Mature chatbots, cashierless stores and cars as data centres

A Happy New Year to all our readers. In the latest in our series of predictions pieces running between Christmas and the New Year, Professor Steven van Belleghem, author of Customers The Day After Tomorrow,  looks at five trends that will change customer experience in 2019.

2018 has been a really exciting year in the fields of customer experience and data, and mobile has continued to be a growing part of this. What is clear, however, is that a lot of what we saw this year was actually just a starting point, and these trends are going to get much, much bigger in 2019. Here I have picked out five trends to watch.

Cashierless shopping will become the norm
Back in December 2016, people got really excited about the idea of shopping without queuing when the Amazon Go concept store was announced. Two years on, the first stores have proved so lucrative that Amazon announced they plan to open 3,000 stores within the next three years across the US, and are rumoured to be looking at a site on Oxford Street in London. Not to be outdone, has announced it intends to open 1,000 of its unmanned stores per day in the next three years!

The technology behind the Amazon Go stores was all kept as a bit of a mystery, but in Europe this month, Saturn announced they’re creating a similar cashierless experience in the world’s largest electronics store through MishiPay’s mobile self-checkout system. The Chief Innovation Officer of MediaMarktSaturn said: “The smartphone has become many people’s remote control for life. Therefore it is only logical that it will also be used for payments.” It is likely that more retailers will recognise this trend.

What this means for customer experience is that faster, more convenient checkout processes will start to become the expected standard in offline retail, and those that fail to offer them will get left behind. Brands should therefore consider the role mobile can play to improve offline processes, as well as being a valuable channel in its own right.

Cars take over as the new data centre
Anyone working in the mobile channel in recent years will have heard the debate over if and how big tech companies are using smartphones to monitor customer behaviour. In 2019, however, I believe the car might become the new focus of this discussion.

General Motors has placed a lot of focus on the fields of smart cars and autonomous driving in recent years, and has now revealed how it listens in to cars to monitor how people use the in-car entertainment systems. Its goal is to better understand what its customers really want to help the company develop new services for the future.

Smartphones have emerged as extremely lucrative entertainment and advertising platforms in the last 10 years, but in a world of driverless cars, the in-car entertainment system could be just as lucrative. Companies that start on that learning curve today will probably be faster at leveraging this new opportunity.

The power of the integrated interface
One of the major mobile trends of 2018 is growth of integrated interfaces – or apps that offer more and more in-app applications. If you have visited China in recent years you will know that this is already the most normal thing in the world there, as people in China use WeChat for multiple tasks every day, almost like an operating system for day-to-day life.

In the West, we are now starting to see similar evolutions. Snapchat now allows you to scan and identify products so you can instantly buy them on Amazon. The Amazon app has a camera scanner so you can get the price on Amazon for each and every item you encounter immediately. Banking apps are starting to implement new functionalities to help you understand how your expenses fall within your budget, while real estate apps might be able to start giving you valuations through images.

At the start of the smartphone age, we used to have dozens of individual apps, each with a single specialist purpose. But in the future, as I see it, we’re moving towards a world where interfaces and functions are getting more integrated, so we’ll have much fewer tools, but much more powerful tools. Cameras have been a big part of this evolving story in 2018, but once voice is also more integrated, the real improvements to the customer experience start to take shape.

Chatbots grow up
Many brands and customer service teams held huge hopes for chatbots when they emerged a few years ago, but somehow they have never quite lived up to the expectations. In 2019, however, I expect we will start to see brands using chatbots in a much more focused and intelligent way.

Brands are now learning that the best use cases for chatbots are situations where they provide proactive communication. KLM is a great example, as it recently started deploying chatbots to inform passengers where their luggage would come out in the baggage reclaim area. It is just a little thing, but sharing information about an upcoming event adds real value to a customer, plus, it is easier than trying to use bots to solve complex customer service issues. Mobile will, of course, play a big role in the delivery of this improved customer journey.

The rise of trusted gatekeepers
One of the major things 2018 will be remembered for is the degradation of consumer trust in the big tech firms around the world. Facebook was perhaps the prominent and important example of this, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the revelations of other hacks seriously dented people’s faith in the “Black Box” approach that most tech firms have taken so far.

As a reaction to this, transparency is now starting to become an important selling point for customers. The firms that customers actually trust with their data are going to have a huge competitive advantage when it comes to customer experience, so big tech companies will start to focus on becoming trusted gatekeepers.

Smartphones have become an essential part of day-to-day life for most people, but they are also the means by which we share a huge amount of our data. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, there will be a swell in customer demand for algorithm transparancy, and tech companies will be required to reveal how they are using data and AI, just like the way public companies are required to be transparent in their financial statements.

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