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.
Last week Microsoft announced the acquisition of Nuance for an estimated USD 19.7 billion. This is Microsoft’s second largest acquisition ever, after they acquired LinkedIn in 2016. Nuance is an established name in the Healthcare industry and is said to have a presence in 10,000 healthcare organisations globally. Apart from Healthcare, Nuance has strong capabilities in Conversational AI and speech solutions to support other industries. This acquisition is in line with Microsoft’s go-to-market roadmap and strategies.
Microsoft’s Healthcare Focus
Microsoft announced their Healthcare Cloud last year and this acquisition will bolster their Healthcare offerings and market presence. Nuance’s product portfolio includes clinical speech recognition SaaS offerings – Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting – on Microsoft Azure. The acquisition builds on already existing integrations and partnerships that were in place over the years.
“Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offers its solution capabilities to healthcare providers using a ‘modular’ approach. Given how diverse healthcare providers are in their technology maturity and appetite for change, the more diverse the ‘modules’, the greater the opportunities for Microsoft. This partnership with Nuance also brings to the table established relationships with EHR vendors, which will be useful for Microsoft globally.
The Healthcare industry continues to struggle as the world negotiates the challenges of mass vaccination. But on the upside, the ongoing Healthcare crisis has given remote care a much-needed shot in the arm. Clinicians today will be more open to documentation and transcription services for process automation and compliance. The acquisition of Nuance’s Healthcare capabilities will definitely boost Microsoft’s market presence in provider organisations.
However, Healthcare is not the only industry that Microsoft and Nuance are focused on. The Microsoft Cloud for Retail that was launched earlier this year aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. Nuance has omnichannel customer engagement solutions that can be leveraged in Retail and other industries. As Microsoft continues to verticalise their offerings, they will consider more acquisitions that will complement their value proposition.“
Microsoft’s Focus on Conversational AI
Microsoft already has several speech recognition offerings, speech to text services, and chatbots; and they continue to invest in the Conversational AI space. They have created an open-source template for creating virtual assistants to help Bot Framework developers. In February, Microsoft announced their industry specific cloud offerings for Financial services, Manufacturing, and Non-Profit, and also introduced a series of AI and natural language features in Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Office Lens and Microsoft Office mobile to deliver interactive, voice forward assistive experiences.
“There is no slowing down in this space and the acquisition clearly demonstrates the vision that Microsoft is building with Nuance – a vendor that has made speech recognition, text to speech, conversational AI the foundation of the company. This is a brilliant move by Microsoft in the Conversational AI space and a win-win for both companies.
This move could also mark further inroads for Microsoft into the contact centre space. With Teams now being integrated into contact centre technologies, working with large customers using speech and conversational AI, Dynamics 365 could herald the start of more acquisitions for Microsoft to bolster a wider customer engagement vision.
The Conversational AI war is heating up and various other cloud vendors such as Google and AWS are starting to get aggressive and have made investments in recent years to enhance their Conversational AIcapabilities. Google Dialogflow has been seeing rapid uptake and they now have deep partnerships with Genesys, Avaya, Cisco and other contact centre players. Microsoft coming into the game and acquiring a company with years of history and IP in the speech space, demonstrates how the cloud battle and the war between Google, Microsoft and AWS is heating up in the Conversational AI. All of a sudden you have Microsoft as a powerhouse in this game.”
Despite the pressure on budgets Ecosystm data makes a strong case to not cut your customer experience (CX) spend! Businesses in Singapore that are cutting their CX spend are less likely to return to growth, more likely to be competing on price (hence cutting margins), not focused on their digital and omnichannel customers, and have lower levels of innovation. Funnily enough, these are also the businesses with complex, legacy systems which need more focus to provide an improved CX! To be quite frank, businesses in Singapore who are cutting CX spend are setting themselves up for failure. With other businesses increasing CX spend, the gap between the customer experiences will grow to a point where customers will leave and it will be hard to catch up.
Prioritising your CX Spend
So now that you have secured your CX spend, where will you get the biggest bang for your buck? Let’s look at where businesses in Singapore are focusing their CX initiatives in 2021.
Offering an omnichannel experience. Your customers expect more than just a great digital experience – they want the right experience at the right touchpoint. The CX leaders in Singapore (who, unsurprisingly are often the market leaders) are already offering great omnichannel experiences, so this is quickly becoming about catching up – and not about getting ahead. Providing a consistent, personalised, and optimised experience across your digital touchpoints needs to be a top priority for your business today. If you are not offering conversational commerce solutions, start that strategy as soon as possible – you need to be where your customers are today. Extending this to physical channels and broader ecosystem partners should also be on your agenda.
Improving knowledge systems. Your knowledge systems don’t do what they say on the box. They don’t provide answers to questions – for employees or customers. In fact, if your customer service agents get asked a question they don’t know the answer to, their number one source for answers is actually their colleagues or team leaders – NOT the knowledge management system! Start investing in systems – or ideally a single system – that help your employees get better, faster answers to questions. Make sure that the system is providing the same answers to both your employees and your customers across all touchpoints – physical and digital.
Migrating customer service platforms to the cloud. Over half the businesses in Singapore that we assessed have this as a top CX priority. Cloud solutions offer faster time to value, lower management costs, give access to more regular improvements and often provide the ability to easily integrate with partners who offer product extensions and customisations. This trend will continue in 2021 and 2022 as more businesses realise that their legacy customer service or contact centre platform is inhibiting their ability to innovate their customer experience. These systems also help businesses to stay compliant and reduce the reliance on internal IT – which has traditionally struggled to keep up with the fast-changing nature of the contact centre and customer service teams.
Investing in AI and machine learning. Many businesses are using AI to provide the personalised and optimised customer experiences they aspire to. AI and machine learning are allowing businesses to create personalised offers, offer a next-best action and automate services. Advanced banks in Singapore can create interest rate offers for each individual customer based on their credit profile and history. 46% of businesses in Singapore are already using AI to offer recommendations for customer service agents, 44% to optimise or test messaging and campaigns and 43% to provide faster, more accurate access to information and knowledge. 18 months ago, AI was a business differentiator – allowing your business to create a stand-out CX. Today AI is quickly becoming a standard practice – the battle now is around using AI to create personalised and optimised experiences.
A great customer experience will be the most important factor in lifting your business to pre-pandemic growth levels and helping your business remain competitive in today’s tough business conditions. When it comes to CX, there is no such thing as “saving your way to growth”.
Your opportunity to drive greater business success lies in your ability to better win, serve and retain your customers. Refresh your customer strategy and capability today to make 2021 an exceptional year for your business.
In fact, Zendesk’s global study shows that most customers (45%) use embedded messaging over social messaging apps (31%) and text/SMS (20%). That might be great for self-service, but for commerce, boundless opportunities exist to move to where the customer lives, communicates, and socialises today.
Smart businesses understand that customers spend their lives in other chat and social media platforms – such as Facebook Messenger, TikTok, Instagram, WeChat, Discord and WhatsApp. More customers expect to be served in these channels; they expect to be able to transact with their brands of choice. Why should they go to a mobile banking app to find their balance? Why can’t they get it in WhatsApp? They are often learning about the next Jordan or Yeezy shoe drop from their social network in Messenger – so why not transact with them there? Consider all your own personal WhatsApp, Messenger and other messaging platform groups discussing social activities, sporting teams, school activities or the latest fashion – these are ALL opportunities for commerce (Figure 3).
And there are use cases now. Airlines – such as KLM and Etihad Airways – are engaging customers on WeChat, Kakao Talk, and WhatsApp, helping them reschedule flights and answering customer service queries. Telecommunications providers are allowing customers to raise issues on messaging platforms – and are also using them to upsell and cross-sell new services. Transportation providers are making it easier to find a car or the the next scheduled bus right there in the messaging platforms. Retailers – such as 1-800 Flowers and Culture Kings – are not only serving customers but finding new customers on these messaging platforms.
Going beyond the messaging platforms, businesses are also looking to serve customers on their smart devices – such as Amazon Alexa/Echo and Google Nest/Home devices. Alerting customers to order updates, shipping details and product promotions is becoming standard practice for leading businesses. Digitally-savvy banks are allowing customers to not only track their balance but also make transfers and payments using these smart platforms.
Customers are more comfortable with these conversational commerce options – and they actually expect you to offer such services on your site, in your app, on their smart devices, and on their messaging platforms of choice. Your ability to provide outstanding customer experiences will not only be your ticket back to revenue growth but the recipe for long term business success. Meeting customer needs on their terms is a good place to start.
Delivering a Personalised Conversational Customer Experience
Customer experience (CX) decision-makers will have to rethink how they approach building richer CX capabilities to deliver personalised conversational interactions with customers.
Messaging should become part of a wider AI, Data, and Mobile strategy. Contact centre teams might feel that this is too ambitious a project and would prefer to continue to serve customers through the more traditional channels only. So, it is important to identify the key stakeholder/s who will drive the initiative. And the contact centre team should work with the Digital, Innovation and Marketing teams.
Designing the mobile experience and in app messaging for CX should have some of the following features:
Ability to click a button to request for a service or escalate an issue that will, in turn, result in the company contacting the customer either by messaging or calling.
Giving customers the option to contact through popular messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, and others. Unifying these systems in a single interface that integrates with your customer service application is best practice.
Having one single interface to manage and make payments – within the app itself or on the social messaging platform. Conversational commerce is about creating an ongoing relationship with customers throughout the entire customer journey. Don’t just focus on the sale or the post-sales experience – customers expect to be able to interact with your business from their platform of choice regardless of their need or stage in the customer journey.
Embed deep analytics into the communication services to help the organisation better deliver a personalised CX.
Ensure you have a solid, unified knowledge management interface at the backend so that all questions lead to the same answers regardless of channel, platform or touchpoint.
Your opportunity to drive greater business success lies in your ability to better win, serve and retain your customers. Refresh your customer strategy and capability today to make 2021 an exceptional year for your business.
This is a summary of the predictions, the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.
The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021
There Will Only be Omnichannel Retailers
The value of an omnichannel offer in Retail has become much clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers that do not have the ability to deliver using the channel customers prefer will find it hard to compete. As the physical channel becomes less important new revenue opportunities will open up for businesses operating in adjacent market sectors – companies such as food and grocery wholesalers will increasingly sell direct to consumers, leveraging their existing online and distribution capabilities.
Most customers transact on mobile device – either a mobile phone or tablet. New capabilities will remove some of the barriers to using these mobile devices. For one, technologies such as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will provide a better customer experience on mobile platforms than existing websites, while delivering a user experience at par or better than mobile apps. Also, as retailers become AI-enabled, machine learning engines will provide purchase recommendations through smartwatches or in-home, voice-enabled, smart devices.
COVID-19 Will Continue to be an Influence Forcing Radical Shifts
In driving the economic recovery in 2021, we will see ‘glocal’ consumption – emphasis on local retailers and global players taking local actions to win the hearts and minds of local consumers. There will be significant actions within local communities to drive consumers to support local retailers. Location-based services (LBS) will be used extensively as consumers on the high street carry more LBS-enabled devices than ever before. Bluetooth beacon technology and proximity marketing will drive these efforts. Consumers will have to opt-in for this to work, so privacy and relationship management are also important to consider.
But people still want to “physically” browse, and design aesthetics of a store are still part of the attraction. In the next 18 months, the concept of virtual stores that are digital twins will take off, particularly in the holiday and Spring clearance sales. Innovators like Matterport can help local retailers gain a more global audience with a digital twin with a limited technological investment. At a minimum, Shopify or other intermediaries will be necessary for a digital shop window.
The Industry will See Artificial Intelligence in Everything
AI will increase its impact on Retail with an uptake in two key areas.
Customer interactions. Retail AI will use customer data to deliver much richer and targeted experiences. This may include the ability to get to a ‘segment of one’. Tools will include chatbots that are more functional and support for voice-based commerce using mobile and in-home edge devices. Also, in-store recognition of customers will become easier through enhanced device or facial recognition. Markets where privacy is less respected will lead in this area – other markets will also innovate to achieve the same outcomes without compromising privacy but will lag in their delivery. This mismatch of capability may allow early adopters to enter other geographic markets with competitive offers while meeting the privacy requirements of these markets.
Supply chain and pricing capabilities. AI-based machine learning engines using both internal and increased sources of external data will replace traditional math-based forecasting and replenishment models. These engines will enable the identification of unexpected and unusual demand influencing factors, particularly from new sources of external data. Modelling of price elasticity using machine learning will be able to handle more complex models. Retailers using this capability will be in a better position to optimise their customer offers based on their pricing strategies. Supply chains will be re-engineered so products with high demand volatility are manufactured close to markets, and the procurement of products with stable demands will be cost-based.
Distribution Woes Will Continue
Third party delivery platforms such as Wish and RoseGal are recruiting additional international non-Asian suppliers to expand their portfolios. Amazon and AliExpress are leaders here, but there are many niche eCommerce platforms taking up the slack due to the uneven distribution patterns from the ongoing economic situation. Expect to see a number of new entrants taking up niche spaces in the second half of 2021, sponsored by major retail product brands, to give Amazon a run for their money on a more local basis.
As the USPS continues to be under strain, delivery companies like FedEx in the US who partner with the USPS are already suffering from the USPS’s operational slowdown, in both their customer reputation and delivery speed. In 2021, COVID-19 – and workers’ unions – will continue to impact distribution activities. Increased spending in warehouse automation and new retail footprints such as dark stores will be seen to make up for worker shortfalls.
China’s Retail Models Will Expand into Other Markets
China’s online businesses operate in a large domestic market that is comparatively free of international competitors. Given the scale of the domestic market, these online companies have been able to grow to become substantial businesses using advanced technologies. All the Chinese tech giants – among them Alibaba, ByteDance, DiDi Chuxing, and Tencent – are expanding internationally.
China’s rapidly recovering economy puts those businesses in a strong position to fund a competitive expansion into international markets using their domestic base, particularly with their Government’s promotion of the country’s tech sector. It is harder to impose restrictions on software-based businesses, unlike the approach that we have witnessed the US Government take for hardware companies such as Huawei – placing constraints on mobile phone components and operating systems.
These tech giants also have significant experience in a Big Data environment that provides little privacy protection, as well as leading-edge AI capabilities. While they will not be able to operate with the same freedom in global markets, and there will be other large challenges in translating Chinese experience to other markets – these tech players will be able to compete very effectively with incumbent global companies. Chinese companies also continue to raise capital from US stock exchanges with The Economist reporting Chinese listings have raised close to USD 17 billion since January 2020.