As companies continue on their journeys of digital transformation, the way business is being conducted is fundamentally changing. Gone are the days when consumers had to wait for operating hours to get information, or when they required a physical, human interaction in order to complete a transaction.

According to Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, organisations need to make provision for today’s hyper-connected customers. Those that don’t, he says, will end up losing them to competitors who are speaking to them the way in which they want to be communicated with.

“We are used to a highly digitised business environment, especially with millennials forming a larger and larger portion of the consumer base, but this even needs to be taken a step further. Today’s consumers are used to being always-on, having always-connected communication with companies – whether it be through a responsive website, an application, or social media. There is no longer room for one-way communication; people want an actual bi-directional conversation with the businesses they deal with.”

As a result, a “socialised” approach and strategy is necessary. “Systems, people and media are all hyper-connected these days,” Firth says. “This has opened the heart of the business to the consumer, and where companies may have ‘massaged’ their data before, today’s apps and real-time processes allow consumers to see through the supply chain. This leaves very little room for organisations to ‘push’ communications on customers and hide flawed service levels.”  Many boards and CIOs are realising that it is not a strategy to simply build an app. The real strategy is converting the app into an extension of the workforce. For example, a ‘socialised’ app can replace 90% of a call centre function, new business capture or underwriting and order entry for manufacturers or claiming in financial services.”

The hyper-connected consumer base therefore expects responses in hyper time. This is opening the door to heavy-duty management systems, Firth says. “It really means that companies have to architect the space between the legacy enterprise system and the front end consumers use to interact with businesses. The term ‘B to C’ has been on the cards for a long time but this term is being revolutionised and placed on steroids in the new economically competitive landscape.”

He adds that automation is now permeating every enterprise, and it’s only going to increase as companies continue to look for efficiencies. “Gartner predicted that 10% of all our online friends were going to be non-human by 2015. We are seeing this today, and 85% of all Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be – and in many cases are being – answered by machines. As companies look to further reduce costs, this type of automation will become even more prevalent. Machines are going to consume the outbound basic service components of any company and the drive towards a knowledge economy is in full swing.”

According to Firth, we are fast reaching the point where we are encountering the active equivalent of people sitting in call centres. “We have intelligent workflows managing our interactions with customers, answering FAQs and deciding where to route calls and queries. In light of this, apps, IOT or new digital front ends are becoming an increasingly important means of communication.”

Apps allow for better responsiveness to customers, providing an avenue through which companies can directly interact with them. By virtue of the fact that apps allow for one-to-one interactions, companies are able to collect even more data on their customers and use that to further tailor their offerings. In addition, the way they are designed makes them easy to connect to the back end, and they are built to be service-orientated because they allow for personalised communication all the time.

“The one-to-one communication afforded by apps has changed the way companies can – and do – talk to customers. We no longer have to wait for customers to be on the website, because with an app, the customer is available in real time. Regardless of the fact that it may be automated, we have changed the dynamic by being able to send “Dear Joan” e-mails as opposed to “Dear Sir/ Dear Madam” e-mails. In addition, apps enable notifications, and there is a guaranteed and consumer approved reach that can’t be achieved otherwise: There’s no risk of security settings on a browser deleting or losing a communication sent to a customer. Likewise, how many times do important e-mails go to Internet clutter or spam folders as AI automation tries to clean your inbox, assuming it is only leaving relevant communication for you to deal with,” Firth says.

“The generation of more relevant and useful big data through this process is a valuable asset, but even more valuable is the ability to automate the relationship. Apps can provide automation to the point that they can escalate any communications in a service level driven environment to the right department in a company, and no human needed to get involved until that point.”