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How 5G will impact the customer experience

John Carney Profile picture for user JCarney February 19, 2019
5G is coming and the impact on the customer experience should be significant, argues Salesforce's John Carney.

The next generation of mobile wireless technology, known as 5G, will represent a quantum leap from today’s standards.

Download speeds will be 1000 times faster, meaning that a movie that currently takes 20 minutes to download will only take a couple of seconds.

Latency — the time it takes to retrieve data — will fall from 50 milliseconds to under 1 millisecond.

Network availability will increase to 99.999 percent, while dramatically broader capacity will allow devices to become connected at unprecedented scale. Given its powerful capabilities, 5G will not only transform mobile communications but may even replace traditional broadband Internet.

Some mobile service providers have already begun rolling out 5G in limited areas. While the exact timeline is hard to predict, mainstream consumers could be benefiting from 5G by 2020. When it comes to customer experience, no one knows precisely what fruit this new technology will bear. But companies that understand and prepare for the changes ahead will be in the best position to take advantage of the possibilities.

Three ways 5G will transform the customer experience

5G will revolutionize the customer experience by enabling companies to get dramatically better at what they’re doing today and enable use cases that don’t yet exist. Here’s what I predict:

1. Seamless, personalized customer journeys will reach the next level.

Today’s leading players are already focused on providing customized, connected consumer experiences. 5G will enable what is sometimes called “fast data” — data that is collected, retrieved, and operationalized at speeds and volumes that we can’t imagine today. Artificial intelligence tools that learn from this data will get substantially smarter as a result. At the same time, we can expect much greater connectivity between brands and consumers.

The result is that 5G will enable marketers to achieve real-time, radically personalized, and predictive engagement with customers. For example, it will become commonplace to walk into a retail store and find that the salespeople, armed with layers of information about your behavior and preferences, can immediately create a rich, tailored shopping experience. That’s a far cry from a digital ad pushed to your email account. Real-time personalization and the move from content consumption to greater engagement can transform consumers’ relationships with brands across virtually every industry.

2. Immersive experiences will rise to new heights.

Users of virtual or augmented reality feel nauseous if there’s a delay of more than 20 milliseconds — far below the typical 4G latency of 50 milliseconds. When 5G enables latency to drop below 1 millisecond, VR and AR will be processing images faster than the human brain — the experience will be as close to real as possible. Companies like Amazon are already using AR to help customers visualize how furniture will fit into their home. 5G will transform the customer experience by enabling an unprecedented level of immersion, which will transform everything from shopping for clothes to buying a home. Because VR and AR capture consumers’ attention and trigger their emotions more than any other medium, this evolution has the potential to usher in a deeper level of engagement with brands.

3. Expanded and connected IoT devices will improve customer service.

The reliability and reduced latency of 5G will enable the number of connected devices with embedded sensors to multiply and will make it much easier to control them remotely. This will drastically improve the customer experience across a variety of industries. For example, insurance companies will be able to dispatch remotely controlled drones to disaster-affected regions, reducing risk to employees while enabling much faster claim processing. In healthcare, 5G will make it easier for providers to supply remote diagnosis and treatment with the aid of sensors on wearable devices. Smart home devices, such as hot tubs, will be able to predict the need for maintenance or service — this is already happening in some cases. Self-driving cars will be able to react more quickly to the surrounding environment, reducing risk and improving the passenger experience. Cable and broadband companies will be able to surface diagnostic data about network conditions, arming customer representatives with knowledge about network issues or conducting proactive outreach. The possibilities are endless.

How companies can prepare for 5G

We can speculate, but we can’t yet imagine all the opportunities that 5G will bring. What is clear is that companies that understand their customers today will be most likely to succeed in tomorrow’s environment. Many enterprises still have siloes in their data and organizational structures: An interaction with an in-store associate is completely disconnected from a customer’s purchase online or phone call with a service representative. Companies can harness technologies that exist today in order to unify data, take advantage of AI-powered insights, and create personalized consumer experiences. Cultural changes, including training and incentives, should complement the new tools to ensure adoption. 5G is around the corner, and marketers who know their customers and engage them in creative ways today will take the lead.

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