Singapore

Predicting what customers want

Retailers need to use tech to provide personalised experiences

In our digitally connected world, we have a wealth of choices as consumers.

Whether making a small personal buying decision or researching enterprise software for a business, if my expectations are not met, the next provider is just a click away.

Given this, how can brands differentiate themselves from the competition and capture loyalty?

According to the Walker 2020 Customers report, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. In fact, another report by Microsoft confirms that customer service plays a role in the choice of, and loyalty to, a brand for 96 per cent of us around the globe, which makes providing exceptional service experiences a top priority.

A recent paper from thinkJar indicates that organisations can expect to see a 23 per cent premium in key metrics such as revenue, wallet share and profitability from their customers who are highly engaged.

NO. 1 PRIORITY

It is no surprise that 33 per cent of the 1,494 business leaders we spoke to as part of the Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study told us that engaging customers is their number one priority, ahead of empowering employees, optimising operations, and transforming products and services.

So what does an effortless customer experience look like? It means:

  • Instantly connecting via my channel and device of choice, whether that is a self-service option or an agent-assisted experience
  • Getting fast, personalised and effective service once I have made that connection
  • Experiencing consistent service across channels and touch points
  • Receiving proactive and predictive service through social channels or my connected device.

Delivering personalised, contextual interactions across the customer journey is a strategic imperative. But it is easier said than done.

As a customer, my journey may begin on a support portal where I can view knowledge articles, engage in a forum, read a blog, or chat with an agent. If I decide to pick up the phone, the agent who answers my call needs full visibility into the products or services that I have purchased, past cases, and any previous interactions across other channels.

Today, sensors and screens, connectivity to devices, as well as the cloud and predictive data analytics are creating seamless experiences at physical stores.

In today's customer journey, personalised experiences that span both digital and physical environments will be critical to meeting consumers' expectations, and the brands that can provide these experiences will set themselves apart from the competition.

Predict what customers want before they tell you. With predictive analytics solutions that let you cost-effectively track demand and manage inventory levels on-the-go and across locations, you can be sure that when customers visit your retail store, you have the right stock and your store associates can access accurate inventory information - for an optimal customer experience that lets them try before they buy.

Bridge the gap between physical and digital experiences through a unified strategy. Today's digital native customers expect multiple ways to order, purchase and receive merchandise and products - and you can meet these expectations with an end-to-end solution that integrates world-class, omni-channel experience management capabilities with operational commerce technologies, giving you real-time data insights for a deep understanding of customers' preferences, wants, and needs.

Deliver meaningful engagements across all touchpoints. Take advantage of customers' smartphone as well as interactive in-store components (such as kiosks and digital signage) to enable customers to get extended information on products using capabilities such as near field communication, beacons and image recognition, and push relevant offers based on their interests and location in the store - all the while gathering valuable information about consumer in-store shopping behaviour.

Imagine a scenario where you could open a messaging app and type or speak: "I need a shirt for next week, blue or black, under $100 and goes with the shoes I bought last week."

There is a lot of context in that statement, but with chatbot technologies, it knows your preferences from your past purchases, it knows your profile and can call a recommendations model to determine what products you have the most affinity to buy. It can also look up current trend information through social feeds like Instagram and Pinterest.

The writer is director of enterprise commercial, Microsoft Singapore. 
This is an abridged version of an article published in The Business Times yesterday.

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