Shopping with Artificial Intelligence: The frictionless family customer experience?

With Amazon, Facebook and Google all adopting an open source approach to development of their artificial intelligence (AI) services, what could this innovation mean for a family shopping on the High Street? Here are some ideas…

An end to Saturday morning parking mayhem – having to spend half an hour queuing to get into a shopping centre car park only to find out the only spaces left are on the hundredth floor can be a miserable start (and end) to a Saturday shop for the whole family.

An AI personal assistant could reduce the friction of this inconvenience by reserving a suitable car parking space at the shopping centre in advance, based on the family’s store preferences, accessibility requirements and other factors, like forecast weather. It can then send the reserved space location to the family’s in-car GPS and automatically pay for its ticket. The more an AI can effectively integrate or communicate with other systems the greater the convenience for customers.

No more bored kids looking at their mobiles – the family have spent hours traipsing from store to store failing to be engaged by any of these retail experiences. The kids are just itching to get their phones out to start socialising with their friends, and mum and dad are getting the feeling they are better off buying online.

An AI could transform the friction of this irrelevant customer experience by giving in-store products ‘personality’ –  a product can introduce itself using spoken voice to these customers (via a store branded mobile app for example), talk about its unique selling points and answer potentially any question about its suitability – all personalised using buying and social insights the AI has about the family. The more an AI can effectively apply analytics to create experiential, contextual shopping experiences, the more compelling and delightful bricks and mortar stores become for customers.

Empowered shopping without added wrinkles – So the family have found things they need and discovered lots of things they want, but mum and dad aren’t comfortable with uncontrolled spending across their bulging wallet of bank cards.

An AI could help remove the friction of this uncertainty by acting as a single channel for these customers to manage their disparate bank services in one place, giving on the spot advice about saving and spending to enable the right purchasing decisions and provide a secure, easy to use payment system using customer voice recognition (biometric authentication). The more an AI can create a platform that combines and simplifies a range of complex services; the better mobility customers have on the High Street – experiences that rival anything offered by online retailers.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

 

The power of NLP: when David becomes Goliath

“Perhaps the biggest threat and opportunity organisations face is Natural Language Processing (NLP); where ever increasingly smart robots simplify transactions for customers.”

Yet the user experience of such intelligent personal assistants can at times feel underwhelming because they lack a sufficiently broad range of services versus other digital channels. Facebook M for example relies upon human trainers to complete more complex customer service tasks requested by users and Alexa utilises ‘skills’ – tailored apps such as Spotify. None of them appear to offer the same level of complete user freedom as using traditional web browsers to access any available content.

“Any organisation regardless of its size able to master NLP can potentially compete in previously unreachable or unscalable markets.”

One way these robots could overcome these limitations is to “learn” how to use NLP to access any digital service through its front-end without the need for any technical integration or human touchpoints. All transactions could then be consumed or simplified into one customer experience accessed by a single AI.

The implication for competitive advantage is that potentially any organisation regardless of its size that can effectively master these “platform on platforms” cloud capabilities will be able to compete in previously unreachable or unscalable markets

“In this “open season” competitive environment, NLP can enable an organisation to transform its relationship with an existing customer and steal new ones from competitors.”

One such service could be an AI that searches and buys the best priced goods from competitors from their own customer-facing channels (without their co-operation or collaboration) so empowering a customer to create their own “perfect basket” free from the constraints of only shopping with one brand. These competitors would still get revenue from these purchases but critically won’t have direct access to this customer relationship or loyalty – NLP is disrupting their competitive advantage by reducing their market power.

In this “open season” competitive environment, where switching costs are practically nil for customers, NLP can enable an organisation to radically transform its relationship with an existing customer and steal new ones from competitors – David becomes Goliath.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Platforms on Platforms: Innovation by subtraction

One of the competitive advantages of Digital Transformation is that it empowers an organisation to rationalise (or subtract) processes to innovate the customer and employee experience. So as organisations face new economic and competitive challenges how can adopting such capabilities benefit them?

Disruptors like Amazon and Uber have transformed markets using a global approach that removes the need for customers to use locally based, often more expensive incumbent competitors. This advantage is generated by their high volume, fast turnaround digital platform services that enable them to achieve economies of scale that drive greater choice and better prices for customers.

One wonders what further opportunities could emerge for “innovation by subtraction” delivered using Digital Transformation

In response, we have seen incumbents imitate this platform model such as Sainsbury’s intended integration of Grocer and Retail Catalogue propositions through its acquisition of Home Retail Group (that owns Argos). Such a move not only increases the level of choice Sainsbury’s can offer to match Amazon but also offers it other advantages in terms of more efficient logistics and faster deliveries (Argos, like Amazon, offers same day fulfilment).

Yet one wonders what further opportunities could emerge for “innovation by subtraction” delivered using Digital Transformation to disrupt sectors further – not just for engaging more demanding customers, but also to capitalise on increasingly fluid labour market dynamics like the Gig Economy.

Such a model potentially confers a range of co-opetitive benefits including deeper engagement in the Sharing Economy

Could the next disruption be “Platforms on Platforms”? This is where a disruptor creates a digital platform that enables a customer to consume personalised services from any competitor through one channel, effectively removing or subtracting the inconvenience or restrictions of engaging only a single retailer? Price comparison websites, for example, are an established form of the “Platform on Platform” concept, yet they arguably lack the ability for a customer to pick and mix offerings from different retailers into one truly personalised shopping basket.

Such a model potentially confers a range of co-opetitive benefits for contributing retailers – including opportunities to sell to previously unreachable customers, logistics efficiencies and deeper engagement in the Sharing Economy popular with millennials.

Organisations creating “Platforms on Platforms” to further disrupt their sectors or markets could become a key strategic trend over the coming years

Low skilled and temporary workers could also benefit from using a “Platform on Platform” service that pulls together in one place shift opportunities or short term assignments available during the same week (or even day) from different – potentially competing – organisations. Given the anticipated impact of automation, high wage costs (like the National Living Wage in the UK) and greater demands for labour flexibility, such a service could materially benefit these workers in the emerging Digital Economy (while also removing the need for employers to search and procure such flexible people resources independently).

Organisations creating “Platforms on Platforms” to further disrupt their sectors or markets could become a key strategic trend over the coming years. But to master this new form of competitive advantage will require innovation by subtraction using Digital Transformation.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

2020: The family digital Christmas?

It’s the year 2020.  Digital technology is all around us. So what might Christmas Day be like? Here are some ideas…

Forget Dad getting into a sweat early Christmas morning because he hasn’t defrosted the turkey yet…in 2020 internet of things (IoT) smart sensors in the family kitchen refrigerator have been monitoring the thaw of the big bird for the last couple of days and adjusting the fridge’s internal temperature accordingly to ensure its ready on time. Other smart sensors have also got the oven warmed up perfectly for Dad’s culinary magnum opus.

It’s barely dawn and the little ones are wide awake eager to open their presents. Mum and Dad are barely conscious but have managed to roll themselves downstairs to be with the kids round the Christmas tree…a magic moment through bleary adult eyes. But in 2020 using miniature action cameras embedded on the Christmas tree every emotional, tearful moment of joy on their faces is captured and saved on the family’s private cloud. Mum and Dad will be able to cherish forever the look on young Sam’s face when she finally got the bicycle she wanted all year.

Mid-morning and the Christmas cards on the mantelpiece are dynamically updating with pictures and videos of family and friends celebrating from across the world.  That’s because in 2020 people send paper-thin OLED Christmas cards that are linked directly to their social media feeds – it looks like Aunt Liz and Uncle Ted haven’t stopping partying for twenty-four hours on their Caribbean cruise!

Christmas dinner is fast approaching and Gran’s thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of Buckingham Palace is missing the vital middle bit with the flag on!  Little Tim is not happy either; he’s only had Gigantic Bot for six hours and he’s already lost its Laser Sword accessory in the black hole known as the back of the living room sofa. So it’s a good job in 2020 there are delivery drones in the local area available immediately to pick up and replace faulty or missing Christmas gifts. There will be no tears of frustration on this festive day.

So Dad’s dinner went down a treat and all the family are dozing on the couch. Mum in particular feels relaxed – she hasn’t done anything today and it’s been great! In 2020, even the music and lighting of the living room is taken care of by the house AI – its smart sensors detect the slowing pace of the family in the afternoon so it moves from playing bouncy festive jingles in brightness to soothing Christmas lullabies with a cosy ambient glow from the fireplace. Mum drifts off to sleep with a smile on her face.

Christmas in 2020 sounds like fun doesn’t it?

Season’s greetings!

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Digital Justice Scotland 2016: delivering 21st century justice

This year’s Holyrood Digital Justice Scotland 2016 conference held on 7 December, once again brought together some great speakers who laid out their vision and shared some of the challenges they continue to face in delivering against the objectives of the 2014 Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland.

As one of the co-sponsors we had the opportunity to present our approach to service design and discuss with the delegates its potential in delivering improved outcomes within the justice sector. Before embarking on the interactive session, we introduced the audience to the positive impact that service design can have on an end-to-end customer experience by firstly taking them through a simple example they would all be familiar with – buying a burger.

Then we presented a high level offender journey from being convicted to release back to the community and asked the audience to highlight the gaps and risks to the business and offender in the end to end journey. Our method was very visual, we kept the user journeys simple to plant the idea of service disruption by design and we challenged the participants to focus on how offenders are interacting with services and what outcomes are needed at each stage of the journey.

Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016
Mark Macrae presents at Digital Justice Scotland 2016

The session highlighted a number of areas where digital technology could be used to improve ways of working, for example:

  • Offender self-service access to services such as money management, organising visits, buying essentials, scheduling education and work activities etc.
  • Reducing repetitive administrative tasks for Prison Officers and freeing them for more value adding face to face services for the vulnerable
  • There was also a strong theme of improving information flows, both on arrival at prison and exit back into the community.

Common Themes

Several strong common themes kept reoccurring through the day:

  • Progress on delivering the vision of the Digital Strategy for Justice has been slow since its publication in 2014. The Rt Hon Leonna Dorrian said “we need 21st century attitudes” and that “it’s not about tinkering” when considering the much needed policy and cultural changes required to transform justice processes.
  • Austerity is having a significant impact on the ability to deliver digital transformation but I believe a positive aspect of this is that it is forcing a closer look at what can be re-used within an organisation with integrated services helping to leverage current investment.
  • Empowerment is an important driver in the delivery of services for staff and victims / witnesses / offenders within justice processes. In the last session of the day Susan Gallagher (Acting Chief Exec at Victim Support Scotland) demonstrated how far they’ve come in digitally transforming the charity to be truly focused on user (victim) needs. Interesting that a charity can move so quickly compared to government organisations…

Sopra Steria’s service design approach puts the user at the heart of the process. It challenges you to examine the pain points, map out the business needs and customer expectations and identify the required outcomes. It enables you to understand what is needed to change ways of working.

If you’d like more information on our approach to service integration or service design please get in touch – leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

The no stop checkout: what could be its impact?

With the launch of the concept store Amazon Go – where customers can walk out of the store with their chosen grocer items being automatically charged to their bank account – the age of the no stop checkout customer experience is emerging. But what could this mean for retailers if such an approach is adopted wholesale across the bricks and mortar shopping experience? Here are some ideas…

Implementation Challenge – from what insight has been shared about Amazon Go it is understood to have taken four years to develop this unique store experience that involved integrating a range of technologies such as machine learning, image recognition and mobile. The solution looks innovative but would it be feasible for a retailer to implement across potentially hundreds of its stores? Furthermore, what kind of ROI should a retailer expect from this substantive investment in cloud and physical digital capabilities?

Threat Of New Entrants – By removing checkouts means added convenience that could be exploited by existing or new competitors. For example; a disruptor could offer a platform service that compares the price of the same products across different local completing stores to enable a customer to “optimise their shopping basket”. This indirect competitor could then buy and deliver these items for a customer removing any direct engagement with the retailer.

New Forms Of Customer Experience – An opportunity and a challenge is that no stop checkouts eliminate a touch point directly with the customer physically within the store itself (even if that process is self service). The opportunity is that this enables retail staff to engage with customers in different, delightful ways such as product demonstrations or marketing promotional events – retail as an experiential destination. However, by removing this interaction also risks diluting further the unique experience of being in-store by making customers focus more on specific products and prices than the retailer’s brand.

If you would like more information about how Sopra Steria can help your organisation benefit from digital transformation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Next gen personalisation: let customers play?

A key challenge of personalisation (the application of analytics by retailers to identify patterns of customer behaviour to create recipes such as targeted marketing or product recommendations) is how to gather the right data about an individual customer effectively in the first place.

Understanding what really makes an individual customer “tick” – what kind of personality he or she has (as defined by using Carl Jung’s Psychological Types that categorise how an individual perceives, interprets, thinks and feels about the world around them for example) can enable a retailer to create unique, specific recipes for that individual customer that competitors can’t imitate. For retailers carrying millions of products like Amazon, applying such deep, meaningful insight could help encourage a customer to explore a far greater range of its offerings and drive stronger loyalty.

Yet gathering data for these recipes is typically an implicit activity in the customer experience, produced by observing customer behaviour such as product browsing or buying history, social media feedback and often combined with other external factors like customer location, weather or time of day. Even the more disruptive forms of engagement – such as eBay’s “emotional recognition technology” prototype that observes a customer’s physical reaction to being shown different products to identify potential connections – is arguably a passive activity. Ideally to get a better understanding of someone’s personality involves proactively asking a series of self-reflective questions for an individual to answer privately – something totally unacceptable to the retail customer experience. So, could there be a different approach retailers could apply that gives similar valuable insights without the risk of appearing intrusive or insensitive?

One response is to let customers “play” with products before they buy them, including dynamically shaping this presales engagement based on observable behaviours. When someone buys a product online or even in-store a retailer has limited (if any) opportunities to observe how a customer reacts to it – an indicator that could help determine targeted recipes that excite, motive an individual’s exact personality. Encouraging customers to play, experiment with a product before purchase could however capture similar insight.

A non-grocer retailer may already have the tools in place to encourage such structured playtime with their products such as digital mirrors or augmented reality in store, or even have digital assets of product samples for 3D printing by a customer at home. Combined with capabilities like “emotional recognition technology”, these presale activities could become critical drivers for effective personalisation as well as offering exciting, differentiated customer experiences in their own right.

Such an approach is emerging from big retailers such as Toys R Us that is looking to transform itself into an experiential destination – the retail shopping experience as participatory theatre – so why can’t the grown-up customers have just as much fun?

If you would like more information about how Sopra Steria can help your organisation benefit from cloud analytics please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.