Customer experience is the new differentiator, with over 80% of marketers expecting to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of customer experience by 2020, and almost a fifth naming it as their most exciting opportunity this year.
Of course, nowhere is customer experience more crucial than in retail, where the success of concepts such as the Dyson demo stores and the Apple retail experience illustrates the importance consumers place on positive, valuable interactions in-store. But in an age where online is just as important, how can retailers ensure they delight their customers in a digital environment and deliver relevant, personalised exchanges?
Many retailers are investing in innovations such as virtual reality or 24/7 chatbots, based on the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). But before retail marketers get carried away with the latest tech, they should remember effective automation requires a robust data foundation where customer information is treated with integrity and dignity.
Customer data provides a means for retailers to get to know their audiences and deliver meaningful experiences, and now more than ever, how this data is used is under the spotlight following the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new regulation gives consumers more clarity and choice over how their personal information is used, and is vital and valuable as a vehicle to control data use. But there is still a lack of guidance in the ethical use of customer information in automated processes or AI algorithms, so retailers must set their own bar for acceptable practice.
To build trust and brand loyalty, it is essential to be transparent with consumers about how their data is used, and to gain their consent to automated processing. Retailers must be careful not to cross the automation line, ensuring they only use data for purposes that provide value and that customers are comfortable with. This line will be different for individual customers. While one might be happy for their previous purchase history to be analysed to produce insight into their interests and deliver personalised recommendations, another may see this as intrusive and a step too far. By increasing transparency and choice in data use, retailers can work towards a future where customer relationships are founded on openness and trust.
Vast volumes of customer data are produced every time a customer interacts with a retail brand – whatever channel or device they use – and retail marketers need robust technologies to collect, process, and store that data lawfully and with dignity. They also need to ensure the data is high quality and free from bias, as AI or ML-based customer experience technologies will only ever be effective if their algorithms are powered by clean, objective, consumer data.
In a bid to manage the sheer volume of data, some businesses are turning to solutions – like Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) – stitching together the customer journey across multiple online and offline channels through identity resolution. Some platforms have in-built consent and privacy functions to manage customer approval of data use and to ensure the retailer’s employees only have access to data that is pertinent to their role. This type of technology can be used to unify data across the company, bridging silos of channel or department to create a single, centralised data foundation for all customer interactions. It can also consider and compensate for potential biases in the data, ensuring customer experience tools are working on objective insight.
Once retailers have a strong data foundation, built with the knowledge and consent of their customers, they can make use of the latest customer experiences technologies to take consistent and relevant action. They can respond to customer behaviour in real time, identifying their immediate needs and delivering personalised, engaging experiences across any channel or device to fulfil those needs. But building a data foundation isn’t a one-time exercise, retailers must put measures in place to continually assess and strengthen their data infrastructure, ensuring it remains robust, compliant with legislation, and free from bias.
Customer experience is the new retail race, but retailers shouldn’t try to run before they can walk. Before implementing the latest AI or ML-based customer experience technologies, retailers should ensure they have a robust data foundation. This provides a single, centralised source of clean, non-biased data that can be used to orchestrate seamless, multi-channel customer experiences. Respect is mutual so to win customers over; retailers must treat their data with dignity.
Author: Lindsay McEwan, general manager EMEA at Tealium
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