Products with personality – the Liquid Big Data customer experience

Digital technology is driving new forms of customer engagement that are rapidly eliminating the functional silos between online and offline retail channels. As a result many high street retailers are already experiencing falling footfall in their physical stores as customers increasingly switch to online competitors for better convenience, choice and prices.

However, these bricks and mortar (B&M) businesses could use Liquid Big Data (cloud-based analytics shared between partners, suppliers and, potentially, competitors for their mutual benefit) to integrate the physical and digital customer experience into a unique, responsive personal customer journey online competitors can’t imitate.

So what might the Liquid Big Data customer experience be like for a global retailer selling ready-to-assemble home furniture, appliances and accessories for example?  Here are some ideas…

An eidetic world

Traditionally high street retailers focus on their brand as a source of differentiation to attract customers to their physical stores. Yet conversely, digital empowers customers to focus on their specific wants or needs regardless of provide. That’s why their online competitors invest so heavily in user experience design to continually optimise how customers use their channels to browse and buy the products they sell – choice and accessibility as a form of differentiation. To combat this challenge, B&M businesses are increasingly using digital technology (such as touch screens, beacons and virtual reality) to differentiate the in-store experience as something equally empowering or seamless as being online.

However, by choosing to replicate the online experience, in-store risks ignoring a source of competitive advantage unique to B&M: a customer’s physical experience with a product and the wider environment.

Using Liquid Big Data, the retail customer experience does not have a beginning or end nor is it location specific – it’s contextual.  Powered by a smartphone app provided by collaborating retailers and suppliers, wearable technology (such as a watch or glasses) could capture the people, places and objects an individual customer likes, loathes or loves throughout their entire lives. Even if such encounters are fleeting, these moments are captured with photographic, eidetic clarity in the individual’s private cloud. The customer can then choose which of these experiences to share with the retailer via the app to create a unique, personalised shopping experience in-store every time they visit.

This could be the raised heartbeat of seeing Rome architecture for the first time – could our example global retailer offer this customer discounts on its in-store Baroque furniture offerings? Another customer loves the feel of velvet – could an in-store sales team member suggest some appropriate soft furnishings? One customer really liked his girlfriend’s coffee table she had at university three years ago – could today’s store visit be an opportunity to find something similar for their new home?

Liquid Big Data enables a high street retailer to use the eidetic physical world as a way to effectively personalise its in-store customer experience using digital technology – enhancing its existing brand as a form of differentiation that can’t be imitated by its online competitors.

Products with personality

Harnessing the power of the eidetic world may not be sufficient long term to differentiate the in-store customer experience versus online. Although it offers a targeted customer experience it doesn’t necessarily make a customer’s relationship any closer or more intimate with the specific products a B&M business sells – a key driver at the heart of the competing online experience.

Yet the customer experience of an online retailer is ultimately a passive, limited engagement typically contingent upon the specific browsing or buying history the customer has with their channel or brand or other self-selecting activity such as social media engagement.

In response, a high street retailer with its partners, suppliers or competitors could use Liquid Big Data to take personalisation to a deeper level – use cloud based artificial intelligence (AI) to create direct relationships between individual customers and the products they sell.

The idea is to personify a product using AI with a user experience similar to smartphone personal assistants or virtual customer service agents. A customer can have a text or voice conversation with the product to explore its suitability for purchase (including reviews or endorsements) and select any desired tailoring or customisation. A customer may also enable the product AI to access his or her eidetic memories or social media profile to help shape and personalise their relationship. The AI can either be used on request or continually available to provide product updates or after sales support. In addition, products may also talk to each other in the cloud as a form of machine learning to identify potential new product designs or opportunities for complements that better meet their individual customers’ needs.

Such insights are then gathered by the retailer and participating stakeholders to inform the customer experience in-store (and beyond), support product development and address any supply chain issues.

For example, our global retailer has found that people across the world keep asking the same question about the performance of a specific brand fridge freezer it sells. Could there be a quality issue with this particular product that needs investigating? Customers in a specific region like the way the product is sold in-store by staff based on their after sales conversation with the AI – how can this be replicated in other regions where demand is falling? The collective cloud AI has also designed a new cooling, energy-efficient feature for the next model – a potential hot seller that could be delivered in collaboration with the supplier?

The potential headline benefits of a high street retailer using the Liquid Big Data customer experience include:

  • Enables new forms of personalisation and innovation deeper than anything previously available in the market by integrating real life and digital customer experience
  • Challenges the seemingly unbreakable competitive advantage of  online retailer competitors and other digital disruptors (such as platforms and social media channels)
  • Links in-store digital technology directly, explicitly with specific customer needs daily – materially lowers the risk of this investment and increase its ROI

If you would like more information about how cloud-enabled big data and analytics can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Virtual robot workers and the impact on my pension plan

Sadly, I’ve reached the age where I am beginning to count how many years it is until I can start to draw my pension. Most days it’s a number far too close as I generally still love my job, although occasionally other days do have me dreaming that it was tomorrow.

My years of experience (!) in designing and running large back offices in the banking sector have seen me live through the centralisation of these back office functions, their subsequent outsourcing, followed by panicked in-sourcing when the wind or accountable exec changed, the drive towards off-shoring and, most recently, the delight of handling an 800-seat partial on-shoring project for a client.

For each one of those, the primary business case rationale was a step change reduction in the cost of the operating model, with CX being a nice to have secondary benefit when the business case needed a more politically acceptable feel to it!

What I couldn’t see was “what next” in the step change evolution of the back office.

That was held to be true until I reluctantly deputised for my boss at a meeting last year and was formally introduced to the world of virtual workforce robots, and an epiphany happened!

At its most simple level this is a piece of software that emulates the actions of a human in an operational process – once configured/trained, each virtual instance of an FTE is fully scalable, 100% trained, 100% accurate, and is available up to 100% of each 24 hour day.

Depending on your cost base and its location, these virtual wonders can also do the same volume of processing for as little as 1/9th of the cost of a human.

With our partners at Blue Prism, Sopra Steria has developed a Lean Robotic Automation (LPA) proposition, coalescing our deep capability in Lean process management and Blue Prism’s software wizardry.

We are still at a relatively early stage in deployment both internally and externally but watch this space – every commentator and analyst in the marketplace recognises virtual robots as playing a significant part in all our clients thinking within 12 months.

As for my pension plans, they’re on hold for a while – I’ve a target audience in the UK alone of around 8,000,000 jobs to try and automate!

What do you think about the role virtual robots will play in operational processes? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.