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.

 

New banking… new thinking

They say money talks.  Well in the world of banking, that is often true.  But now, new entrant and challenger banks can breathe a sigh of relief.

Know your customer. It’s the oldest adage in the world but still the most valuable. But understanding the needs, wants, expectations and behaviours of today’s highly demanding and digital customers is tricky for all organisations – and most especially banks.

Banking has transformed (and then some!) in the last 10 years. In the past, banks designed services and customers took what was available. Inertia ruled – and customers largely stayed loyal. Now all that’s changed. New, exciting, personalised banking services are constantly emerging – and the bank that truly understands what different types of customers want and need now and in the future gets ahead and stays ahead. Standing still is not an option! The message is clear; if banks don’t provide the services, security, flexibility and innovation that its customers want and need – they will vote ‘with their feet’ and move to another bank that does. Simples!

But understanding complex customer behaviours, financial requirements and market developments requires highly sophisticated and often complex analysis. It’s a fact that there are some great analytics solutions on the market but until recently, these were incredibly expensive and beyond the reach of all but established banks or ‘well heeled’ new entrants. This put new banks at a disadvantage and hampered them from designing new, responsive, highly personalised solutions. But now that’s changed.

From today, advanced highly sophisticated analytic capabilities will be within the reach of ALL banks.

How? Sopra Steria, a European pioneer in digital transformation, has just announced that it has become a SAS Managed Analytics Services Provider (MASP). This will enable us to offer cutting edge, high-end analytic solutions at a cost effective price point for new entrant banks.

We will include ‘Gold level’ SAS cloud-based analytics solutions as part of our Modular Digital Banking (MDB) solution. This innovative end-to-end, fully functional digital banking solution delivers a ‘step change’ in banking service analytics capability, enabling new entrants to increase their agility and responsiveness.  Key features include:

  • A real time decision engine with integrated marketing automation and advanced analytics
  • Advanced visual analytics capability to create descriptive and predictive models
  • Enterprise grade development environment to ensure organisations can meet regulatory compliance requirements both now and in the future
  • Data modelling as well as data integration, quality and management capabilities

Interested?  Take a look at the Sopra Steria and SAS strategic partnership and find out more about affordable, advanced and innovative analytics that can help you make better decisions faster.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

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.

From Records Management to Knowledge Management

The amount of information we generate is growing exponentially.  For most organisations a lot of this is ephemeral, but amongst the junk will be nuggets of irreplaceable knowledge – the organisation’s unique intellectual property.  Managing it is generally recognised as a critical process, so why are we so good at managing other key assets like finance, property, vehicle fleets and human resources, but so bad at managing knowledge – the asset that makes our business unique?  It should be the goal of every organisation to create an environment in which the value of knowledge is well understood by everyone, and information is reliable, shared appropriately, readily accessible, and being used to benefit the business.

In the public sector, and in regulated industries, keeping records and destroying them when they are no longer required is enforced by legislation.  Hence the need for Records Management (RM):  to keep records as evidence of financial probity; to document what decisions have been made, what happened, and why; and to provide proof of compliance with obligations.

To manage records throughout their life cycle, many organisations have introduced Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) to help them to fulfil their obligations under the various Public Records Acts.  EDRM systems preserve records with integrity for as long as they are needed, and then trigger their disposal after a predetermined retention period.

Sopra Steria’s work with the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) is a great example of this.  The project was the largest document and records management installation in northern Europe.  The system now manages over 36 million documents, offering greater efficiency in handling and sharing information.  Ten years from launch we still manage the service in line with NICS governance policies, ensuring that information is always available when needed, and conforming to the latest assurance standards.

In the wider context most organisations also use their EDRM systems to manage all their digital knowledge including those assets that are not covered by legislation – their intellectual property, standards, methodologies, business processes and working practices.  This is where we move up to the world of Knowledge Management (KM).  Significant value can be achieved here by:

  • making the most of scarce expertise, ideas and experience widely available beyond individual networks;
  • ensuring consistency of approach; and
  • avoiding valuable staff time being wasted on repeated mistakes and “reinventing the wheel”.

By using such knowledge stores properly, dramatic improvements can be made in the organisation’s productivity and effectiveness, and significant efficiency savings can be realised.

There are lots of tools for managing explicit knowledge – information that is set out in tangible form.  Even if content is initially received in hard-copy form it is easily scanned and if necessary converted to convenient text form by Optical Character Recognition (OCR).  EDRM systems have been in common use for more than fifteen years.  Collaboration tools such as MS SharePoint have been growing in popularity for project teams and communities of interest.

Unfortunately explicit knowledge is also very easy to mismanage.  E-mail, instant messaging and social media make it very easy to conduct business online and to communicate ideas and news quickly, but their very convenience makes for poor record-keeping.  Once upon a time the organisation’s registry clerks kept copies of every communication with customers and suppliers and managed the filing system, but they’re long gone and we all have to do our own filing now.  Few organisations provide that kind of training for digital documents, and most of us aren’t very good at it.  Social media is particularly uncontrolled from an information governance point of view.

Still at least explicit knowledge is (by definition) available in digital form.  Rather more of a challenge is implicit knowledge; that is, information that is not yet set out in tangible form but could be made so.  Doing so is mostly about discipline.  Do your staff keep their calendars up to date, and are the calendars open to their colleagues?  Do your sales team record their leads, customer visits, every phone call?  This where contact management and customer relationship management systems come in.  Making every salesman’s customer knowledge explicitly available would make the whole sales team more effective.  Unfortunately for many organisations the incentives operate the other way: my bonus, indeed my worth to the company, may depend on me keeping my customer knowledge to myself.  The knowledge capture tools are there but the culture works against sharing.

Hardest of all to manage is tacit knowledge: information locked in people’s heads that may be extremely difficulty operationally to make explicit: skills and experience that people develop over time and may not even appreciate are knowledge; the little tricks and workarounds you learn that aren’t in any manual; the best sequence in which to carry out certain tasks; how to jiggle a component to fit it into an assembly.

Tacit knowledge walks out of the door when experienced staff move on.  Are too many of your most valuable and knowledgeable staff getting close to retirement?  Are you having to make redundancies?  Knowledge Harvesting is the process of gathering tacit knowledge from leavers before it’s too late.  It requires experienced interviewers to explore the leaver’s skills and experience with him, and it takes time.  The leaver must be given the headroom and resources to make his tacit knowledge explicit or pass it on to his successors in other ways.

To summarise, there are essentially two approaches to improving how your organisation captures and shares its hard-won knowledge:

  • Codification – capturing and storing content in a well-structured way so that everyone in the organisation can locate and access the knowledge it represents easily – obviously this works best for explicit knowledge and is virtually impossible for tacit; and
  • Personalisation – connecting people and thereby building knowledge networks. We all tend to do this naturally to some extent, but tools are available to make the process much more effective.  This is clearly the best solution for tacit knowledge.

These two approaches deliver business value in different ways.  Codification makes explicit knowledge widely available across the organisation.  With well-structured file plans, good metadata schemas, and powerful enterprise search tools users can often find everything they need to know at their workstations in seconds, hugely boosting productivity and work turnround times.

Personalisation is there for tacit knowledge and implicit knowledge that has yet to be codified.  Everyone has an informal knowledge network but in large organisations no one can know everyone.  Therefore it makes sense to provide tools to help you in Belfast find someone who may know the answer to your problem, whether they are in London or in Edinburgh, Hong Kong or Sydney.

In addition an individual user can approach their search for knowledge in two ways:

  • they can exploit the organisation’s information architecture (digital content or human network) by a directed search, or by use of metadata, tags or text strings; or
  • they can explore using his intuition and the names of file plan folders or communities as his guide.

Combining these gives the matrix below, with examples of tools and processes in each case.  (This model, and the summary terms Harvest, Harness, Hunting and Hypothesise, were proposed by Tom Short of IBM Global Services).

matrix describing

Conclusions

  • It is gradually becoming accepted that knowledge is a key business asset. Organisations need to bring in the working practices and disciplines required for the powerful new tools to support knowledge sharing.  Otherwise  many opportunities to boost productivity will be missed.
  • Effective knowledge management delivers significant business value by making the most of scarce expertise, ideas and experience; ensuring consistency of approach; and avoiding valuable staff time being wasted on avoidable errors and “reinventing the wheel”.

Share with me any experiences you have of successful Records and Knowledge Management and any tips on how you’ve made it work in your organisation.

Discover more about our experience working with NICS.

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.

Ways to turn around poor customer experience using personalisation

Personalisation – the application of data analytics to identify patterns of customer behaviour to improve their engagement or retention – traditionally focuses on enhancing positive experiences such as browsing and buying. Yet could personalisation be used to turn around a seemingly unchangeable, negative customer experience that also benefits the retailer? Here are some ideas…

Personalising the complaints process to drive better customer engagement

Making personalisation effective is challenging – it requires a high level of data integrity and can be costly to implement. When it goes wrong it can irritate customers or worse, make them feel like a retailer doesn’t know them at all – for example, consider the negative impact on customer experience of repeatedly receiving the same unwanted product recommendations when shopping online.

Could this failure be caused by a retailer’s approach to personalisation that arguably only focuses on purchasing and other positive behaviour? Whereas what is also required is a complementary understanding of an individual’s dislikes and pet hates about its brand.

For instance, rather than using a generic approach a retailer could personalise its complaints process. This could involve asking the customer who is making the complaint specific, personalised questions about the totality of this experience with the retailer (e.g. pricing, quality, service) to better understand what this individual really feels about its brand – i.e. use this moment of catharsis to gain a deeper, more rounded understanding of a customer’s expectations. The retailer can then use these hard to reach insights to dynamically inform its future engagement with this individual – complaints as a source of brand loyalty and advocacy.

However, this disruptive approach arguably feels counter-intuitive and commercially risky; it will require new types of behaviour from (and greater trust between) customer and retailer alike to be successful.

Incentivising a customer to keep an unwanted item

UK retailers are losing billions of pounds a year from managing reverse logistics costs for returned items across their physical and digital channels. Because of the multiple touch points involved margin can often deteriorate to a point where writing off the item as a loss is a better outcome than resell.

A retailer could lever cloud big data analytics to make an on the spot personalised counter offer to a customer alongside the standard return via a returns app. This could draw from the customer’s buying history and social media behaviour. The counter offer could ask the customer to keep the item in exchange for a future discount, special cross sell opportunity or third party offer (so eliminating the return cost and refund while driving future sales).

However, this disruptive approach to returns will need additional safeguards to mitigate risks of customer fraud or ‘gaming the system’ for unintended benefit.

Sharing insights with competitors to deliver unfulfilled customer orders same day

With the growing threat of digital disruptors like Amazon offering same day delivery on everything including groceries, customers are increasingly becoming more disappointed when other retailers can’t match such an experience. One example is Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos was in part driven by a desire to access Argos’ supply chain capabilities that offer fast track delivery.

To combat this challenge, high street retailers could use a cloud-based platform to share local inventory information, fulfilling orders immediately for each other when the chosen retailer is out of stock – a faster, more convenient personalised customer experience than their online rivals. This approach to supply chain collaboration would also enable retailers to potentially increase the range of products they physically offer in store without needing to carry additional inventory.

However, for this form of coopetition to be successful it would need to have clear bottom line benefits for all participants given the risks to their market share involved.

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

Journey interrupted

Contrary to what you might expect, this blog isn’t a reflection of my experience with Southern Rail. Instead it’s a look to the future, inspired by the Sopra Steria Horizon Scanning Team’s trip to Wired 2016.

In our horizon scanning programme, Aurora, we try to look beyond the technologies that are shaping our future and include the behavioural and social changes that are also making an impact, and this is where Wired’s annual event fits in so perfectly with our interests. Though Wired 2016 takes no shame in celebrating the advancements we’ve seen in technology and imagining what may come next, it also takes account of wider sociological and environmental changes, such as mass migration, climate change and global conflict.

The running theme throughout was ‘journey interrupted’ which seemed both to reflect on the individual journeys of many speakers who had set out with what seemed like a clear direction, but ended up somewhere entirely different to what they had planned, but also the inevitable interruption in our unsustainable way of living which needs change more urgently than ever.

In the technology content, an overwhelmingly strong theme was data. Now, data is nothing new at these kinds of events, and has not been for years.  Data in this instance was framed most clearly in machine learning and AI, which again isn’t anything new to us, but what we’re beginning to see is how achievable it is becoming to us.  Historically the privilege of huge projects backed by a great deal of money, we’re now seeing machine learning in the hands of start-ups and individual people who are able to apply the same technology to problems which receive little or no funding, but are important none the less. Applications ranged from health, limiting the spread of Ebola and the Zika virus to cancer discovery and treatment, to migrant demographics, through to the future of AI and the singularity.

The most poignant moments in Wired 2016 however did not focus wholly on technology. They were about the big shifts happening to people and our environment. Predictions on climate change are looking more devastating than ever with even fairly conservative scientists predicting that we may go well beyond the 2C maximum limit for warming since pre-industrial weather reports, going as far as 7C which could wreak untold havoc on our world. The speakers at Wired 2016 were looking both at how we can change the way we live in the developed world to reduce our environmental impact, but also how we can curtail the impact of the developing world, ideally skipping straight to renewable power, in much the same way as they have largely missed out internet on PCs, experiencing the internet for the first time on a mobile device.  The refugee crisis was also a recurring theme, where the journey that people had set for their own lives has been completely torn apart, exploring how communities around the world have found ways for them to get their journeys back on track, through enabling their work and encouraging entrepreneurship.

The story from Wired 2016 is that if we continue on this express train, we’re heading to a bad place. We need to instead take a look at the journey we’re taking, or better still find an entirely new mode of transport to take us there. The technology is there, but the community and widespread adoption is not, and if we want success this is going to need to be a journey we take together.

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

Learn more about Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, and the topics that we are researching.