The pace of technological change is accelerating at a rate that is unprecedented in human history. New technologies, new forms and new platforms of communication are emerging, in some cases faster than companies can assess and implement them. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that it took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users, while in 2009 the game app Angry Birds did the same thing in 35 days.
In 2016, Pokemon Go, which demonstrated both a practical application and widespread consumer acceptance of augmented reality, took only 19 days to reach that number. By the end of that year, it had been downloaded by 500 million users, about 180 million more than the total U.S. population.
Since that time augmented reality has gone from essentially a niche technology known to a handful of technophiles to actual implementation for some and an anticipated necessity at scores more.
Artificial intelligence, voice and facial recognition, and robotics are developing at such a rapid pace that most of you reading this will see the use of robotic sales assistants of some kind within your lifetime. You’ve almost certainly encountered their online counterpart — the chatbot.
Certainly there are financial and operational benefits to remaining technologically current, even cutting edge, and it’s in almost every furniture retailer and manufacturer’s best interest to move proactively along this path.
However, at the same time it’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of all these technologies is to improve and enhance the life and/or shopping experience of the end consumer, which for the foreseeable future will be a human being.
Too often when technological implementation efforts begin they are aimed at achieving internal goals, process or workforce streamlining, cost reduction, achieving scale at a lower cost. Those are all worthwhile goals as long as they don’t come at the cost of your customer.
Take as an example the ubiquitous automated voice messaging system. How many of you have gotten lost in a seemingly endless series of questions, prompts and menu choices only to throw up your hands and hang up. Ironically, it’s now a differentiating benefit to tout live human assistance.
As you move inexorably down the path of ever-expanding technological sophistication it’s worth pausing occasionally to assess the impact of these “enhancements” from your customers’ perspective. Have you added a level of convenience or complicated a process? If you’re capturing more information, are you using it to assist or intrude? Does the customer view it the same way you do?
The purpose of technology is to serve people and not the other way around … at least for now