Digitalisation & Disruption

Machines are the customers of tomorrow – is your business ready?

Pretty soon, machines will be among the customers of many businesses. It may sound like science fiction, but this is already the reality in many industries today.

Artificial intelligence technology concept with AI text on electronic circuit board
4 minutes to read

More and more individuals and companies are giving AI systems the autonomy to complete tasks on their behalf. It could be as simple as ordering a ride or a pizza through an app using a voice assistant. Or, it could extend all the way to completely autonomous supply chain management in a major company.  

Artificial intelligence is gaining such an increasing array of skills that machines are behaving like customers and forming a new segment. Unlike humans, machines are absolutely rational, data-driven, fast, and fully digital. They present companies with new challenges, but also open access to the business of the future. 

Machine customers could be generating 15% of sales by 2030

According to forecasts from Gartner, by 2025 there will be at least 15 billion connected products with the potential to behave like customers. Estimates suggest that 15% to 20% of a company’s revenue could come from machine customers by 2030. These figures show that interaction with machine customers is set to become a significant part of business life.

The trend will manifest itself at different rates and to a greater or lesser extent in every sector, but here are three examples:

  • Smart fridges that order products automatically

    In the retail sector, intelligent household appliances could offer personalised product recommendations and place orders for products automatically. Working on behalf of the customer, they optimise costs and ensure continuity of supply. The system uses product and price details and information on delivery periods to decide which products to buy from which retailer. Amazon’s Alexa already offers personalised product recommendations based on customer buying patterns and can order products automatically. 

  • Healthcare assistance that ensures medicine supply

    In healthcare, smart assistants could monitor the condition of patients based on sensor data and ensure that essential medicine or food supplements are ordered automatically, either preventively or for the treatment of chronic illnesses. This would make patient care more precise, efficient, and personalised. 

  • Intelligent supply chain that purchases raw materials autonomously

    In manufacturing companies, intelligent systems will monitor supply chains and procure components and raw materials autonomously to ensure efficient and seamless delivery. They could take on responsibility for everything, from selecting suppliers through to negotiating on prices, agreeing on contract terms, and assessing delivery quality. People will still be involved in the feedback process for a long time to come, but autonomy for the initial decision will lie with artificial intelligence.

Machine customers are already the norm in banking

While other sectors are still in the very early stages of the transformation, machine customers have now established themselves in banking with not only Banking as a Service (BaaS) and open banking standards, but also algorithmic trading and robotic process automation (RPA).  

How businesses can prepare for machine customers 

Machine customers form a new target group that differs markedly from other, human, target groups. For one thing, they act rationally, decide quickly, are data driven and fully digital. What’s more, they don’t need conventional marketing, which is geared towards emotions, but rather rational facts and machine-readable data as well as interfaces that enable digital collaboration. Speed and agility play a central role in business with machine customers. Only those who are innovative, highly digitised, and able to adapt rapidly to new market demands will be successful in doing business with machine customers.  

Machine customers open up a new business world

Machine customers offer companies the opportunity to tap into new revenue streams and improve their competitiveness. The advantages they bring include: 

  • stable sources of income thanks to regular demand 
  • automated processes and cost savings 
  • innovative business models such as subscriptions 
  • expansion to new markets 
  • access to valuable sources of data for analyses aimed at improving products and customising solutions
Robot And Human Hand with Gears

Unanswered questions and challenges ahead

Alongside the opportunities, machine customers also present many challenges for businesses. These range from ethical issues to digital strategy implications and include the following key considerations: 

  • data security and data protection 
  • impact of switching to new collaborative and business models 
  • regulatory requirements that have to be met in certain industries 
  • new approaches to customer relationships, because machines do not have human emotions or needs

Machine customers will soon be part and parcel of life

Gartner estimates the market size for machine-to-machine communication at 1.1 trillion US dollars. According to IDC Manufacturing Insights, it could account for up to 40% of the B2B market in 2025.

In short, it is clear that the market for machine customers is growing rapidly and offers huge potential for businesses. Companies that adapt to this market and understand the needs of machine customers may be able to gain a significant competitive edge. 

Contact person for Switzerland

Christian Moser

Chief of Digital Experience & Partner

Christian Moser joined Zühlke in 2005 and is Chief of Digital Experience & Partner. He is a technology enthusiast and a passionate designer. Technology trends are fascinating him. They have the power to transform our lives and society. 

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