Role of technology in the era of connected customers

connected customers

By Ritwik Batabyal

The dawn of a connected world has changed the rules of customer engagement. To continue acquiring and retaining customers, organizations need to recognize this and adapt to the new rules. The dynamics of the connected world has transformed customer journey with enhanced experiences on commerce, rewards or promotions, product and services, and after sales support, with the aim to create brand advocates out of mere consumers.

The battleground for customers has never been so complicated. Businesses and their customers are adopting technology at a rapid pace. Social networks, mobile computing, analytics and cloud computing are all significant technology trends. In silos, they are impressive, but in the connected world they will make all the headlines. Devices instrumented on Internet of Things (IoT), to collect and transmit intelligence on user behavior and environmental conditions over IP networks have created vast opportunities to build connected ecosystems surrounding industrial products. Together, these digital trends are highly disruptive, creating complex business opportunities (and risks).

The digital burst, combined with the tech-favoured consumer behavior, has opened new avenues for customer touch points. However, this also means that the consumer has a limited attention span and there is a rising demand for business transparency and corporate responsibility. According to a report published by the Institute of Customer Service, consumers today face significantly fewer problems when buying goods and services than they did five years ago, but they are more inclined to complain when things go wrong.

New competitors are flooding almost every market as barriers to businesses lower every year. Some are engaging in direct competition, taking advantage of the lower barriers of entry provided by globalization, de-regulation and technology developments. Some, like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple or countless smaller ventures, are inventing new business models that are creating a sudden impact on traditional markets. Together, these three market forces are exerting intense pressure on almost all industries. The obvious question then is how one aligns to this new process of transformation !

Identifying stages in Digital Transformation journey

Digitalization is the pervasive incorporation of digital technologies into a system, resulting in an enhanced user experience and changes in the business engagement model of B2E, B2B, and B2C enterprises. It is acting as an accelerator, turning customer experience improvement into an urgent imperative. The real importance of digitalization to business is not the emergence of new technology but the shift in customer behavior in embracing the new technologies. Companies must review their operations with an open mind accepting that a radically different approach may be needed.

Establishing a Framework: This identification lead us build a framework for connected customer, with the following four functions – digital readiness, touchpoint analysis and design, connected service support model and digital payments being at the foundation.

Digital Readiness

While digitalization is widely acknowledged as an important business trend, many companies are at a loss as to how to best embrace it. While they know they need to change, they do not know where to start. As it is important for organizations to match the pace of digital change, they must first realize that driving digitalization within a company is not just about technology. By adopting digitalization as a business strategy, it becomes part of the broader business focus. This can mean altering both internal business processes as well as how a business delivers its product.

Once a business has decided to focus on digitalization, the company, as a first step, should do a digital readiness assessment. The assessment is aimed at helping businesses understand their current digital capability and presence. Information is gathered in key areas such as governance and leadership, people and culture, capacity and capability, Innovation and Technology to reach to an outcome. As a simple model, each of these areas are divided into five levels of maturity – minimal to transformed, and each such level has listed indices that are expected to be found in an organization with that level of maturity.

The information, captured earlier can be rated against these level-characteristics to arrive at a fairly comprehensive quantification. This will enable the envisioning of improvement areas and lead to formation of new operating principles.

Touchpoint Analysis and Design

While companies have added technologies to create an omni-channel experience, their disparate systems most likely operate in silos. To deliver on consumer expectations of anytime, anywhere, anyhow shopping or support-service – the new aspiration is a common platform that enables real-time visibility and integration across every customer touchpoint. Consumers expect an experience that is personal, mobile, seamless and secure.

Personalization – Customized offers, real-time shopping history, product curated to appeal to individual consumer preferences – these features have become mainstays of a Connected Experience. Informed consumers expect this level of personalization wherever they shop. But the physical store has struggled to keep up.

Mobility – If consumers can use their phones to research products, compare prices, buy online and even pay for in-store purchases, why shouldn’t retailers use the same technology to improve customer service?

Seamless Experience – To create a seamless experience across channels, it’s all about real-time. Real-time customer identification. And real-time gathering, analysis and dissemination of data across all channels.

Security – The cornerstone of the first three points – personalization, mobility and seamlessness – is information. And with the increasing need for and use of information comes greater opportunity for theft and fraud. As retailers advance toward connected commerce, security must go beyond the current focus on payments and networks to ensure the protection of their more information-rich environments.

The fundamental needs for consumers have become clear enough: convenience with the right level of choice. As an Example, the purchase behavior has shifted dramatically. Instead of being linear (awareness -> consideration -> purchase), it’s become much more complex, each of the constituent process flows demand specific design of technology interfaces at every touchpoint along the way.

Connected Service Support Model

An efficient operation is a necessity but is no longer sufficient for a successful service function. The key objective is to drive consumer acquisition, retention and loyalty through service.

A survey result captured relevant trends that are as follows:

Customers are embracing emerging channels to reduce friction

Proactive engagement, much earlier in the cycle is getting explored

Insights from connected devices is an emerging source to preemptive service

Predictive analytics is getting adopted for better loyalty management

The customer service technology ecosystem is moving to cloud

The trends lead to the foundation blocks of a connected service delivery model measured with performance KPAs such as customer profitability, net promoter score and customer lifetime value.

The author is head, engineering and technology, digital transformation for connected customer, Wipro Ltd

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