I believe that the trends we’ll see emerging in 2015 will be driven largely by the enormous changes that have occurred in the relationship between customer and organisation over the past few years. The impact of these changes on businesses will become un-ignorable in 2015, making it the year of the customer. Consumers will continue to gain power, while companies that haven’t caught on yet will need to adapt their processes and underlying infrastructure quick sharp.
I foresee these major trends that will enable this ‘year of the customer’:
1. Generations Y&Z Make Video Imperative
As consumers have become accustomed to communicating via video, businesses have increasingly been offering video chat to their customers. In 2015, the growing spending power of Millennials will continue to fuel this trend – research shows that Generation Y typically prefers not to use the phone, while Generation Z shies away from email too, making video often Millennials’ first choice communication method.
I also expect to see video enabling deeper customer engagement in specific areas like healthcare, financial services and distance learning where it can make an important face-to-face impact. The midmarket too, which typically has found customer-facing video prohibitively expensive will take advantage of lower-cost solutions.
WebRTC technology will have a key role in creating widespread video support. This open source standard that allows users to communicate with each other by voice and video directly through a Web or mobile browser, without the need for extra software or plug-ins, is now starting to be implemented in customer service applications. The ease of use it provides will ultimately have a massive impact on the adoption of video as a customer engagement tool.
2. Next Generation Networks Come Of Age
2014 has seen the speed of business increase rapidly due to advances in customer expectation, social media and mobility. Organisations are beginning to realise that their technology infrastructure, including the corporate network, plays a critical role in helping them to engage with their customers and employees alike, in an agile and timely manner.
However, most businesses are still relying on networks that are slow, inflexible and often unstable. Research conducted earlier this year shows that organisations can spend more than nine months per year waiting to make the necessary network changes to deliver a new or improved service to the business. As companies begin to better understand this problem, they will shift to a next-generation networking approach which can reduce configuration times, speed up network changes and reduce errors.
3. Midmarket Communications Move To The Cloud
According to research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) released this summer, some 80 percent of UK large enterprises have adopted at least one cloud-based service. However, when it comes to the midmarket, cloud uptake remains very patchy. Communication-related applications, like video conferencing, unified communication and collaboration, still largely remain on-premise. But we are now at the tipping point where this is set to change. This is for a number of reasons.
First, midmarket businesses in the EU are booming. In the UK, throughout the recession the sector bucked the economy’s negative growth trend and since then has continued to outperform the rest of the economy. Research predicts that the Italian midmarket will employ a further 74,000 people this year and the French midmarket will contribute nearly €49bn to its economy moving forward. The benefits that cloud can deliver to these growing, vibrant businesses are instantaneous and can have a bottom line impact in weeks.
Second, traditionally many business communication applications have been part of the large enterprise armoury, out of reach for the midmarket. However thanks to tailored midmarket solutions and flexible cloud delivery methods, this is now changing, enabling them to compete more effectively with larger companies.
Perhaps most importantly, putting business communications applications into the cloud gives midmarket companies the flexibility and agility that allows them to respond to their customers even more quickly and appropriately, enabling them to offer that amazing customer service that they are so famous for. These benefits, coupled with the fact that midmarket-specific solutions are now available, and that cloud is not a new technology, mean 2015 will see a massive surge in the numbers of midsized organisations opting for cloud-delivered communications and collaboration services.
4. Wearables Gather Momentum
This year wearable device launches have continued to gain momentum – just look at the hype that surrounded the iWatch announcement – as have real-life uses of them. On their own, Google Glass or the iWatch may not yet have generated the same mass consumer adoption that triggered corporate IT to accommodate BYOD or social media use, but we will see the first signs of this in 2015.
Those first signs will reflect companies’ ever-increasing focus on the customer, since they will be based on customer engagement. Wearables provide a new way for consumers to interface with service representatives, meeting customers on their terms. This can lead to increased customer loyalty and the potential for new customer adoption. From a business stand point it leads to greater efficiency.
Take financial services, for example: by integrating a video strategy, enabled by Google Glass, banks can cut costs by centralising and reducing customer service staff (especially in low-traffic regions) to contact centre locations where they can take inquiries from customers across the country through either an app or a video-enabled ATM. This can lead to other benefits, for example extended service hours. Next year I believe we will start to see an increasing number of organisations offering customers the ability to interact with them via their wearable devices.