There Will be Conflict Between Opti-Channel and Personalisation
The challenge for opti-channel strategies will be to align them to your personalisation strategy. How will it work when you have analytics driving your personalisation strategy that say customer X wants a fully digital experience but your opti-channel strategy says part of the digital experience is sub-standard? And the answer to this lies in understanding the scope of your experience creation – are you trying to improve the existing experience or are you looking to create a new improved experience?
If you are improving the existing experience, then you have less license to shift transactions and customer between channels – even if it is a better experience.
If you are creating a new experience, you have the opportunity to start again with the overall experience and prove to customers that the new experience is actually a better one.
For example, when airlines moved away from in-person check-in to self-check-in kiosks, there was an initial uproar from customers who had not yet experienced it – claiming that it was less personal and less human. But the reality is that the airlines took the check-in screen that the agents were using and made it customer-facing. Travellers can now see the seats and configuration and select what is best for them.
This experience was reinvented again when the check-in moved to web and mobile. By turning the screen around to the customer, the experience actually felt more human and personal – not less. And by scattering agents around the screens and including a human check-in desk for the “exceptions”, the airlines could continue to optimise AND personalise the experience as required.
Opti-Channel Opens Many New Business Opportunities
Your end-state experience should consider what is the best channel or touchpoint for each step in a journey – then determine the logic or ability to shift channels. Pushing customers from a chatbot to web chat is easy. Moving from in-store to online might be harder, but there are currently some retailers looking to merge the in-store and digital experience – from endless aisle solutions to nearly 100% digital in-store. Some shoe and clothing stores offer digital foot and body scans in-store that help customers choose the right size when they shop online. And we are beginning to see the rollout of “magic mirrors” – such as one retailer who has installed them in fitting rooms and you can virtually try different colours of the same item without actually getting them off the shelf.
Businesses are trying to change customer behaviour – whether it is getting them into stores or mainly shopping online or encouraging them to call the contact centre or to even visit a service centre. Creating reasons for why that might be a better option, while also providing scaled-back omnichannel options is a great way to meet the needs of existing customers, create brand loyalty and attract new customers to your company or brand.
Uniphore, a provider of Conversational Automation solutions, has announced their intention to acquire Jacada, an Israel-based autonomous customer experience solution provider. Jacada’s low-code/no-code platform will help Uniphore solve complex contact centre challenges using AI and automation. Jacada’s strengths include a low-code optimised interface and AI-enabled contact centre capabilities leading to automation across agent and customer engagements, enhanced knowledge-based guidance for agents and end-to-end analytics and insights.
Jacada has been in the market for around three decades and over time they have built various unified desktop and process optimisation products including RPA for customer service and support.
The acquisition follows Uniphore’s USD 140 million Series D funding round led by Sorenson Capital Partners in March 2021. Earlier this year, Uniphore acquired Emotion Research Lab to add AI and machine learning video capabilities that identify the emotion and engagement levels over video-based communications.
Growing Importance of Agent Assist Solutions
With agents facing pressure in offering customers satisfactory outcomes and at the same time having to manage the high volume of inbound transactions, Agent Assist solutions are high on the agenda for organisations. Remote working has made things even more complex where agents are cut off from their supervisors and not able to walk up to them to seek guidance. These “immediate challenges” have not yet been addressed in every contact centre even a year after the crisis. This presents a good opportunity for Uniphore to own the front and back-office integration piece. The back-office integration segment has become increasingly important as there is a need to fulfill customer requests by ensuring the conversation thread with back-office systems is followed through and communicated back to the agent. This need was heightened during the pandemic due to delays in product arrivals, in shipments, and other delays and miscommunication.
The big challenge also lies in making Agent Assist help the agent perform better and not make their lives more stressful! The design element of Agent Assist is critical. The solution must fit well into the other systems and applications such as CRM, Knowledge Management, and Speech Analytics. You don’t want another solution being pushed on to the agents when they are under pressure to meet customer demands during a 15-minute call.
Conversational Automation and Agent Assist must be evaluated carefully as you are integrating the solution into multiple environments with the clear objective of ensuring that agents only get the right information, in a manner that makes sense for them and at appropriate intervals.
The Growing Importance of Low-code No-code (LCNC)
As contact centres focus on business agility and pivoting fast to cope with sudden market shifts, organisations will benefit from moving programming closer to the contact centre – requiring very little assistance from IT teams.
Having a LCNC platform will now allow Uniphore to build front and back-office experiences in a multi-vendor environment. The need to use intelligent APIs to build workflows is high on the agenda and it helps eradicate the costly efforts and time spent on developers to further extract and build new capabilities at speed.
Jacada has been pushing their value proposition on RPA and Conversational Automation for some time now and this blends well with where Uniphore is going with AI and Automation in the contact centre space. The acquisition will also give Uniphore access to other contact centre technologies that will help them to compete better with a wider range of solutions. With the challenges in managing the agent experience, we can also expect the Workforce Experience Management (WEM) segment to play an important role and intersect with Agent Assist to manage and elevate the agent experience.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a briefing by ServiceNow regarding their new “AI-Powered Service Operations” that highlighted their service-aware CMDB – adding machine learning to their service mapping capabilities. The upgraded offering has the ability to map entire environments in hours or minutes – not months or weeks. And as a machine learning capability, it is only likely to get smarter – to learn from their customers’ use of the service and begin to recognise what applications, systems, and infrastructure are likely to be supporting each business service.
This heralds a new era in service management – one where the actual business and customer impact of outages is known immediately; where the decision to delay an upgrade or fix to a known problem can be made with a full understanding of the impacts. At one of my previous employers, email went down for about a week. It was finally attributed to an upgrade to network equipment that sat between the email system and the corporate network and the internet. The tech teams were scratching their heads for days as there was no documented link between this piece of hardware and the email system. The impact of the outage was certainly felt by the business – but had it happened at the end of the financial year, it could have impacted perhaps 10-20% of the business bookings as many deals came in at that time.
Being able to understand the link between infrastructure, cloud services, applications, databases, middleware and business processes and services is of huge value to every business – particularly as the percentage of business through digital channels and touchpoints continues to accelerate.
There are significant considerations for banks in offering these types of capabilities, such as:
Privacy. While the technology operates on non-identifiable information, the perception of clients being ‘stalked’ by their bank in order to drive business to a merchant is one that would need to be managed carefully.
Consumer opt-out. The ability for customers to opt out of this type of service is critical.
Consumer financial wellbeing. It may be in the best interests of some consumer to not receive merchant offers, for instance where they are managing to a strict budget. These considerations can be baked into the overall customer journey (eg. prompts when the consumer is nearing their self-imposed monthly budget for a category), but care will need to be taken to keep customers’ best interests at heart.
While there are multiple challenges to overcome, the fact remains that personalisation is quickly becoming a core expectation for consumers. How will banks respond, and will we see AI use cases like Crayon Data become more prominent?
Woolworths have announced the adoption of a new Software-as-a-Service capability from One Door to support the quality and compliance of their in-store merchandising. There are some valuable lessons from this announcement for other retailers.
The power of data, particularly as the capability of specialist AI tools improves, continues to help retailers improve their offering to customers.
SaaS Capabilities Offer Performance Improvements
Woolworths are working on improving the compliance of product merchandising in-store using One Door Visual Merchandising solution.
One Door will improve the accuracy of data available to both the in-store teams and for the central supermarket merchandising team. The supply chain in Woolworths is already highly automated but getting the shelf presence right is dependent on the quality of data being captured. While store teams already use a range of electronic tools to capture this information, the compliance with store planograms and visual merchandising standards has been difficult to automate.
One Door’s solution provides a single source of this information in an easy to use digital format. The AI tools that One Door have developed appear to be able to show the degree of compliance of the actual shelf layout and stock position.
For store teams, One Door will simplify tracking layout changes by highlighting them and making the data available on the shop floor. This should deliver productivity benefits to the store – benefits that can be reinvested in new activities or on better customer service.
Store teams will be able to verify that third party merchandisers are compliant. Major product manufacturers often use their own merchandising teams in supermarkets and One Door will provide a simple mechanism to verify they have done their jobs properly.
The central merchandise teams will be able to quickly get data-driven feedback on how the stores are making planned changes, as well as verifying the quality of compliance with their store layouts.
All of these factors should mean that the product that is available in-store is presented in the manner that the merchandising teams have defined, and the customers will see a more consistent presentation of products.
Integration is Critical for Rapid Deployment
Effective integration with existing systems and new cloud capabilities is critical to support the real-time operation in Retail.
The ability to introduce and scale up new capabilities that can be delivered by cloud services such as One Door will only be effective if integration is simple and quick. This requires compatibility at a number of levels including data semantics and the ability to exchange data effectively. Woolworths have been growing their capability for managing and supporting APIs that will make this integration smoother.
In addition, the cloud service providers have made the development of integration capabilities an investment priority.
The introduction of One Door is showing how the company can integrate new capability and introduce it to almost 10% of their stores as a pilot capability, with the full deployment to be completed across their chain during 2022.
Other retailers who don’t have this capability to integrate cloud services quickly, reliably and cost-effectively are going to lag companies that have invested to achieve this capability.
CIOs and CDOs should be leading their organisations in the development of a rich and scalable set of APIs to enable the integration of this type of high-value specialised solution.
Deployment without Consistent Architectures will be Complex
Rapid deployment of new capabilities requires a well-architected cloud, network, and edge infrastructure – and a well-trained team.
It is highly likely that the deployment of the One Door solution will be delivered over the existing Woolworths infrastructure. The capability is delivered from the cloud, with little or no deployment costs or time required. With the existing network and hybrid cloud capabilities that Woolworths have developed this type of rollout will be a relatively simple technical activity.
The integration of the service into the Woolworths environment is likely to be the most complex activity to make sure accurate data is exchanged.
It doesn’t take long to identify a wide range of different digital initiatives that Woolworths are pursuing. With the platform that they have established, they are well-positioned to take advantage of new capabilities as start-ups and existing suppliers develop them.
Every retailer needs to maintain their focus on their digital capabilities. As companies such as One Door develop AI-based enhancements, CIOs and their teams need to be ready to integrate these capabilities quickly.
Strong architectures for both infrastructure and digital services are needed to achieve these outcomes.
Recommendations for Retailers
Retail organisations continue to find new ways to leverage the power of the data that they are able to collect. The flexibility that SaaS developments deliver will be essential to maintaining an organisation’s competitive positioning.
CIOs and their teams need to lead their organisations and ecosystems by:
Identifying new SaaS capabilities that support the strategic positioning of their companies
Preparing their environments by supporting a rich set of APIs to support the rapid integration of these new capabilities
Developing and maintaining strong architectures that provide organisations a solid framework to develop within
Checkout Alan’s previous insight on Woolworths micro automation technology adopted to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders