Serving the "Autonomous Customer": How Technology is Supercharging Customers

Date:   Thursday , May 30, 2013

British Telecommunications (BT), wholly owned subsidiary of BT Group plc (NYSE:BT, LSE: BT-A.L), is a provider of communications services and solutions, serving customers in more than 170 countries. Headquartered in London, the company has a current market capital of $22.23 billion.

Technology is accelerating the way we shop, bank and communicate. This change is driven by alignment of new-age shopper's expectations from the retailers; especially online retailers that are setting the highest benchmark of service, price transparency and availability of stock. In order to get to their goal of a good bargain and the right product, the modern-day customer tends to hop from one channel to the other, virtually creating a parallel 'omni-channel' world.

This is leading the world to what organizations refer to as the rise of the "autonomous customer" customers who are mobile, internet and technology-savvy, are loyal to no one brand, and may cut organizations out of the dialogue process completely when considering their next purchase.

According to a joint study by Avaya and BT Global Services titled "Meeting the demands of customers in the future", for an autonomous customer, shopping online starts by seeking advice on a search engine or a social media site rather than an organization's official website. These customers (which are over 65 percent) will continually change their preferred contact channel depending on where they are and what they are doing. They are no longer loyal and will buy more from companies that make it easier for them to do business with.

The research offers some interesting insights into the evolving mind of the customer identifying two ways that organizations can respond to the autonomous customer - reduce customer effort and integrate service across multiple channels.

Key Trends

Close to 80 percent of the respondents say that they will prefer buying more from companies that make it easier for them to do so indicating that satisfaction is no longer sufficient to gain the loyalty and organizations need to make it easier for customers to do business with them, irrespective of the channel.

Over to 40 percent of customers do recognize that use of automated voice and web self-service is a way for companies to keep service costs down. However, these must be well designed and easy for customers to navigate. Further, distressing factors like repeating account details over and over again and online security are driving customers to open up to the idea of using techniques such as voice biometrics (with 56 percent saying that they would use this).

Customers are also a little cynical about official information on corporate websites and often prefer listening to online reviews/advice. Close to 30 percent customers want to interact with organizations using social media leading to almost all conversations going 'public'. However, what starts in public may need to be resolved through more conventional one-to-one channels as it is not necessarily legal, practical or desirable to discuss customers' personal details in front of everyone else. This is where better integration of social and traditional channels becomes essential what starts on a social channel can be pulled into a more private phone conversation or webchat to resolve.

Know your markets

In a culturally diverse and rich region like Asia Pacific, the study revealed a number of fascinating differences in customer behaviors.

While Australian customers are demanding, cautious and conservative in their approach to service using newer channels such as webchat and social media, Chinese customers are one of the fastest adopters of mobile technologies and relish the speed and control of automated services through both the phone and the web.

India's ingrained service culture make them especially attuned to excellent service. They are embracing newer channels and innovations fast - with both personalization and voice biometrics being viewed positively.

While Singaporeans welcome multiple channels for engagement, for them, phone is still the preferred channel. Hong Kong customers are more likely to respond to companies that make life easy for them.


Ultimately, all autonomous customers want is to get to their goal, potentially using multiple channels, as easily as possible. The key for organizations is to ensure that they make things easy for customers to do whether they are on the web, in store or calling the contact center.

Super powered, autonomous customers also require super powered, autonomous employees to help them. This is the challenge because retailers, banks, governments have never had to serve this particular breed of customer before and they need to evolve their customer experience strategies to encompass multiple channels and higher levels of complexity.

Are you ready to meet the challenge of the autonomous customer?