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Forrester report: Automation is taking over customer interaction
Agents, bots, intelligent self-service and hardware robots are coming for your customers.
If you think you’ve finally gotten a handle on customer engagement, buckle up.
That’s because “automation is reshaping customer engagement,” according to a recent Forrester report on agents, bots, hardware robots and intelligent self-service solutions that will address customer-facing problems over the next 10 years. (Self-driving vehicles might also relate to customer engagement, such as with taxis or car services, but they were the subject of another recent report from Forrester.)
“Automation Technologies for Customer Engagement” gives the example of Dallas-based lawn care company Robin Technologies. Because lawn mowing is the least profitable of its offerings, it partnered with tech development firm Dialexa Labs to create a robotic lawn mowing device.
The device lives on the customer’s lawn, recharges from a base station, contains a GPS tracker and is restricted to the property via an installed wire perimeter. Robin handles maintenance, and the new product frees it to concentrate on more profitable lines of business.
Report author and Forrester Vice President J.P. Gownder sees automated solutions taking over a lot more than grass cutting. In fact, they appear destined to handle most — if not all — customer interactions, at least for initial touch points like phone calls or physical store assistance as soon as you walk through the door.
I pointed out that interactive voice response (IVR) on phone calls is often so frustrating that I usually request a live operator because it’s faster. He agreed, but noted that “a second wave of IVR is starting to supplement the first,” with such vendors as SmartAction’s more natural interaction voice automation or IPsoft’s Amelia, an AI-agent designed for interaction with people:
There’s also the matter of fewer jobs. A separate Forrester report, “The Future of Jobs, 2027: Working Side by Side with Robots,” deals with that subject. Gownder summarized it as saying that hardware and software automation will displace an estimated 24.7 million jobs in the US, but it will create 14.9 million for a net loss of 9.8 million jobs.
That’s a 7 percent net job loss, which Gownder characterized as “like the Great Recession.” That is, serious but not Depression-level catastrophic.
In addition to the loss of jobs, he said, the biggest impact for US workers will be a change in “how we work.”
“Most people will work side by side with robots” or other automated services, he said, at least for the next 10 years, adding that it’s “impossible to predict” farther into the future.
Some of the new jobs, he speculated, could be what he described as “white-gloved concierge” jobs, where human assistance becomes a premium or differentiating feature for brands, as automated customer service becomes the norm.
Brands might also choose other ways to differentiate their customer experience, he suggested, given that many companies will likely license their AI and interaction engines from the same or similar services.
Agents/bots might have brand-specific personalities, for instance. In some cases, additional functions and scale can differentiate, the way banks now tout how many ATM machines they have and what they can do. Autonomous services can also provide more personalized offers at scale than human-run services can, like Persado’s automation of optimized marketing emails.
In the near term, companies can begin to differentiate themselves by becoming first movers, he said, just as Robin Technologies is now the first on its block with robot lawn mowers. Here’s a graphic from the report, with advice on how companies might adjust their automation strategies for robotics and virtual assistants to their own “maturity level”:
As for marketers, their role is likely to evolve. Gownder sees them focusing more on overall brand storytelling, such as when Autodesk hired professional novelists to write scripts for chatbots.
But marketing itself will likely have to be reinvented. He envisioned a customer, Maxine, whose personal intelligent agent points out that her calendar shows an upcoming formal dress dinner. Since the agent knows she likes to shop at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, it has already pulled up some possible dresses and cross-referenced them with her styles as shown on her social accounts.
But what about other high-end clothing stores? They don’t even get a chance to make their case — unless their automated agents have kept Maxine up to date on their selections.
Your agent talks to my agent. It sounds like Hollywood, but it may be how marketers interact in a decade or so.