As any fan of sci-fi knows, the writers from the 1930s and 1940s often came surprisingly close to modern reality. They discussed a future in which robots replaced human labor, computers could learn and mobile devices could track the user's financial data. They wrote about customer interfaces that required no human interaction, a society that did not rely on physical currency and a world in which information could be accessed with a few keystrokes.
Technology has changed the way that people work, shop and interact with each other. Technology is available to let you deposit a check by just using your smartphone, work from any location or have "face time" with friends and relatives who are thousands of miles away. Debit cards have reduced reliance on cash and checks. Mobile devices have allowed you to "cut the cord" and access the Internet while on the go. Although it is possible to debate whether people are driving technology or simply responding to it, there is an almost endless list of ways that technology has impacted the life of virtually every American.
However, it seems that the world of technology still has some surprises in store. If you need additional proof, consider the following three examples of how three major brands are embracing futuristic technologies to delight customers.
As an e-commerce giant, Amazon has taken on book stores, electronics dealers and many other retailers. However, 93 percent of all the retail sales in the United States still occur at physical stores, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Virtually all grocery shopping requires an in-store visit if you want the freedom to compare items and select those with the freshest dates or perfect packaging. The price you pay is the time you spend wandering a circuitous path carefully designed to encourage you to make impulse purchases as well as the time you spend waiting in line to check out.
Amazon Go was developed to eliminate the drawbacks associated with grocery shopping. Shoppers use the Amazon Go app to gain access to the store, which is a compact 1,800 square feet. The app tracks the items they select, so when shopping is complete, customers simply walk out, skipping the checkout lines. Their purchases will be charged to the card registered with their Amazon account.
The beta store in Seattle was opened in 2016 to Amazon employees, and the company plans to give everyone access to the store in early 2017. If the pilot store proves successful, you can expect to see many more stores pop up across the country.
Most diners would not consider McDonald's as a company that embraces technology, but that perception may be changing soon. The company has announced that it plans to install self-serve kiosks for ordering and expand table service to all of its locations in the United States. The kiosks and table service have been tested in 500 McDonald's restaurants in the United States and approximately 2,600 restaurants worldwide.
Customers order at a kiosk, receive a digital location device and then take a seat. Once their order is ready, the device identifies the customer's table so that a server can deliver the food. The move to technology is intended to remedy the dissatisfaction that customers feel when they must stand around the counter to await their food. The company believes that the wait will be less onerous if customers can take a seat and rely on a server to deliver their food. How quickly the system will be in place at every McDonald's depends largely on the ability of franchisees to pay for the new kiosks, which can run between $28,000 and $56,000.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
KFC has launched the world's first fast food restaurant that lets customers order and receive their food without ever having to interact with a human. The store, located in Shanghai, is called Original+, and it is unlike any other KFC. After entering through a circular doorway, customers find an interior with jade accents, flowers and bamboo that reflects a traditional Chinese garden. The cashiers are small robots called Du Mi; they take orders, process payments and are the only interaction that customers have with staff. The Du Mi employ artificial intelligence to be engaging and cordial while they usher customers through the entire purchasing process.
Technology is also making significant inroads in many other businesses. For example, Emirates NBD has introduced an AI robot at one of its bank branches in the United Arab Emirates. The robot, called Pepper, will tell customers about the bank's different services and products but will not participate in core banking functions. Instead, Pepper is capable of recognizing basic human emotions, adapting his behavior to match the mood of the customer and understanding the customer's reason for the visit to present alternatives and hopefully make their banking more convenient.
Advances in AI technology are helping companies improve the customer experience and create customers who are more loyal. Although some naysayers believe that the novelty will soon wear off, it has become increasingly clear that AI can help a variety of businesses deliver a better customer experience.
- Consumers want speedy responses, and AI can allow faster actions and expedited decisions.
- Resolutions can be better tailored to the customer's specific problem to ensure a better outcome.
- Employees and operations can realize improved efficiency, allowing more customers to be served with the same staffing.
- AI can reduce costs for the business, which can often translate into savings for the customer.
- Businesses can use the behaviors detected by AI to determine the best channel for interacting with a customer. For example, AI may help a company decide whether an email will provide the same level of customer satisfaction as a more costly phone call.
Research from Gartner indicates that 85 percent of the relationships between consumers and businesses will be accomplished without human interaction within the next five years. Companies that embrace innovative technologies early and become adept at harnessing their power will be the ones likely to realize the greatest benefits.