What Does Listening Mean in the Digital Age?

The most recent World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2016. The forum took, as its theme, the premise that we’re now moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution was powered by steam. The second was made possible by harnessing electricity. The third was computer-driven.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be a digital revolution. 

Some of the world’s most innovative companies are already moving into the digital age. They’re learning to utilize cloud computing and machine learning to revolutionize different aspect of their businesses.

This is an enormous opportunity for resourceful businesses to tap into the potential offered by digital listening, or using data in new ways. Organizations who embark on digital transformation usually focus on four key aspects:

·      Engaging customers
·      Empowering employees
·      Optimizing operations
·      Improving products

Whatever industry you’re in, there’s a strong chance that digital technology is already changing it. The sooner you embrace new ways technology can help, the more of an edge it can give you. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you’ll risk falling behind.

How Digital Listening Makes Customers Love You

Artificial intelligence (AI) allows businesses to listen in ways that were previously impossible, analyzing virtually unlimited numbers of data points.

This makes it possible to understand and respond to customer needs more swiftly and effectively, sometimes even before those needs have been fully articulated.

Jumeirah, an ultra-high end hotel and resort brand, owns the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai. By using digital technology to understand the behavior of guests, the company is tailoring services to suit the specific habits of their clientele, with the objective not only of winning their business, but also of winning their hearts.

Jumeirah keeps records of food and room preferences, and sometimes even the brands of computer and mobile phone favored by guests. The intention is to create what the company calls a “360 view” of its clientele, an understanding that goes far deeper than traditional profiling can offer.

This 360 view enables Jumeirah to anticipate client needs and habits and serve them in a way that brings true delight. A guest who often asks for ice, for example, might discover that an ice bucket has already been organized and provided for them when they arrive at the hotel.

Deep Customer Understanding

The detailed data Jumeirah collects also presents an opportunity to provide people with offers that they will genuinely relish.

This means that people who visit Dubai for their birthday one year may receive a personalized invitation to return the next, including a tempting offer. Those who have a habit of jetting in for the sales may find that their next trip includes a special rate on the room they love, and a voucher for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.

This approach has already won the hotel a 50% increase in email open rates, and a corresponding boost in year-on-year revenue.

Nothing lifts the spirits of customers like the sense that their unique needs and preferences are understood and met. By harnessing the power of digital listening, Jumeirah succeeds in making customers feel as welcome as they would expect to in a small boutique hotel.

You might think that, being in the hospitality industry, Jumeirah is an obvious pick to benefit from engaging customers more effectively. Maybe, but there are some surprising examples from other industries, too.

MOL is among the largest shipping companies in the world. The declining cost of shipping has placed the industry in the bracket of a commodity product, making it essential for the company to find ways of differentiating from its competitors.

MOL does this by collecting data and engaging with clients in a way that demonstrates the company’s understanding of their individual priorities. Even in the shipping industry, customers like to feel that they are recognized and understood.

How Digital Listening Creates Better, Happier Employees

At Microsoft, Delve Analytics is already providing employees with their own personal dashboard, offering insights into their most productive work patterns.

The program presents data on metrics such as time spent in meetings, email volumes, response times, interactions with peer networks, and even office environments.

Analysis of these metrics allows employees to measure their productivity and identify the behaviors that bring them most value.

You may be wondering how the employees feel about this development. Mostly, they love it. The intention of Delve is not to undermine and critique employees, but to empower their decision-making. When they understand the foundations of their productivity, they are highly motivated to improve it.

It’s important to stress that the information available via Delve is not transmitted to managers, HR personnel, or the company’s IT team. It’s only visible to employees themselves. They engage enthusiastically because they gain real benefits.

By boosting their productivity, they achieve more at work in a shorter time, simultaneously helping them to find a satisfying work-life balance. Happy, efficient employees are more collaborative, innovative, and loyal. Delve gives them tools to become better at their jobs, and happier in their work.

Google, an organization that you would probably expect to have adopted a highly forward-looking approach to AI, has hired social scientists to study their own company from the outside.

Google has sought to determine, for example, whether the most successful middle managers have skills in common, and whether those skills can be taught and transferred to those managers who are less successful.

How Digital Listening Is Revolutionizing Operations 

50 years ago, most elevators were managed and operated by a person. If something went wrong, the only way to get it fixed was to deliver a report and wait for an engineer to show up.

Today, Thyssen Krupp is using digital technology to detect problems automatically. Astonishingly, the technology Thyssen Krupp is using is now so advanced that it can often predict issues before they arise.

Sensors installed in Thyssen Krupp elevators send a colossal amount of data to the cloud, where it’s monitored for anomalies. When the numbers indicate that the elevator will soon require maintenance, the company is able to address the problem on a preventative basis, avoiding the inconvenience of service disruption.

This reliability advantage has created a new revenue stream for the company, which can capitalize on an ability to minimize downtime and maximize safety. It promises to be only the beginning of the transformation catalyzed by the digital era.

AI has the capacity to radically streamline operational communications. Almost any electrical product, from photocopiers to refrigerators, can now generate data streams and send that data back to the cloud. Oil companies, for example, can now read the condition of wellheads, pipelines, and mechanical systems. This information is used to adjust oil flows, optimizing production and minimizing downtime.

In a different field, Rolls Royce is doing something very similar with aircraft engines.

Fuel is one of the greatest expenditures for the airline industry, comprising up to 40% of total operating budget. Dirty engines use more fuel, but cleaning an engine is also very expensive. Determining the optimum moment to service airplane engines, therefore, is highly valuable information.

By installing sensors in their engines, and connecting those sensors to the cloud, Rolls-Royce has gained the capacity to monitor the state of airplane engines and pinpoint the optimal moment time to service them, thereby maximizing passenger safety and simultaneously improving profitability.

How Digital Listening Keeps Your Product Competitive

I’ve recently connected with two sneaker companies in China.

Representatives of the first told me that they see no real benefits from engaging with digitization. They don’t see the relevance of technology to their business, except perhaps in the realm of improving the quality of their machinery.

The second has already started asking how they can use technology to accelerate their business. The company has begun to put sensors in their shoes that connect to the cloud, and to people’s bracelets. These sensors track how many steps people take, and how they’re moving.

The data collected by these sensors has several applications. It can be used to improve sneaker design. It can be used to solicit feedback from customers, based on their usage.

It can even be used to initiate new business models, for example a subscription service that works by calculating how long the sneakers are taking to wear out and reordering automatically.

One company sees digital technology as an irrelevance, with no direct applications for their business. The other is already grasping the vast possibilities, and will doubtless continue to innovate in creative and engaging ways.

The Digital Revolution Is Already Here: Are You Part of It?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to transform practically every industry on the planet, from farming to space travel.

It’s possible that wholly new industries will emerge, serving previously unseen markets. Certainly, however, we’ll see existing industries reshaped, with some companies seeing the potential of digital technologies and using them to accelerate their businesses, and others digging their heels in and being left behind.

Entirely new players may come to the fore, disrupting complacent leaders and heralding new norms.

Uber has already begun the transformation of taxi services with an app that enables anyone to call a car at their own convenience, but the opportunities for digital transformation in the taxi industry go far beyond those Uber has started to mine.

Some companies may choose to set up their own in-house version of Uber, maximizing the convenience for employees and providing services such as WiFi access and movie streaming during the journey.

Digital sensors may be able to detect road conditions, providing governments with data they can use to plan maintenance. Tesla is already tapping into digital technology to hone the performance of cars, and the driverless car is surely not far away.

The digital era is upon us, and it is already equipping smart companies with new ways to listen. Leaders in every field are using digital technology to engage powerfully with customers, increase the capabilities of their employees, ensure that their operations run smoothly, and build better products.

Ultimately, as AI becomes increasingly common, we will all be part of the digital revolution. Those who see its potential earliest, however, stand to gain a competitive advantage over those who lag behind. How can you make use of digital listening in your business?