A customer is for life; not just for the sales

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Pre-Christmas & January sales. The cold, winter months are enlivened in the world of retail with a shopping bonanza for the savvy consumer. These high-profile sales see shoppers in a frenzy as they seek out the best bargains, both online and on the high street.

Then what? Once the furore has calmed down and normal service is resumed, how do you nurture these customers to ensure long-term loyalty to your brand?

The key is to keep them happy at every step of their interaction with you. They must receive an effortless service, when they want it and from where. More often than not, today’s customers also want instant gratification: to immediately know that what they’ve bought will be with them faster than ever before.

How to achieve this is the topic of a paper that I have recently published, ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’. In it I make the case for what’s increasingly referred to as ‘unified commerce’. This is true omnichannel retailing (as opposed to just operating multi channels) that sees retailers delivering a seamless customer experience, regardless of which touchpoints they use. Unified commerce demands the fully integration and alignment of processes, systems and applications across both the back office and customer-facing channels.

Theory v reality

While the theory behind this makes absolute sense, the practical reality is that few retailers are truly achieving omnichannel status. The target is to enable a single enterprise-wide customer view, supported by the alignment of product data, pricing, promotion, procurement and inventory management. So why isn’t this happening?

An obvious reason is the siloed approach many retailers take to their operations. With each customer touchpoint (online, in-store, mobile, B2B sales, customer services, etc.) operated as a standalone entity, it is impossible to achieve a consistent customer experience across them. Even the way retail employees are managed in these siloes is a barrier to omnichannel success. As I point out in my paper, to be truly omnichannel, it’s important that all areas of the business are governed by consistent processes, incentives, measurements and ways of working. This means that decisions on remuneration and incentive schemes should be made at the very highest level of the business.

Technology too

The above is very much about a cultural shift, but technology too is an enabler of unified commerce. To deliver repeatedly and reliably at pace, retailers need to invest in cloud-ready infrastructure and they must automate at every opportunity – infrastructure and environment provisioning, application code build, deployment and promotion of application code and, of course, testing.

While cloud-native retailers are set up for this, the same isn’t true of traditional retailers. They are faced with the challenge of marrying legacy with new disruptive platforms and approaches in a genuinely omnichannel model. There are a number of ways to achieve this and, at Sopra Steria, we’re working with many organisations to help them modernise their IT so that they both unlock the value of current systems and keep pace with disruptive new entrants.

In the end, keeping your customers happy, not just during the sales season, but for the long term, begins with how you create and sustain a seamless customer journey. That’s everything customer facing and everything behind the scenes, such as logistics and fulfilment, as well as in the back office.

Download ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’

For more information on Sopra Steria’s approach to applications modernisation and unified commerce, contact me on Gary.Ellwood@soprasteria.com

How the Equality Act 2010 affects you

Most of us use online services such as banking, travel and social media everyday with little thought as to how we can access or use them. However, this isn’t the case for many users, including employees.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 legislation, which previously provided protection against direct discrimination, has been updated to the Equality Act 2010 (except Northern Ireland). The Equality Act became legal on 6 April 2011, and changes the law to brings disability, sex, race, and other types of discrimination under one piece of legislation.

One major change is that the Equality Act 2010 now includes perceived disability and in-direct discrimination, making it easier for claimants to bring successful legal proceeding against businesses and public bodies.

What it means

The Equality Act essentially means that all public bodies or businesses providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public, including employees (For example: retail, HR, and councils) must make fair and reasonable adjustments to ensure services are accessible and do not indirectly discriminate. Being fair and reasonable means taking positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access online services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of disabled customers.

Benefits of compliance

UK retailers are missing out on an estimated £11.75 billion a year in potential online sales because their websites fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities (Click-Away Pound Survey 2016).

In addition, 71% (4.3 million) of disabled online users will simply abandon websites they find difficult to use. Though representing a collective purchasing power of around 10% of the total UK online spend, most businesses are completely unaware they’re losing income, as only 7% of disabled customers experiencing problems contact the business.

How to comply with the Equality Act

The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be undertaken by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, and forms of visual impairment. Evidence of successful tests by disabled users could be invaluable in the event of any legal challenge over your website’s accessibility.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is the international organisation concerned with providing standards for the web, and publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are a good indicator of what standard the courts would reasonably expect service providers to follow to ensure that their websites are accessible.

WCAG provides three ‘conformance levels’. These are known as Levels A, AA and AAA. Each level has a series of checkpoints for accessibility – known as Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints. Public bodies such as the government adhere to Priority 2 – Level AA accessibility as standard.

According to these standards, websites must satisfy Priority 1 – Level A, satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement and very easy to implement. Priority 2 – Level AA, satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers for customers. Finally, Priority 3 – Level AAA, is the highest level of accessibility and will ensure most disabled customers can access services, and requires specific measures to be implemented.

Read the Equality act 2010 quick start guides to find out more about how this affects you.

Have you heard the latest buzz from our DigiLab Hackathon winners?

The innovative LiveHive project was crowned winner of the Sopra Steria UK “Hack the Thing” competition which took place last month.

Sopra Steria DigiLab hosts quarterly Hackathons with a specific challenge, the most recent named – Hack the Thing. Whilst the aim of the hack was sensor and IoT focused, the solution had to address a known sustainability issue. The LiveHive team chose to focus their efforts on monitoring and improving honey bee health, husbandry and supporting new beekeepers.

A Sustainable Solution 

Bees play an important role in sustainability within agriculture. Their pollinating services are worth around £600 million a year in the UK in boosting yields and the quality of seeds and fruits[1]. The UK had approximately 100,000 beekeepers in 1943 however this number had dropped to 44,000 by 2010[2]. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in beekeeping which has highlighted a need for a product that allows beekeepers to explore and extend their knowledge and capabilities through the use of modern, accessible technology.

LiveHive allows beekeepers to view important information about the state of their hives and receive alerts all on their smartphone or mobile device. The social and sharing side of the LiveHive is designed to engage and support new beekeepers and give them a platform for more meaningful help from their mentors. The product also allows data to be recorded and analysed aiding national/international research and furthering education on the subject.

The LiveHive Model

The LiveHive Solution integrates three services – hive monitoring, hive inspection and a beekeeping forum offering access to integrated data and enabling the exchange of data.

“As a novice beekeeper I’ve observed firsthand how complicated it is to look after a colony of bees. When asking my mentor questions I find myself having to reiterate the details of the particular hive and history of the colony being discussed. The mentoring would be much more effective and valuable if they had access to the background and context of the hives scenario.”

LiveHive integrates the following components:

  • Technology Sensors: to monitor conditions such as temperature and humidity in a bee hive, transmitting the data to Azure cloud for reporting.
  • Human Sensors: a Smartphone app that enables the beekeeper to record inspections and receive alerts.
  • Sharing Platform: to allow the novice beekeeper to share information with their mentors and connect to a forum where beekeepers exchange knowledge, ideas and experience. They can also share the specific colony history to help members to understand the context of any question.

How does it actually work?

A Raspberry Pi measures temperature, humidity and light levels in the hive transmits measurements to Microsoft Azure cloud through its IoT Hub.

Sustainable Innovation

On a larger scale, the data behind the hive sensor information and beekeepers inspection records creates a large, unique source of primary beekeeping data. This aids research and education into the effects of beekeeping practice on yields and bee health presenting opportunities to collaborate with research facilities and institutions.

The LiveHive roadmap plans to also put beekeepers in touch with the local community through the website allowing members of the public to report swarms, offer apiary sites and even find out who may be offering local honey!

What’s next? 

The team have already created a buzz with fellow bee projects and beekeepers within Sopra Steria by forming the Sopra Steria International Beekeepers Association which will be the beta test group for LiveHive. Further opportunities will also be explored with the service design principle being applied to other species which could aid in Government inspection. The team are also looking at methods to collaborate with Government directorates in Scotland.

It’s just the start for this lot of busy bees but a great example of some of the innovation created in Sopra Steria’s DigiLab!

[1] Mirror, 2016. Why are bee numbers dropping so dramatically in the UK?  

[2] Sustain, 2010. UK bee keeping in decline

How Queen can teach us about Customer Expectations in the Digital Age

“I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now!”.

Little did Freddie Mercury realise back in 1989 how prophetic his lyrics would be in describing the future of customer expectations. Although it’s likely that this subject wasn’t at the forefront of his thinking as Brian May penned the track, it did touch on the themes of ambition and social upheaval, both of which are highly relevant in today’s complex and constantly changing service landscape.

The fact is that the average customer in 2017 expects more, and this is increasingly the case within the younger age groups. Younger service consumers have grown up in an age where the Internet has always been a thing, apps are part of everyday life, and the ability to Snapchat an image to your friend two thousand miles away and get an instant response is not only possible, it is expected. Technology has, to all intents and purposes, liberated us from the shackles of conventional communication.  We can now speak to our friends and family pretty much anywhere and at any time, using an array of services to get the job done.  The rise of instant messaging via SMS and subsequent evolution to asynchronous messaging via apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have changed the way in which people communicate, at a fundamental level.

Over time, these technologies have become the new normal, and they continue to evolve. A perhaps unexpected implication of this is the change in expectations that customers have of their service providers. For many it feels jarring to switch from a seamless and frictionless conversation with a friend via WhatsApp to then have to call, for instance, a retailer’s customer service helpline, using the actual phone bit of their phone, deal with the automated response system, wait in a queue and then have to speak to a real live human in an effort to get what should, in theory, be a relatively simple piece of assistance. The immediacy, convenience and ‘always’ on nature of app-based services and mobile communications technologies has given customers a taste of the future; namely autonomy.  Instant access to what you need, when you need it and via the channel of your choice is rapidly becoming the new normal for large swathes of the population.

Research bears this out.  A recent UK survey of one thousand consumers showed that 65% were happier using chat services to talk to businesses than five years ago, and that 68% would rather use chat than either email or phone. This is a trend that is only going in one direction as the consumer demographic is populated by increasing numbers of young and technologically savvy folk who would think nothing of flitting between a conversation with their BFF in one instance and their mobile phone provider support desk in another, on Facebook Messenger, in real time.  On the bus.  At midnight.

In short, the very existence of these emerging technologies is making us, as people, more impatient, more selfish, and increasingly demanding, and this is starting to rub off on how we approach our service providers. If you are providing your customers with any kind of digital experience, whether this be via Web or Mobile, people now simply expect an experience similar to that obtained elsewhere within the digital domain. But let’s be real here for a moment. Providing a service normally reliant on people that can simultaneously tick those boxes of ubiquity and immediacy is, quite frankly, a real challenge.

Availability of people and skills to service your customers will always be a constraint, and simply adding new channels only compounds this issue.  The advent of useful Artificial Intelligence, however, will address this constraint. Intelligent bots to augment chat, messaging and voice channels can provide your existing workforce with the additional manpower (botpower?) needed to bridge the experience gap between ubiquitous immediate access to assistance, and sitting in a call queue.  These bots won’t replace your human workforce, but they will work alongside them to do the initial triage, understand and respond to common questions, route enquiries to the appropriate team or, in time, enable real-time transactional processing (e.g. buying a train ticket).

As a service provider, if you don’t respond to this challenge, you will be ignored.  It takes less than a nanosecond to close an App and go elsewhere, and probably only slightly longer to make the decision to do so, when the experience does not meet expectations. Adding friction to your engagement processes will push customers away, and it is simply not an option to do nothing. If your business fails to respond to the roll-call of providing a seamless digital customer experience, you will get left behind, and possibly quicker than you might think.

So when you’re thinking about how to encourage your customers into your digital embrace, think of Freddie Mercury and remember his primal scream; “I want it all and I want it now!”.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.

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.