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Mary Meeker (partner at KPCB) has published her annual Internet Trends Report. There’s tons of data in the report so here’s a quick summary of the key points which are most relevant for improving customer engagement.

  1. It’s time to talk the talk – voice will become integral to how customers and brands engage

Conversation is king as voice prepares to take over as the main form of human – computer interaction.

Why? Well, we’re human. Talking comes naturally to us. It’s fast (Humans speak 150 words per minute vs. type 40), it’s easy, convenient, hands-free, instant, and the ability to understand the wide context of questions based on prior questions, interactions, location and other semantics mean that customer experiences become more personalised and context-driven.

Did you say fork handles or four candles? While many voice recognition tools can be frustrating to use now, Meeker said when speech recognition reaches 99% accuracy, which will happen this year, people will go from barely using it to using it all the time. Also as it becomes faster (who wants to wait 10 seconds for a response) so the reduction in latency will also drive adoption. In five years’ time at least 50% of all searches are going to be either through images or speech. (Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu).

While customer engagement increasingly becomes more human-like voice interaction will become a key tool to help customers engage with brands. This will also be in any context but especially at home, on the move, when your customers will be out and about. Imagine any situation where you want to give your customers access to your brand but at a moment of interaction they have their hands full or need to look at something else. If you offer them a way to still interact with you, by voice, you are offering them the opportunity to still have a conversation with you, quite literally. Voice therefore will also become a key part of how brands connect their channels together to enable seamless omni-channel customer engagement.

  1. The magic of the conversational thread can now continue across all touchpoints

Meeker quotes the ‘secret sauce’ is ‘the magic of the thread’. This is the key to enabling better customer engagement. Meeker presents this in the context of the evolution of messaging platforms such as Facebook and WeChat, but the key is how customer conversations, irrespective of channel or touchpoint, can now continue seamlessly and naturally with brands.

The conversational thread remembers people’s identity, time, location, preferences and context and by nature is conversational it enables a trusted, relevant, contextually-aware basis for customer engagement. This means customers might start a conversation with a brand in one channel, for example an Instagram shop, on their mobile phone. That conversation may continue across a plethora of touchpoints as they then enquire about a product, pay, arrange shipment and track their order. With the magic of the conversational thread being maintained this feels second-nature and human to customers. This is an enormous step-change to the days when customers felt they were being tied up in knots by brands, when the conversational thread kept being dropped or lost completely.

For brands to have improved, longer relationships with your customers you need to have ongoing conversations which drive value for you and your customers. The ‘secret sauce’, the magic of the conversational thread, for brands means you can now weave joined-up, effortless customer engagement.

Meeker quotes Hyatt as an example of a brand who are maintaining the conversational thread with customers across touchpoints and channels, so customers can search for hotels, check room availability, make reservations and order room services.

The fact that messaging platforms have evolved to partially enable this is important, but the key to effortless customer engagement and happier customers is how the magic of the thread of conversation can now continue seamlessly, anywhere, at any time, on any device the customer chooses and prefers.

  1. Data will drive the intelligence behind customer engagement

Meeker’s report shows the evolution of data getting really rather brainy. The number of touchpoints that customers interact with that can provide insight data are rapidly increasing: Mobiles, tablets, drones, fitness watches, game consoles, apps, internet-of-things in cars and homes.

As we start to make the most of unlimited connectivity and storage to collect, aggregate, correlate and interpret this data brands will be more able to improve people’s lives, improve customer experiences everywhere, and enable businesses to improve their systems and processes around the customer, as we move into an era of data intelligence.

We used to have complex tools operated by data analysts, chaos of data silos across companies. Now we are moving into an era where data insight platforms are built for everyone, especially non-technical business users, so the knowledge and value that can be gained from them can scale throughout organisations.

For better customer engagement this means wherever a customer is doing something there’s an opportunity now to learn something about them, to listen, watch and learn about their behaviour, preferences and needs – and then use that insight to offer the customer more value. This trend in data insights is what will enable brands to use real-time actionable customer journeys, an absolutely essential ingredient in driving effortless engagement and happier customers.

  1. Retail customer engagement is omni-channel as physical and digital channels connect

Retail channels have evolved, shaped by the evolution of technology and distribution. e-Commerce began in the 1990s with the launch of Amazon. Since then physical retailers have become digital retailers and digital retailers have become data optimised physical retailers. Today omni-channel is key to being able to deliver more value to customers.

Meeker gives Warby Parker as an example of a retailer who started out as an online retailer and who are now one of the top grossing physical retailers per square foot in the USA, now worth $1.2bn, the 2nd highest valued US online retail company with nearly 30 physical stores around the US. Warby Parker quote their excellent omni-channel customer experience (and therefore their improved customer engagement as a result) as being a primary reason for their success.

Meeker’s report highlights how retailers have realised it’s essential to connect their channels to take their brand into effortless engagement and happier customers.  Connecting physical and digital channels means your customers will be free to move around your brand as they wish, they will feel in control of their own journeys, and their conversations with you will feel seamless. All of this will contribute to a feeling of trust in your brand. Actionable customer journey insight is a key factor in making this happen, the glue which joins your channels together.

5. 2016 is the Year of The Customer

Overall Mary Meeker’s report highlights how with the evolution of technology we are now truly moving into the Age of The Customer. There’s a lot to think about, but for the brands that get it right it’s a time to deliver effortless engagement and happier customers.

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