Staying One Step Ahead of Your Customers with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

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Sears was a trusted household name and the retail king for nearly a century. Their comprehensive catalog reached millions of customers, and their retail outlet stores anchored the most malls in America.

Many would argue Sears failed to embrace the changes that came along in the mid-’90s (i.e., the introduction of the internet). That is true to a large extent. However, Sears had the money, time, and brand power to change if that change was merely about technology. Technological change was not just affecting the systems of how a business operated; it was changing the most significant factor of the equation: the customer! And Sears’ inability to know who their customers were and how to connect with them ultimately spelled out its demise.

Today, customers have more choices than ever before. They make no distinction between E-commerce and just regular old commerce. They are not only shopping on price; they are looking for a great shopping experience. They want to be “known”. A customer can no longer be reduced to an order number or a history of prior transactions. Today, businesses must engage customers in a long conversation spanning both time and location, whether on the train during a 7 am commute, or at a physical retail location at 3 pm. The conversation doesn’t end with the transaction; it’s is only the beginning. The days of shipping everyone in the country a 1500-page catalog and saying “tell us what you want” is no longer viable. Today you must know the customer’s wants and present them with choices.

If you are like many companies, you have spent a lot of time and money developing information systems to track customers’ basic information, buying habits, and demographics. Perhaps, you leverage that information to create email marketing campaigns targeting a particular age-group or demographic for a product release. Smart move. And maybe you leverage that information to add a “you might also like…..” product suggestions to the shopping cart of your web transactions. Fantastic. You have created a solid multi-channel experience for your customer. Now, what happens when that customer shows up at a retail location and inquires about a product they’ve been researching for the past few days? Do the store employees know an existing customer just walked in? Do you know if they have asked questions about a product already, perhaps via your online chatbot, or a phone agent?

Enter Omnichannel

Omnichannel suggests the integration of all physical channels (offline) and digital channels (online) to offer a unified customer experience.  According to the research firm, Frost & Sullivan, omnichannel is defined as a: 

‘seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experience that occurs within and between contact channels’

You’ve probably heard the “buzzword”.  Hype aside, what can an omnichannel strategy do for your business?  

First off, let’s get something out of the way.  You don’t have to throw out all the hard work put into your existing channels.  Omnichannel is all about bringing those individual channels together into a seamless experience for the customer.  Yes, there will be some work to get everything talking together.  But the focus is on information sharing and integration to provide a complete view of and for your customer.

The “Omnichannel Hexagon”  is a framework that outlines six core competencies that companies must have in order to succeed at omnichannel:

  1. They recognize their customers across channels and ask for permission to communicate directly

  2. They collect data systematically from all touchpoints and channels

  3. They analyze their data to provide insights on a customer level

  4. They act on their data and insights to create better communication, service and customer experience

  5. They analyze their performance using customer metrics

  6. They've organized themselves around omnichannel marketing

With the customer in the center, each side of the hexagon addresses one of the six competencies listed above.  Rings within the hexagon represent a progression, with outer rings being less customer-centric and inner rings being more customer-centric.

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