A New Service That’s Good For Consumers, Better For Brands, And Best For A New Market Disruptor

Forrester Senior Analyst Stephanie Liu recently published a report called Meet Your Digital Double, Your Personal AI Agent. In it, she calls out one of the more exciting use cases for generative AI in customer experience: your own bot, ready to do what you need at any time. Need to change your trip? Let your digital double deal with the flight and hotel changes. Want to refresh your closet for the summer? Let your digital double find some clothes you’re sure to love. Want some age-appropriate toys for your toddler? If you share some information on your child with your digital double, it will be able to give you targeted recommendations from a variety of stores based on their interests.

Good For Consumers

Imagine being in control of your experience across several brands for both shopping and support. Tell your double your preferences in detail, and allow it to do your donkey work for you. Why wait on hold if your digital double can set up your support ticket and get your problem solved? Shopping becomes specific and targeted, with recommendations that are smarter and more appropriate than what we are used to seeing.

It’s a compelling story, no doubt. The security and interoperability questions are legion, but this is a blog, so for today, we get to assume that all of those will be worked out over time. Now, we have the promise of AI that is on our side directly. I can share a lot of my personal information when I feel it’s in my best interest and can hold off on sharing when it’s not useful for me. This sets up a new power dynamic: If consumers really control who gets access to their data, brands will need to compete with good service and a high degree of personalization.

I’d sign up for a digital double, although I’m not sure how much I’d pay for one. Maybe $10 a month would make sense? That’s less than I pay for Netflix but for a truly helpful service that might save me as much time as I waste watching stuff on Netflix.

Better For Brands

On the sales side, if a brand knows more about me, it can better match me to the right product at any given time and increase sales. On the support side, a bot working with a bot to solve a problem is far cheaper than putting a human agent in the loop. To the extent that digital doubles can work with corporate bots to improve the shopping experience and solve customer problems, everyone wins.

It’s likely to be less of a win-win when it comes to marketing use cases. As a consumer, I’m excited to offload waiting on hold to my digital double, and I like the idea of smart recommendations based on my real tastes and desires. But a digital double will know a great deal about its human twin, demographics, preferences, shopping patterns, browsing patterns, and more. Are we sure that brands will have the restraint to use those insights only in ways that consumers want? Bombardment of smart ads and offers is still bombardment of things that we generally don’t want.

A key promise of the digital double is giving consumers control of their data. While that promise is real, we need to recognize that digital-double providers will have strong financial incentives to sell the data they are supposed to manage for us. Nuances will be critical here: If we sign up for a better support experience with a retailer, will we be able to block them from using that data to target us with ads? Will the ad blocking process be simple enough for consumers to actually use it? Will we have enough control over our data to make a difference, or will we just be selling ourselves wholesale to the brands?

Best For The New Power Player In The Market

That brings us to the most interesting player here: the disruptor. Someone will need to provide these digital-double bots. This will not be a trivial undertaking. Consumers will need to see real value from these helpers before they sign up as a customer, and the brands are less than likely to embrace these interlopers between their customers and themselves with open arms.

But there is a path here to great power. Imagine the digital-double provider whose bots provide service for consumers that makes life significantly more convenient and easier. As this vendor gets traction in the market, it signs up 100,000 consumers, and then a million, and then 10 million. If data is indeed king, then the keeper of data on millions of consumers will be a mighty disruptor. The keeper of this data can dictate that brands prioritize the consumer experience and provide data only to those who play along. The challenge will be figuring out how to keep the consumer needs a priority when the brands are the ones generating the revenue for the digital-double provider.

The good news is that the path to power for this new provider requires better customer experiences; consumers won’t sign up unless there is value for them. How much better it gets for consumers will depend on how the digital-double vendors balance the needs of consumers with the needs of brands. I find myself rooting for being charged for this service, as it will give the consumers more weight with the digital-double providers to put the consumers first. The more our digital disruptors are incented by selling data to the brands, the less this will be helpful for consumers.

There are many ways that this could come to market. There are some federations of vendors working together to allow sharing of data. The most likely providers for a service like this are the behemoths out there who can add this to the services they already provide. Meta, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all come quickly to mind. Or maybe the best digital-double company is currently six folks in a garage with a strong mission to take on brands on behalf of consumers and access to a generous pile of venture capital. A note to those six folks: Please, always remember the consumer.