell’s app, step by step through the recipe – much like driving and being directed by your phone or GPS. It’s not very sophisticated but hints at future experiences made smarter by cognitive computing.


IBM’s cognitive business push reminds us that all products have to become smarter to compete. Besides talking to us, future products need to anticipate our needs (predictive analytics) and help us navigate complex choices (machine learning). Future products need to “know what’s going on” (Internet of Things) and understand what we’re looking for (semantic search).


Today using most products and services still feels like pulling teeth, so digital experts must step up to the challenge of applying cognitive computing to make customer experiences radically better.


Andy Roy

Andy Roy

Digital Director


Digital: Build the Change you wish to see in the world. Design Patterns are the key to rapid innovation.

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