Customers are slowly drowning in the sheer number of platforms offered by vendors who wish to provide services. Thankfully, computer vision and artificial intelligence are here to unburden them, allowing you to build even better customer relationships.

One of 2018's key trends is Computers Have Eyes. Identified by Fjord - part of Accenture Interactive, the trend focuses on the changing capabilities of cameras. Computers are able to understand and interpret videos. Helped by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and the inclusion of high-quality cameras in more devices means that you can create new digital services and have access to different types of data. 

The storm surge of tech-driven customer service

A new wave has reached the shores of customer service. New technologies abound and we - the customers - are quickly learning how to handle the opportunities they offer, adopting increasingly high customer service expectations in the process. This wave isn’t rolling in quietly, either. It is more like a storm surge, created by technology front runners and washing away everyone who fails to keep up.

This is what happened: as organizations started to understand the implications of technological advancement, they began to offer a host of interesting customer services. Many of them required password-protected access to their platforms in order to buy, pay, check, subscribe and what have you. But with these services came chaos: the number of vendors is endless. As every one of them requires individual accounts to access their services, customers can no longer see the forest for the trees.

Hence, companies are now looking to solve their clients’ predicaments by using advanced technologies, such as computer vision and artificial intelligence. And we have grown to expect no less, pushing companies to outdo themselves in an effort to simplify our lives. This is the surge that is sweeping our shores. 

Fortunately, there are ways to catch this wave – even if you are not a technological frontrunner yourself or do not have an unlimited innovation budget. But we will get to that in a moment.

Image: Catch the Wave to Improve Customer Relationships - by Accenture

Four trends to explain what is going on

First of all, let’s dive into the four trends that are making this tech-driven customer service revolution possible. To illustrate these trends, we will step away from our water analogy and introduce the mint plants residing in our MOBGEN:lab offices. 

These mint plants are part of a blockchain experiment, in which we tied the health of the plant to an office-only cryptocurrency. The aim of the experiment is to “incentivize our collective care and conscious harvesting of it through financial devices”.

Trend 1. Computer vision

It also serves as a great way to explain our first trend: computer vision. You see, the mint plants are rigged with a camera. Computer vision allows us to obtain data through the use of this camera, analyzing, for instance, the amount of light in the room and subsequent growth of the plant. As all data is logged in the blockchain, the quality of our care is immediately visible: the better we look after the plant, the higher its financial value.

In other words, data captured through computer vision can help improve virtually every product or service. The iPhone X TrueDepth camerafor example, supports an infrared scanner, with which it has made an image of its user’s face. It projects and analyzes more than 30,000 invisible dots to create a precise depth map of your face, unlocking the smartphone when the user looks into the TrueDepth camera. Compare the ease of this service with a numerical code (iPhone 5) or even a fingerprint (iPhone 6)!

Image: How Computer Vision Alleviates Your Customers' Burdens - Computers Have Eyes Icon - by Accenture

Trend 2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

But this is not as straightforward as it sounds. The iPhone user will want to scan his face to unlock his phone, whether he is inside, or out, in a sunlit office or a candlelit restaurant. The sensors in the camera need to be able to learn from these ‘experiences’. They should even be able to learn from mistakes.

This is where the second trend comes in: artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision are joining forces to improve user experiences, giving our computers eyes and brains.

Google Lens, for instance, can identify a dog breed or a flower type by simply pointing the device at it, courtesy of machine learning. In another example, Chinese e-commerce mogul Alibaba introduced Alipay’s Smile to Pay, a facial recognition technology that literally enables customers to make a payment by smiling at the camera. And Amazon Go does not even require a smile: the sensors following you around know exactly who you are and what you do in the store. You walk in, take your product and walk out. Technology takes care of the rest.

Trend 3. Data design

But in order to offer a seamless experience, data design is necessary: we need to establish how a response is given to the person interacting with the device. In our mint plant experiment, the plant needs to respond to our (lack of) activity, telling us for instance that if we don’t start taking care of it now, it will die, reducing our cryptocurrency investment to zero.

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In our Alipay example, illustrated in this video, data design, or the route towards the service, is demonstrated. The video shows a customer with an Alibaba account who walks into a restaurant and places an order. She is then asked to make a facial scan, before providing her phone number as a second check to confirm her identity. Payment will be made automatically from the eWallet in her account. She can simply sit down and enjoy her meal. This is a great example of data design, the third trend we see that enables an improved user experience by applying technology, successfully combining data and design.

Trend 4. Design context

How data is designed, depends on the context. When you are standing in line in a store, you require different feedback than when you are standing alone, in front of a screen. Similarly, you might wish to read extensive information in a brochure, while you’ll probably settle for opening hours on a website. What information is needed to serve a customer best depends on the design context, the fourth trend we identified.

This field of work requires knowledge about how to develop an intuitive experience. We used to wait for the cashier to scan our products and hand us the receipt. Nowadays, we see the scanned products on the screen, making the receipt essentially redundant. In the near future, we will pay via facial expressions or fingerprints. But we will only do so when it is fast, intuitive and done in a trustworthy fashion.

Image: How  Computer Vision Alleviates Your Customers' Burdens - Design at the Heart Icon - by Accenture

Let's not forget cybercrime

But as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal has made abundantly clear, one of the most important pitfalls of these trends is the risk of cybercrime. In a not-too-distant future, when our mirrors, fridges and so on all have technology built into them, the data they obtain will become increasingly valuable. This will only accelerate our demand for privacy protection measures.

Identify the opportunities within your scope

So far, we have seen that there is no escaping the storm surge that will simplify our customers’ lives. We have discussed the technological trends and their requirements. We have also touched on the importance of appropriate protection against cybercriminals, as our willingness to use these new technologies depends on it.

But in case you are taken aback by all this information: rest assured. As we said at the start of this article, you don’t need to be a bleeding-edge innovator, nor do you need to have a huge bank account in order to grow toward these trends. What you do need is the inspiration and an opportunity to brainstorm about the possibilities that are within your scope. Surely, you don’t need to rebuild your store to match Amazon Go. But you might be able to speed up the payment procedure or enable the use of coin-free shopping carts.

Therefore, we would like to invite you to our MOBGEN:lab in the Netherlands to experience technology and design first-hand, talk to the experts and develop an understanding of what you can do to unburden your customers and serve them better. After all, the technology is already here. If you want to start optimizing your relationships with your customers, you only need to start using it.