One for all and all for one

Today, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness day, and I can’t help but mention about witnessing perhaps the most divisive times in our recent memory. While harmonious communities are at the brink of deep divisions and our collective thought process is ever preoccupied with the volatile political and social situations, it is perhaps a good occasion to remind ourselves of those who are most vulnerable. There is a need to come together to support them more than ever before. The technical community has always taken pride in transcending boundaries most effectively.

There is a greater responsibility on us now to operate in a manner which looks out for end users who are the risk of getting completely ignored.

Internet inventor Vint Cerf has recently called for it to be considered an offence if a web based service is not accessible. While the sentiment seems fully justified given the service providers can get away without doing much about web accessibility, his views seem to predominantly hold programmers / developers responsible for such aspects. In reality all roles in a software development life cycle need to contribute towards making a service accessible. Right from senior management down to the operational teams, there is an onus on every role to make the end-to-end accessibility a reality, which the accessibility experts have been highlighting all along. There is something we can all do no matter what our position is in the big IT juggernaut.

Recently, MP Dawn Butler created history by using sign language for her speech in Parliament – an utterly inspirational gesture about caring for every person in our audience and for making sure everybody understands what she was trying to convey. To think, ensuring everyone understands our work is actually a basic obligation to ourselves as it will give it most reach and recognition. Looking at the same idea with a business hat on, there is a very obvious commercial benefit to it. The more people understand / access the content the better it is for marketing and hence better for business. It is sheer common sense to make our work accessible.

In future, the new innovations may very well address these requirements completely. For example, the improved voice browsing technologies are a great alternative for people with visual or motor disabilities. But at the moment there is still a big need to build websites with consideration to the diversity in user communities. At Sopra Steria we have a full set of services to make this happen – see our dedicated website for accessibility services and service infographic.

Now is a time for all of us to renew our pledge to achieve complete accessibility in the world around us.

Artificial intelligence customer experience design: the frictionless theme park?

Many theme parks offer an additional paid service that provides a virtual queuing bot that gives the paying customer immediate access to a ride during an allocated time slot with minimum fuss. This can deliver a smoother customer experience while enabling the park operator further monetisation opportunities through differentiated ticket prices.

But such services are not perfect. For example, like real queues, virtual ones can still get filled up (so reducing availability of time slots), a customer can’t simply change their mind at the last minute and expect an alternative ride to be available at the same time and many of these systems don’t reflect other dynamic factors that could affect ride enjoyment like poor weather.

So how could Artificial Intelligence (AI) potentially address these challenges? Here are some ideas…

One opportunity is to apply retail thinking to personalise the end to end experience – via mobile, an AI could suggest rides to visit throughout the day based on a customer’s social media updates, current and expected volume/demand for an attraction and forecast weather. In “the background” (i.e. the Cloud), the AI is constantly analysing customer behaviour in the park to drive these suggestions to help manage the people flow through different areas and rides to minimise friction for all. This capability could also enable the operator to offer on the spot additional services (like offering the chance to immediately access any roller coaster ride for a small charge) to further delight and surprise a customer during their visit.

Conversely, such an application of AI may be counter to what an operator wants to offer – after all, exciting theme park experiences come from customers being spontaneous when choosing their next desired ride or attraction. Accepting such unlimited freedom is not possible – this still leaves the risk of friction (like boredom) when a customer is waiting for the next experience to become available. An AI could turn this “dead time” into an experience in itself – using it as an opportunity to send personalised media content and offers to a customer’s mobile or tablet to consume while queuing for a ride. Alternatively, the AI could create social events for people in the park to interact with each other like mobile gaming competitions or dating. Such services could also be linked to third party promotions to generate further revenue for the theme park operator.

These illustrative use case ideas are based on one key assumption – most customers visiting a theme park at the same time will follow the guidance or direction given by an AI consistently, even when it results in a lesser personal experience than intended (but results in all participants gaining mutual benefit). This notion that AI can effectively influence human behaviour at scale in one place (like a theme park) is a major challenge for Artificial Intelligence Customer Experience Design.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.

AI Empowered retail roles: the new competitive advantage?

A Retailer can potentially use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to empower its people to analyse, transact and crucially sell faster and smarter to customers than its competitors. So, what might these jobs look like? Here are some ideas…

“Fixers” – Retailers are always looking to optimise their supply chain costs while improving the customer experience. A key pain point is last mile logistics – the need to offer increasingly timely, flexible delivery of goods to individual customers while maintaining the right economies of scale on distribution to achieve margin. A Fixer – possibly a third-party platform service provider – bids for and delivers instant solutions to solve these daily challenges. Their unique ability to use AI to continually optimise delivery routes and facilitate the sharing of local stock between Retailers (often competitors) to satisfy customer demand 24/7 places them at the heart of the Retail Sector in 2020.

“Instore Experience Trainers” – AI doesn’t innovate by itself; this advantage comes from people teaching or training it to deliver delightful and compelling customer experiences on any channel. An Instore Experience Trainer is someone who spends their working day testing different AI driven experiences from different Sectors and then uses this emotional insight to teach an Artificial Intelligence capability new ways to better engage customers instore – rapid human innovation scaled to differentiate thousands of individual customer interactions with a specific Retailer.

“AI Scanners” – As Artificial Intelligence grows so too does the opportunity for competitors to use it to analyse a Retailer’s offerings for strengths and weaknesses. An AI Scanner is monitoring daily how customers are engaging a Retailer’s Artificial Intelligence to identify such behaviour and its source to enable a proactive response to protect market competitiveness.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Intelligent personal assistants: an opportunity for retailers?

Alexa is arguably the tipping point for intelligent personal assistants; with Amazon’s open source approach to sharing its app (“skill”) development capabilities the sky’s the limit for this new, disruptive form of natural language driven customer experience. But what could retailers make of this opportunity? Here are some ideas…

It’s not the hardware but the cloud analytics that matters

Critical to any retailer using an intelligent personal assistant to innovate their brand is that these use cases should primarily focus on the business outcomes from using its cloud analytics capabilities, not the front-end device itself.

A retailer, for example, could use Alexa to provide instore guidance to shoppers to help them find items or make simple queries, physical customer browsing behaviour captured in the cloud that when combined with online experiences enables deeper, more contextual forms of personalisation across all this retailer’s channels.

An opportunity to simplify (and risk of complicating) customer journeys

A unique strength of an intelligent personal assistant is that it has the potential to smartly rationalise customer queries and transactions – an opportunity to turn chatbots into compelling conversational experiences a customer would have a preference for using over engaging a person or using a digital channel.

But there remains a significant user experience design challenge for its natural language driven interface – at what point does the buying journey become too complex for this channel and risks increasing friction for a customer? Any form of customer experience that requires a customer to look at detailed product information or make comparisons between products could be difficult and hard to follow through spoken voice generated content alone.

Alexa’s use of APIs could enable a retailer to combine this channel with its mobile e-commerce site (or in-store tablets) for example to create a seamless, holistic experience where complex information is shared visually driven by a customer’s voice commands and smartly informed by Alexa’s AI.

Bricks and mortar as a truly experiential destination

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Alexa (and intelligent personal assistants in general) is the potential for them to create unique, personalised experiences instore – a direct, deep relationship between a customer and a retailer’s brand. And because its cloud driven this enables interconnectivity (IoT) with other instore technologies such as targeted digital signage, interactive mirrors, social media engagement and mobile point of sale.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

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.