In an age where technology evolves as quickly as customer expectations rise, it's increasingly difficult for brands and retailers to remain competitive while adapting to new trends and demands. It’s no longer enough for brands to merely be “present” across multiple channels, no matter how many social platforms they dabble on. In order to reach and retain today’s engaged shopper, brands must, above all, be engaging in ways that are unique and customized to each shopper’s needs and preferences.
One of the strongest cards retailers can play to stay ahead of the curve is to integrate personalization programs into their customer experience (CX) strategy.
Boston Consulting Group reports that brands with personalized experiences that incorporate “digital technologies and proprietary data” have seen revenue increase by 6 percent to 10 percent — which is two to three times faster than brands that don’t have personalization programs in place. Additionally, only about 15 percent of companies — most of which are tech companies and digital native brands — are considered “true personalization leaders.”
The task of launching any new CX initiative can be daunting at first, especially when it comes to integrating data science and machine learning. Here are a few examples of advanced tools that retailers can use to go the extra mile, engage with and learn from customers in personalized ways, and ultimately boost growth and revenue.
Chatbots are particularly effective as consumers begin to increasingly use their phones in-store to help them make more informed purchases. According to research by Google, 97 percent of people are using their phones while shopping for appliances to research further information. Chatbots are also particularly appealing to younger consumers: Retale reports that nearly 60 percent of U.S. millennials said they have used a chatbot, and more than half of those who had never used a chatbot said they would be interested in trying one. Retailers are recognizing that chatbots provide an ideal opportunity for innovation and customer engagement, but there are some pitfalls they must be wary of when it comes to implementing this technology.
What’s key is that brands develop chatbots to simulate human interaction — not just to provide automated and innocuous responses to questions that require (and from the customer’s perspective, deserve!) customized solutions. If your brand chooses to invest in AI-powered tools like chatbots, it's first essential to develop technology that does more than spit out information and process transactions. Your chatbot can and should enhance the customer journey through personalization tools like providing real-time ordering and tracking functionalities, curated recommendations based on a customer’s shopping history, and omnichannel fluidity for a more streamlined experience.
While these technical enhancements are critical to creating and implementing personalization programs, the “human touch” is still essential to truly optimize CX. This puts significant pressure on retailers to deliver exceptional customer service on a digital and human level. To successfully bridge both of these components, retailers must place greater emphasis on in-store employee training so that they can supplement the routine tasks managed by bots, and add value and personalization to the physical shopping experience.
Augmented reality offers a unique opportunity for retailers to show customers how a new purchase might fit into their lives. They're able to explore customized looks whether they're shopping for a special event, experimenting with the latest trends or buying new items to fit their individual style, without actually having to buy anything or even having to leave their homes. For example, a teen girl who wants to imagine what a particular prom dress might look like on her can access a hologram of the item, and then place it over an image of herself online. Homeowners can virtually retrofit their new dwellings, and brides can visualize their receptions by selecting centerpieces, shifting tables and creating seating charts from a tablet.
Predictive analytics — e.g., anticipatory shipping, optimized pricing and inventory management — not only lets customers know that the brands they love, love them back, but also helps brands forecast buying behavior and make customized recommendations to shoppers backed by data. According to the Predictive Intelligence Benchmark Report, predictive intelligence shows a 40.4 percent influence in revenue after 36 months of implementation. It’s pivotal for brands to understand that when they win the trust of their customers, they create loyalty for life; personalization via predictive analytics helps them do exactly that.
In the near future, we'll see that the businesses and brands that succeed in standing out from the competition will be those that focus on this essential component of customer relations, based on chatbots, augmented reality, smart data and other advanced technologies. However, investing exclusively in automation isn't enough for brands to compete in the age of the empowered consumer. It will continue to remain imperative that brands humanize and personalize the customer experience as much as possible by leveraging man-machine synergies and using emotional intelligence as a competitive advantage.
Arnaud de Lacoste is the chief marketing and ventures officer at Acticall Sitel Group, an integrated services group that specializes in customer experience.