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English Español How to win customers in a world of AI, bots and automation

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem, an expert in customer experience in the digital world, discusses the next steps of the digital revolution in this article. He will be speaking on this topic at StocExpo Europe 2019, the world’s leading international event for the tank terminal industry.

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Author: Prof. Steven Van Belleghem

We are at the start of a new phase in digital evolution. The first stage was about making information available via the internet. The second phase was about mobile technology and new forms of communication. This third phase will be about automation and artificial intelligence.

For customers, we are entering a period where we can expect an unrivalled quality of service. Smart technology now allows companies to identify and solve their customers' problems before they even know that it is a problem. Faster than real-time customer service is quickly becoming the new norm. The level of personalization of products and services is increasing rapidly, and user interfaces are becoming more intuitive than ever before.

To make all these benefits available to their customers, companies now have to make the strategic shift from 'mobile first' to 'AI first'.

From the outside, it will be unclear to some why certain brands are successfully improving their customer service in the coming years, while others are not. The reason being that, in most cases, artificial intelligence is invisible technology. A website (phase 1 of digitalization) and an app (phase 2 of digitalization) were investments that were highly visible to customers and competitors alike, but the unseen nature of AI means that businesses that are quick to embrace it can quickly gain a significant competitive advantage. Customers won't understand it – it will simply seem as though company A has better staff than company B, but in reality, the staff in company A are being assisted by smarter software.

Your customer is the starting point

Today, there is so much hype around so many emerging technologies that it can be difficult for companies to know where their focus should be. The answer is that the most important focus should always be the customer – if you take the customer as your starting point, the specific technology becomes less crucial.

To make this as concrete as possible, firstly, there is a need to increasingly see customer relations as a science. Data must be used as a lever for developing new customer benefits, and consequently, the need for data in the third phase of digital development is greater than ever. Artificial intelligence can only work effectively if it has enough data.

Secondly, there is a need for new interfaces to automate communication and interaction with customers more efficiently. Customers are no longer willing to wait an hour for an answer. Real-time is the new expected minimum for communication, and it must be via user-friendly interfaces. Reducing the amount of effort the customer must make is the priority.

Thirdly, there is the battle against the commodity magnet. Because customers will be taking more and more decisions based on algorithms and the power of the major digital platforms continues to grow, there is a risk that every product will become a commodity where price is the most important factor. As a business leader and a marketeer, it is vital to find ways to add value and differentiate to counter this risk.

Fourthly, The Day After Tomorrow requires investment to improve the performance of people via technology. How can speed be increased and the number of errors reduced in the most personal manner possible? How can we help our team to meet the wishes and expectations of the customers of the future? This fourth axis is focused on 'augmented intelligence': enhanced human performance with the assistance of technology.

So, is your business ready for Customers The Day After Tomorrow?

How much time are you investing in creating data leverage, developing user interfaces, fighting the digital commodity magnet and harnessing the benefits of augmented intelligence? The Day After Tomorrow starts today. It’s time to prepare, time to invest, time to act!


Prof. Steven van Belleghem is an expert in customer experience in the digital world. He is an award-winning author, and his new book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at or visit

He is one of over 30 world-leading industry experts speaking at StocExpo Europe 2019. The show also features a packed exhibition hall, with over 200 suppliers from across the globe showing their latest innovations under one roof. 

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