Customer experience is an ambience–in other words, a cloud of qualities that you intimately associate with some physical or virtual environment. Like many people, I love the ambience of a good coffee shop, which consists of the aroma, the social buzz, the music they choose to play overhead, and other qualities that don’t necessarily depend on the drinkability of the stuff that the baristas are brewing. In this regard, I was in a coffee shop recently when I tweeted the following: ” Retail establishmts that play cool music should hav real-time playlists scrolling prominently. Ever heard something gr8 & wondered who/what?”
What I love about ambience–in a coffee shop or any other retail environment–is when it just washes over me without my having to lift a finger. That tweet immediately got several replies saying there’s an app for what they think I’m asking for. I haven’t responded to any of them, on the grounds that checking an app is essentially “lifting a finger.” Here’s what fellow IBM-er @kriscoverdale tweeted: ” Apps like Shazam have revolutionised my out and about music listening. Easier than bugging the barman / shopkeeper.”
What I was asking for was an ambience middle ground between “checking an app” and “bugging the barman/shopkeeper.” The desired experience was for the requested feature–in this case, a real-time playlist–to have been embedded or installed in the environment itself, so that neither myself nor the barista would have needed to lift a finger. Why do we need an “app” for everything when some basic utility apps can just be present in the physical ambience we’re occupying for the time being?
It’s with that in mind that I took great interest in a recent article called “Here comes the age of ambient everything.” Most noteworthy is that it characterizes “ambient” as any location-contextual capability that is ephemeral, drifts rapidly into and out of our personal experience, and does not require our full awareness or attention. Like the coffee-shop playlist of my dreams, it presents itself regardless of whether we or anybody else in that location has lifted a finger. “It will just be there with us all the time,” says author Mike Elgan.
As humans leverage mobile and other connected technologies, says Elgan, information-rich “ambient” experiences will become central to our quality of life. “It’s clear that mobile notifications, wearable computing, preemptive search, the Internet of things and location-based commerce are all conspiring to make everything ambient.” I would add augmented reality to this list of ambient-enablers.
Yes, of course we’ll be able to personalize many of these tools to our own specific life-contexts. But, more often than not, we’ll also bathe in the ambient services automatically presented to us in the smart stores, offices, cars, homes, and other physical environments we happen to be in. To the extent that the underlying analytic infrastructure is smart enough to anticipate our precise preferences, we’ll be more than happy to live within the ambient envelope of the environment that’s been auto-personalized to our satisfaction. Each physical environment will be a self-contained cloud of immersive context that is magically in sync with the context of our desires in those specific surroundings.
I want that coffee shop–not its employees, its customers, or my smartphone-twiddling thumbs–to immerse me in the ambience of the music it plays. I want the place itself to engage me as if it were a sentient being in tune with my heart.
Is an ambience of intimate enchantment too much to ask?