The importance of delivering digitally-transformed customer experiences this holiday season
As the year comes to a close, consumers in Asia Pacific have flocked to popular e-commerce sites to maximise deals from hefty discounts, since the Singles’ Day in November to “12.12” and now to Christmas – the grand finale of this year’s shopping season.
Amidst the popularisation of online shopping sprees during the holiday season, customers are leaving traces of their digital footprints and preferences across multiple channels ranging from desktop, mobile and even brick-and-mortar stores. With data on customers’ virtual shopping carts, payment preferences, social profiles, and even internet browsing histories, retailers stand a chance to understand their customers better. But there’s a challenge too: how to gather, store, manage and analyse all of this data to provide better products and services and ultimately create the best customer experience?
This is where we’re seeing artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled cloud services come into their own, helping businesses across the region use this information to build the personalised, data-driven and secure customer experience that’s not just a possibility, but an absolute necessity.
Connecting Online and Offline Experiences
More and more customers today expect a personalised, seamless cross-channel approach to their shopping, whether that’s in-store or online. According to Oracle’s recently published Topography of Retail report, 74 per cent of consumers want “knowledgeable in-store staff that could meet their specific needs quickly”, while 64 per cent of consumers from emerging markets including China and India said they loved the idea of virtual reality “try on” apps, for personalised shopping experiences. Imagine looking online for the perfect Christmas gift and then going into a store the next day, to find a shop assistant who points you towards the gift you were looking for. That’s the level of cross-channel expectation we’re gearing towards.
Data, when analysed correctly, is at the heart of this genuinely connected customer experience. It requires brands to effectively establish an understanding of their customers by analysing existing behaviours, so they can give favourable, precise recommendations quickly, based on the results.
Here Comes the AI Revolution
AI is making data-powered personalisation possible. Using cloud services powered by a combination of emerging technologies led by AI, machine learning and blockchain, retailers and brands are able to build a detailed understanding of a consumer’s behaviour both within their stores and across their online channels, as well as understanding their likes and behaviours beyond their shopping experiences. With this information, marketers can create appropriate content, specifically targeted to their audiences and delivered during key daily purchasing moments.
Australian online book retailer Dymocks is a great example. The retailer relies on machine learning and AI to drive its data-first ‘Booklover’ programme. ‘Booklover’ members account for nearly half of all Dymocks sales – and that’s because it offers these customers a personalised approach, one that makes them feel special. There are more than half a million email addresses and a million customers currently on the platform. Analysing this manually for insights and recommendations would be impossible for a marketing team to do – let alone to do correctly. But, with machine learning and AI, all of their data is pulled together and analysed effectively, giving the best book suggestions to the ‘Booklovers’ and, therefore, creating a great overall experience for each customer.
Connecting Data Cross-Platforms
Looking beyond targeted offers, it is also essential to bring all data related to customers in one centralised location, especially if you want to improve service efficiency and accuracy. With connected access to data from the marketing team, the supply chain and the back office all centralised in the cloud, companies can better coordinate internally and then create an integrated, end-to-end engagement plan without breaking into fragmented point solutions throughout the customer journey.
Sri Lanka’s leading financial solutions provider, Central Finance, wanted to ensure it could consistently deliver the best services and stay one step ahead of customers’ evolving needs. In particular, the company was eager to improve customer interaction on its social media platforms and drive internal collaboration, in order to offer targeted product recommendations to consumers and thereby increase market share. Central Finance achieved this by simplifying its business processes, combining data and operations from its sales, services, and marketing functions onto a single platform. This not only unlocked new methods of cross-departmental collaboration, but also offered employees a consistent 360-degree view of customers, allowing them to deliver a better cross channel experience.
Yet, many will say that AI and cloud-based data-sharing present a major risk to identity security. After all, if brands are able to know so much about us, isn’t there a risk that hackers could easily access the data?
This is where blockchain comes in. Contrary to the belief that this is simply a vehicle for volatile cyber currencies, blockchain can create ultra-secure tokens which contain an individual’s unique personal information. By using encrypted authentication, this information can only be accessed through use of a secure key, providing totally personalised information, alongside cryptographic security.
It’s about Trust
All these innovations are available right now, but companies need to carefully adopt this innovation while ensuring customer trust. Over 90 per cent of consumers in developing markets such as India or China and nearly half in developed markets such as the US or Australia that Oracle spoke to, said it was important that they themselves had control over the personal information that retailers held on them. So, while one in three customers in Australia, New Zealand, and India would welcome a personalised digital experience based on previous interactions with brands, there has to be boundaries. Retailers need to tread that fine line between customers appreciating good Christmas present recommendations based on their Singles’ Day purchases, and, feeling a bit uncomfortable with gift suggestions based on their mood in their latest Instagram story.
The continuous pursuit of customer happiness remains at the heart and core of companies. As many customers are demanding the future now, companies need to either predict their needs or lose them. Emerging technologies including AI-enabled cloud solutions can help companies find more value from data, and ultimately, up their game in perfecting the digitally-transformed customer experience journey.
(The author is Vice President of Oracle Marketing Cloud at Oracle Asia Pacific & Japan)