The Age of Assistance

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I recently finished arranging a trip abroad that was pretty complicated to coordinate – 4 people, 2 countries, 3 regions, 4 flights, 2 ferries, 5 hotels, a villa and a car. I can’t wait to go of course, but that level of planning and hype is not without its stresses. What if everything I’ve decided on falls flat, is no fun, isn’t what I hoped or expected? So many things can go wrong. Of course, I blame technology.

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Technology has enabled travel planning to be easier – price comparison, booking, maps, reviews, monetary conversion, imagery, local experiences, customs, etc., but has it made the experience better, stress-free, more personal? Not by a long shot.

Technology has simply introduced more options to consider when making decisions. Unfortunately for me, and many others, a plethora of options absent informed context simply means more stress, uncertainty and an agonizing decision-making process.

Technology cannot reassure me of decisions, build confidence in those decisions, assuage my curiosity, help make choices, introduce me to experiences that are likely to be right, or get me on track when I’m making the wrong decision. Technology couldn’t care less if I have a good vacation.

Enter the age of assistance – technology-enabled experiences guided by human input, or assistive experiences. Technology helped me find a region I wanted to visit, humans helped me decide where to stay, what to book, visited the house I was thinking of renting and informed me that my children may fall off the cliff that the house was sitting on, and what I absolutely positively had to try while I was there.

The recently launched AmazonGo is the antithesis of this experience. It’s clearly for introverts who don’t explore and discover in the aisle, who don’t have questions about what’s around them. Purpose-driven buyers rather than explorers.

And it’s not just travel delivering assistive experiences – retail and fashion are there too.

Two good examples – StitchFix and March client ThirdChannel. StitchFix relies on a heady combination of data science and human stylists; on top of complex customer profiles built by data, stylists can layer the nuances of buying and wearing clothes. Striking that balance has led the company to its IPO and to nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2017, according to Glossier.

ThirdChannel combines real-time data with on-the-ground observations from brand-immersed field teams to help retailers and brands grow sales and earn loyal customers in brick-and-mortar stores. Those field teams not only help stores identify and fix their retail execution issues, but they can also train store associates, help customers, run in-store demos, and optimize promotions and merchandising.

The best shopping and retail experiences offer the best of both worlds – data and technology enabling humans who can fulfill requests, answer questions, guide decisions. The human element of wish fulfillment and buying enablement helps guide the next experience you have in that store. An endless cycle of instant gratification.


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Author: Jodi Petrie

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