Customer interaction of the future, part 4: No product is final
Many consumers want individual, highly personalized products: Chocolates are printed with a photo of the customer’s significant other and their favorite movie hero adorns their smartphone case – but how will this trend develop in light of increasingly flexible production processes? The fourth part of our series on customer interaction of the future provides some possible answers.
When on the search for “their” new car, features lists that are becoming more extensive by the day and the question, “What do I need and what do I want?” have been occupying buyers’ minds for decades. Opel has taken this to the extreme and with its city runabout car Adam, the buyer almost becomes a co-designer. For the exterior alone, the two-tone paintwork, different decorations and wheel rims as well as replaceable colored clips make up more than 60,000 possible combinations according to the manufacturer’s specifications, and for the interior there are more than 80,000. Sneaker fans get the right car shoes – and shoes for other occasions, too – at Adidas. They can use an app to get their own pictures printed directly onto the shoe.
Consumers are increasingly taking on the role of co-producer. Touted by many, the next industrial revolution or “Industry 4.0” will further accelerate this development. Machines and production processes are linked to smart factories while cloud-based platforms take over monitoring, maintenance and machine optimization. These in turn communicate with each other and decide autonomously when which machines are used and where. Production processes then become more flexible and more autonomous. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute have built an autonomous farm in the US, for example. The plants grow from mineral wool in containers using hydroponics. Light, water and minerals are automatically distributed.
Individualize, change, improve – even after purchase
In future, adjustments according to the customer’s wishes will not just be restricted to the period before purchase; products can also be changed or refined after the actual production. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already developed different materials for intelligent clothing. Sports shirts react to changes in air humidity and open small ventilation flaps when the wearer works up a sweat. Another material contracts when it is cold and expands when warm and the fabric gets thicker or more coarsely meshed. A jacket made from this material would self-regulate how warm or cool it is.
Many products in future will never be fully finished. Instead they will find themselves permanently stuck in the beta stage. They can be altered by software updates and the addition or exchange of hardware produced by a 3D printer in the owner’s own garage right up until the end of their operating lives. Market researchers form Research and Markets are of the opinion that the global market for 3D printing will be in the region of 30 billion US dollars in 2022. Information from Statista reveals that in 2016, it was valued at around ten billion. Consumers can learn which features a modified product will have before purchasing the upgrade in a variety of ways. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) give a realistic impression while different platforms allow users to exchange experiences or borrow a device directly from the provider.
But it’s not just physical products that will be customizable. For example, an insurance policy automatically adjusts for business trips abroad, a new sporting hobby or a skiing holiday. Smart heating thermostats react not only to whether there is someone in the house, but they also independently analyze the energy market and change which forms of energy are being used in order to save money or use the most eco-friendly energy source possible – depending on what is more important to the resident.
In most cases, however, these services require a bit of quid pro quo from the user: data. For companies to be able to automatically adapt products, services and conditions, they must have the corresponding information from the user or their personal digital assistant. They can then create highly personalized product environments using predictive and real-time analytics that the consumer sees and can actively change.
How this affects customer dialog
The opportunity to constantly change products has different effects on customer dialog.
- Customer service is becoming highly individual and application-orientated. AR and VR solutions realistically show consumers how they can apply and adjust products.
- The interactions between customers, manufacturers, vendors and other customers are increasing significantly.
- In order to be able to offer customers the right product adjustments, extensive amounts of data must be analyzed and intelligently filtered.
- The management of the customer’s own data footprint will be an important service factor.
- Personal adjustments also entail a flow of information which must be managed.
- Suppliers can quickly rectify development failures and integrate new features.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.