London Fashion Week is staged twice a year – February and September – and, whether you follow fashion slavishly or not, affects what appears subsequently on the high street. But Shalina Ganatra looks at the event from a different perspective – the view of a marketer, and here discusses the online strategy luxury brands should now adopt to develop their personal shopping offering. She says retailers must get the basics right when gathering customer data to create a better and faster tailored shopping experience.
Leading lights in the customer engagement and feedback sector have grown rich because we have all been happy to share our opinions and give our feedback. For free.
This ability to apply consumer understanding to corporate outcome has been crucial. Smart companies are increasingly guided by it. All the more so when we look at the pressures on pockets, rising inflation and static salaries, or the product pipeline, where life cycles are becoming shorter and today’s innovations can quickly become yesterday’s news.
The pressure to innovate is relentless; the need for new ideas is daunting. But people’s attitudes are changing. More of us are moving from homogenous to niche media. The generation that invented Facebook is being replaced by those who are much more selective about the information they share. Young people are turning away from public to private forums, such as Whatsapp and Snapchat. It’s not just companies that can pivot when it comes to customer feedback. So can people.
Two-way conversations with tech-friendly millennials may never have been simpler, but it’s just as easy for consumers to withhold, restrict or to even charge for their insights. Whether they are driven by changing attitudes towards big tech-cos, by poor product reviews, questionable corporate reputations or failures in protecting data from cyber crime, Big Data can no longer be taken for granted.
Modern marketers have been quick to read the tea leaves. They always are. They understand that few assumptions can be made about customer behaviour in a world where technology is driving more change in ten years than we have seen in the previous 500.
Instead of stalking their customers with random, generalised data requests, sophisticated personalisation increasingly ensures feedback is solicited around issues of specific interest to a customer, based on behaviour, interests, history and even real time locations. Across social media too, companies are striving to react in person, to find new ways to come across as transparent and engage cynical customers.
This personalisation comes at just the right time. It future-proofs customer connectivity by reintroducing context and understanding to conversations that were once human-led, but now depend on AI. So it follows that the marketers who are the readiest, the most willing and able to align tech strategy to the search for new ways of appealing to customers, will succeed. And for that to happen, companies need to be properly equipped for a personalised digital experience, with the ability to control the scaled experience across all their apps and platforms, websites, e-commerce sites and the digital touchpoints that harness a collective customer view – and the ability to influence it.
Incentivising customer behaviour via data science
That’s why modern marketers are fast becoming data scientists, informed by their empathy and human understanding, awake not only to the analysis of incoming data, but to the crucial design of the AI that attracts it. What triggers a human change of mood? What cultural predictors are needed to ensure marketers do not insult or exclude genders or cultures? Where is the dividing line between cute and over-familiar? Those who create and interpret algorithms are not the best qualified to interpret the customer mood. Technology is only valuable if you combine knowledge of what you want it to achieve with the ability to interpret what it tells you.
In a world where the customer becomes smarter about sharing data, or even goes as far as to charge for opinion, this tech alignment is crucial, because marketers will have to find new ways to nudge customer behaviour, by rewarding them not just for their opinion, but for their loyalty and custom. This works in much the same way as it does with employees. To combat absenteeism, retain talent, motivate ideas, improve teamwork and boost productivity – the strategy of incentivising employees, while still in its relative infancy, is nothing new. It is rapidly becoming automated, as savvy employers turn to specialist platform providers automatically to ensure the right reward goes to the right employee.
However, in customer communications, it is a new art, finding its feet across B2C and even B2B enterprise. Low margin companies prefer to reward customers rather than to reduce prices. Churn is negated by offering the right reward at the most important time. Loyalty, amazingly, is rewarded, instead of being taken for granted. Across all sectors, customer incentivisation is being plugged into CRM systems. One day, technology will automatically reward the employee and the customer at the same time, giving the concept of customer connectivity a whole new imperative.
Today, the pioneers in personalised customer reward technology achieve improved NPS (Net Promoter Score), customer engagement, referrals, recommendations, on boarding and the reduction of shopping cart abandonment – by applying customer data to customer behaviour, learning customer preferences and reacting in real time.
The sector has its roots in the days of sending out vouchers as rewards, gift cards that were lost in the post, whose take-up was never tracked, whose redemption may never have happened and whose effect never computed. Conversion costs were never kept and consequence was never understood. Times have changed, as platforms drill down to individual and collective behaviour. Instead of adding cost, rewards reduce the cost of nudging the customer over the line, by reducing the cost of finding the customers in the first place, or replacing them after they’ve gone.
Such understanding of behavioural science is even more crucial when the consumer is out of pocket. Through better, more intelligent analysis of collated data, consumers can be motivated regardless of the economic cycle. That’s how insight finds opportunity.
In a world of change, consumers will always seek out new ideas, value – and values – as their moods and priorities shift. Successful companies will depend on their ability to process unstructured data to deliver immediate insight, in all its nuance, across all the digital touchpoints, aligning customer understanding with tech strategy. Those who enable their marketers to influence the technology that both understands customers and acts to push them over the line, will reap the benefits. Companies that do so at scale, from the board to the call centre, and automate their reactions, will succeed.
But the winners will not be those who replicate each other, who focus solely on metrics, take-ups, predictive analytics, surveys and scores, but those who play to their individual culture, product and service. Today, few companies can really claim to be truly obsessive about their customers. But that is changing fast. By taking responsibility for growth, CMOs will shape the future of customer engagement by informing the ongoing process of corporate digitisation. When Maya Angelou said: “People will never forget how you made them feel”, she was not talking about data scientists, but about those with the empathy to understand.
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