June 3, 2017: I walk into a shoe store with my teenage son in tow, intent on buying him a pair of running shoes. He already has a particular shade of blue in mind – and yes, it should have a silver grey toe cap and fluorescent green laces. After great deliberation, we select a couple of pairs that matches my son’s preferences, and I shout out to the attendant to get the right size. The guy returns after what seems like ages, only to announce that the size is unavailable. Not the one to lose a customer, he suggests an alternate pair.
After convincing my son to settle for this option, the two of us walk up to the payment counter, where the store clerk tells us that a Rs.3000 bill could fetch me a Rs.500 discount. My Indian buyer mentality kicks in, and I end up spending another 10 minutes choosing two pairs of socks I don’t need – just to avail the discount.
May 30, 2021: I decide to buy my son a pair of shoes. As we enter the store, he stands on a shoe pad that discreetly measures his shoe size and the arch of his foot. A host walks up and my son tells him that he wants a black-and-blue pair with great grip, and walks about to check out some other stuff. The store assistant appears 5 minutes later with two options and a couple of matching socks. Incidentally, another shoe on the shelf catches my son’s attention. When I enquire about its availability, the assistant simply scans the bar code and tells me it’s in stock. We walk out with the products and the store charges my card on file.
While this experience may sound futuristic, truth be told, a lot of this is already happening around you. Imagine a world without digital kiosks, touchscreens or virtual mirrors; yet with technology being core to creating customer experiences. Future experiences will revolve around technology that’s invisible yet omnipresent. In this case, the shoe pad automatically connects with an inventory system to check availability. Voice recognition technology helps understand consumer preferences and narrows down to a few choices. Upselling is a part of the experience, as the shoe has been paired with socks that match. Again, there’s complicated payment technology involved in making the checkout process frictionless.
So the question is, what do CMOs need to think of to be able to create such experiences, today? Here are 4 key aspects marketers should focus on:
Own the customer experience end to end
Delivering the right customer experience is a key differentiator for any brand in the marketplace. Marketers need to focus on creating meaningful customer journeys that will act as the foundation of long-lasting relationships. Today, customers expect brands to support their journeys from start to finish. Visiting a store is not just about the transaction anymore, it is also about the experience of the store and its products. This implies that marketers need to design and implement end-to-end journeys that minimize customer effort and eliminate frustrating interactions with the brand. They should put themselves in the customer’s shoes while devising the entire experience.
In the above shoe-store scenario, the CMO must ask herself, “How can we give customers instant answers to their questions?” or “What can we do to reduce the waiting time for the customer?” Amazon Go, a physical grocery store from the E-commerce giant is doing just this. It has been designed to do away with cumbersome checkout queues and allow customers entry into the store by using a mobile app. While entering the store, a shopper just scans his smartphone. That’s enough for the company's ‘just walk out’ technology to detect when the shopper picks a product off a shelf or keeps it back. It also identifies the contents in the shopper’s virtual cart. Shopping over, he walks out of the store, and gets charged on his Amazon.com account.
Design for people
In an attempt to become more digital, a lot of companies today are investing in digital kiosks, virtual mirrors etc. Humans interact with each other through their senses – speaking, touching, hearing. Why can’t our buying experiences be just that? Customers are not hard-wired to interact with mobile devices, digital kiosks and other tech-driven interfaces. A recent study revealed: to solve their customer service issues, 83% of consumers prefer to interact with human beings over digital channels. Marketers would do well to take into account this simple consumer behavior insight.
One way brand marketers can make customer experiences more human yet rich is by eliminating the involvement of visible technology. In the above scenario, when my son expressed his desire to buy a black-and-grey shoe and an attendant walks out a few minutes later with a pair that matches his size, the experience is superlative. At the simplest level, companies have started to embed context of the consumer in experiences. For example, a coffee shop displaying a summer cooler on its digital menu board at the hottest time of the day. As a consumer, it makes me feel that this brand seems to have exactly what I want and when I want it. At another level, advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing are allowing customers to communicate with computers the same way they communicate with people. We need to look no further than virtual assistants on our phones. The question is, can we start using this in our buying experiences? A number of companies are innovating in this space. For instance, Luminoso, a text analysis company, enables its clients to understand not just the spoken words, but even the underlying customer sentiment and intent.
Become knowledgeable about your consumer
As the world becomes more digital, companies have the opportunity to collect more and more data about their consumers (with their consent). An average consumer makes a purchase after consulting 4 to 5 different sources. These typically include in-store visits, search engines, and business websites. That is a wealth of data about the consumer. At the center of all this data lie actionable customer insights that enable the marketer to personalize the customer’s experiences with the brand and offer real-time solutions to their needs. Let’s go back to the shoe-store scenario again. My son has bought the same brand of shoes for the last few years. If the brand were to have captured the data, they would know he is a sports enthusiast, loves playing football, and usually goes for sober colors. This is a great insight for a brand to create a personalized offer.
Marketers must keep in mind that data represents real people in flesh and blood – those who have expectations, desires, and worries. Treating customers like people, and not mere numbers, will allow them to fulfil their expectations by delivering relevant experiences. The end result: higher customer satisfaction and sustained brand loyalty.
Identify the right partner
While all of this is easy to write in an article, it is not necessarily that easy to implement. It requires companies to build a culture of truly putting customer-centricity and experience at the heart of their business strategy. It requires agility and nimbleness of execution. It also requires that design, experience and technology are seamlessly connected and not operating in silos. Choosing the right partner who can operate across all these areas, who understands that change is constant, and can partner to constantly reimagine the future is key to success.
- By Manu Vaish, VP & Global Service Line Lead – CPG, SapientRazorfish
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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