Engaging customers in the digital age

 |   Singapore News Center

By Andrés Ortola, Director for Enterprise and Partners Group, Microsoft Singapore

This article was first published in The Business Times on 6 September 2017.

In our digitally connected world, we have a wealth of choices as consumers.

By the time we reach a buying decision, we would have done our research, identifying who can provide the best and fastest option with the biggest bang for our buck. Whether making a small personal buying decision or researching on an enterprise software for a commercial business, if my expectations are not met, the next provider is just a click away.

Given this, how can brands differentiate themselves from the competition and capture loyalty?

According to the Walker 2020 Customers report, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. In fact, another report by Microsoft confirms that customer service plays a role in the choice of and loyalty to a brand for 96 percent of us around the globe, which makes providing exceptional service experiences a top priority. A recent paper from thinkJar indicates that organisations can expect to see a 23 percent premium in key metrics such as revenue, wallet share and profitability from their customers who are highly engaged.

The statistics are clear. As such, it is no surprise that 33 percent of the 1,494 business leaders we spoke to as part of the Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study told us that engaging customers is their number one priority, ahead of empowering employees, optimising operations, and transforming products and services.

So, what does an effortless customer experience look like? It means:

  • Instantly connecting via my channel and device of choice whether that is a self-service option or an agent assisted experience;
  • Getting fast, personalised and effective service once I have made that connection;
  • Experiencing consistent service across channels and touch points; and
  • Receiving proactive and predictive service through social channels or my connected device.

Delivering personalised, contextual interactions across the customer journey is a strategic imperative. But it is easier said than done.

As a customer, my journey may begin on a support portal where I can view knowledge articles, engage in a forum, read a blog, or chat with an agent. If I decide to pick up the phone, the agent who answers my call needs full visibility into the products or services that I have purchased, past cases, and any previous interactions across other channels.

The good news is that, until recently, personalised experiences and information were difficult to offer customers in physical environments. Since most of us like to shop, let us take a look at how customer engagement reimagine looks like in retail.

Targeted advertisements, offers and recommendations have proved successful for businesses such as retailers online and via mobile devices, but bridging the gap to physical environments was difficult.

Today, sensors and screens, connectivity to devices, as well as the cloud and predictive data analytics are creating seamless experiences for people in physical stores.

In today’s customer journey, personalised experiences that span both digital and physical environments will be critical to meeting consumers’ expectations, and the brands that can provide these experiences will set themselves apart among the competition.

Predict what customers want before they tell you.

With predictive analytics solutions that let you cost-effectively track demand and manage inventory levels on-the-go and across locations, you can be sure that when customers visit your retail store, you have the right stock and your store associates can access accurate inventory information—for an optimal customer experience that lets them try before they buy.

Bridge the gap between physical and digital experiences through a unified strategy.

Today’s digital native customers expect multiple ways to order, purchase, and receive merchandise and products—and you can meet these expectations with an end-to-end solution that integrates world-class, omni-channel experience management capabilities with operational commerce technologies, giving you real-time data insights for a deep understanding of customers’ preferences, wants, and needs.

Deliver meaningful engagements across all touchpoints.

Take advantage of customers’ smartphone as well as interactive in-store components (such as kiosks and digital signage) to enable customers to get extended information on products using capabilities such as NFC, beacons, and image recognition, and push relevant offers based on their interests and location in the store — all while gathering valuable information about consumer in-store shopping behaviour.

Regardless of your industry or size of business, the opportunity exists for you to rethink customer engagement in whatever way best fits your organisation. Your customers are out there on dozens of channels researching and talking about brands, and there are endless platforms and channels to join the conversation.

Previously, the solution for most businesses has been mobile, but “app fatigue” has caught up with consumers, when we have a deluge of apps to manage.

However, imagine a scenario where you could open a messaging app and type or speak: “I need a shirt for next week, blue or black, under $100 and goes with the shoes I bought last week”.

There is a lot of context in that statement that, but with chatbot technologies, it knows what shoes you bought last week, it knows your preferences from your past purchases, it knows your profile and can call a recommendations model to determine what products you have the most affinity to buy. It can also look up current trend information through social feeds like Instagram and Pinterest.

Bots are rapidly becoming an integral part of one’s digital experience. They are vital for users to interact with a service or application as is a web site or a mobile experience. Retailers can use bots to humanise various touch points in the customer journey replacing search to a more conversational experience. Personalised offers can be contextual conversations that use the power of predictive models to deliver relevant and personalised experiences.

And with analytics, machine learning and cognitive services becoming more accessible to all businesses, an emerging opportunity for businesses exists to leverage chatbots in customer engagement. These bots have access to data and powerful analytics capabilities to ensure that the conversation is relevant and of value to the customer.

In addition to shopper scenarios, bots can also combine the power of analytics and enable a way for businesses to make data-driven decisions around inventory and promotions.

Becoming more engaged with customers includes predicting what customers want before they know they want it, based on data intelligence, and offering it to customers in a way that is natural.

In today’s digital world, it is all about putting customers first with technology that engages at a personal level.

But, digital transformation is not about technology alone. It is no longer just about procuring one solution and deploying one solution; it is really you thinking of your own future as a digital company and building out systems of intelligence that help you engage with your customers, empower your employees, optimize your operations, and reinvent products and business models.