The Future of Work Will Look a Lot Like Today's Customer Experience
Winston Churchill may have been speaking for today’s consumer when he said “I am always satisfied with the very best.”
Today’s extraordinary level of consumer expectation explains the considerable investment devoted to customer satisfaction. With so much focus on keeping customers satisfied through a variety of loyalty programs, technology and unique experiences, it’s not surprising that improving the experience of the workers supporting customers has taken a back seat.
Yet research overwhelmingly confirms the strong positive correlation between employee satisfaction and engagement, and happy customers … and that includes non-customer-facing back office workers.
With all that we have learned about improving customer experiences, it makes sense to exploit these lessons to the workplace as well.
The good news is that many of the same strategies and techniques used to engage customers can readily be leveraged to improve the employee experience. By observing today’s new customer-facing tools, we can make some good predictions about what to expect in the enterprise in the not too distant future.
Bringing 5 Consumer Trends Into the Workplace
Personalization, analytics and predictive modeling
In almost every market, customer segments are comprised of a mixture of personality and demographic types. So it’s obvious how customer segmentation and big data analytics tools can help businesses recommend how to best address the needs of their customers and prospects.
In a similar manner, businesses can use employee analytics to improve the service provided to workers to increase their effectiveness.
In the course of normal work, operational systems collect data about how, when and who is using each system and what they are doing with each one. New graph technologies like the Microsoft Graph and IBM Graph can augment these analytics tools to provide insights into how employees interact with colleagues and content to get work done.
And it may not be long before analytics tools will be able to integrate data from multiple graphs, applications and services into a single, coherent 360-degree, multi-vendor view of what’s happening in the enterprise.
When this happens, businesses will finally be able to present ‘the right information at the right time, via the right interface, and within the appropriate business context.’ Workers can finally go back to focussing on work rather than worrying about where the operational data they need to complete their tasks resides.
The next wave of mobile
As in the consumer world, workers in the business world are increasingly doing more on the go, away from their desktop or laptop computers.
Yet the small form factor of smartphones and tablets combined with their barely-usable keyboards make it hard to use them for work. Couple device limitations with distracted use contexts like driving a car, walking down the street or eating dinner, and it’s clear why mobile devices have failed to replace the laptop and desktop computer as the primary work instrument.
This will change when the way we interact with these devices improves.
Next generation interactions will exploit the wealth of sensors built into mobile devices. It’s only a matter of time before Bluetooth, near-field communication (NFC), accelerometers, GPS sensors, light sensors, gyroscopes and even fingerprint sensors built into the devices are used to craft context-aware user experiences.
Smartphones already know where you are, how fast you are moving, what applications are currently active, and who is in your vicinity. The next step is applying this information to tailor-made user experiences that reduce the amount of information you need to input to the device.
Businesses already offer tools like chatbots and voicebots to consumers to enhance their buying experience. And while these technologies represent a new user interface, they do not provide the underlying intelligence needed to offer customers options or help them make decisions.
Rather, virtual assistants represent a complementary technology to the aforementioned personalization/analytics tools, namely the next generation user interface layer.
Virtual assistants will appear in the workplace as well, but for a different purpose.
Rather than helping to buy products or services, enterprise virtual assistants will release workers from the need to use multiple applications, web interfaces and mobile apps by abstracting the human computer interaction to a freeform chat or voice conversation.
And here is where virtual assistants will really shine: By freeing workers from constricting computer interfaces, they will focus more on their work and less on using technology. This is particularly important when workers need to work ‘hands-free,’ like when driving a vehicle, or when operating dangerous equipment.
Omnichannel technology provides a smooth, continuous experience across multiple media and contexts, such as switching from a phone app to a computer application. Apple incorporates a basic form of this experience in its Handoff technology, which enables users to listen to a playlist on their iPhone and then transfer it to a Mac without interruption.
At work, a simple example of an omnichannel experience would be taking pictures at a construction site using a smartphone camera. Back at the office, turning on your computer would launch a GIS application with images already uploaded and cataloged, so you could immediately focus on updating the latest building plans.
By reducing friction associated with searching for information and changing work contexts, worker productivity will improve, with a corresponding reduction in frustration … all of which improves the employee engagement that leads to customer satisfaction.
Social media and community support
Personalization and big data analytics won’t solve all our workplace productivity challenges. In fact, these technologies will primarily augment not replace human intelligence in the coming round of workplace innovation, helping people make the right decisions rather than making the decisions themselves.
We’ll still need human experience and expertise in the workplace, and it’s here that new social media and community tools will help. But a note of caution: these social tools will only see widespread adoption when they are integrated seamlessly into an employee’s daily work routine. Microsoft is trying this with the integration of Office Groups into its Office suite of productivity products, and Slack is trying to integrate chat with notifications from enterprise apps.
Alternative approaches like the new Workplace by Facebook, which try to replicate a consumer sharing experience in a work environment, will fail to gain adoption, because these experiences are disconnected from the worker’s daily routine.
The Next, But Not Final, Step in Workplace Evolution
Big data and personalization analytics, artificial intelligence and smart new mobile technologies are bringing a big change in how consumers research and buy products.
It only makes sense that we will soon see similar enterprise-grade tools in the workplace. These tools are merely the next step in our ongoing romance with technology and how it can improve our lives. The journey will continue because we will never be satisfied …. As Thomas Edison said,
“Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”
A technology strategist, David is VP Product Strategy at harmon.ie, a leading provider of user experience products, and a PhD candidate in Information Management, exploring information overload experienced by mobile workers.