If 2016 is any indication for 2017, it will be the year of the customer experience. Jamie Anderson, Senior Vice President & CMO at SAP Hybris explains how with the surge of new technology and, with it, the increase in the number of different channels available to connect with consumers, customer experience has taken on an entirely new meaning. There are more ways than ever for the customer to touch the enterprise
In order to be successful in the coming year, CMOs must understand the technology that works behind the scenes to create a seamless customer experience. Recent research from the CMO Council and SAP Hybris showed that 39 percent of marketers believe their technology investments have met expectations in areas such as measurement and customer interaction, but they appear to be falling short when it comes to connecting content, commerce, conversation, and campaigns with back-end operational realities, supply chain logistics, and organizational capabilities that will ultimately impact the customer experience.
This year, marketers must advance their pools of intelligence from being largely marketing-focused into those that are entirely customer-focused. This demands that the entire organization – from HR to operations and the supply chain – be digitally connected and aligned around a live view of the customer as an individual – a view that takes the past, present, and future state of that individual into context in real-time.
Understanding this underlying technology will become even more critical once virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and general machine learning become a standard practice within marketing technology – something I believe will come to fruition this year. VR and AR have the potential to completely transform the way that consumers interact with technology and, therefore, a brand. This year we saw furniture companies implement VR to allow consumers to visualize what a piece of furniture would look like in their home and retail brands use smart changing rooms to more easily connect the consumer with sales associates. These are two examples of how the shopping experience can be augmented by virtual reality to enhance the customer experience and help retailers make smarter merchandising decisions. With this technology at the core, machine learning will begin to drive customer engagement.
Which brings me to my next prediction: in 2017, physical and digital retail will merge entirely to create one consistent shopping experience. It’s become clear that consumers expect to interact with a single brand, while jumping across in-store and online touchpoints to research and make purchases. Therefore, retailers shouldn’t think in terms of individual channels. For a truly connected retail experience, they must embrace technologies that bridge the physical and digital divide.
For example, in-store sales associates should have access to customer data, including past behaviors and preferences to help personalize the shopping experience. Taking it one step further, brands can offer online ordering for in-store pick-up and vice versa. Consumer shopping behaviors are drastically changing year after year and retailers must keep up with this evolution. With approaches available to help blend the retail experience, shoppers will be able to more easily control their experience, pursuing a variety of tools and channels to complete a purchase. It is the duty of the brand to make this journey as easy and seamless as possible.
This type of connectivity of back-end systems requires a marketing automation system that uses current, relevant data to drive engagement – something all companies will need in order to compete. If their data is out of date, marketing automation is a waste of time. This year, marketers must learn to use automation systems to apply intelligent algorithms to the context of the consumer interaction that has taken place. It’s not about mass outreach – instead, automation can be used to touch each individual customer based on their past behavior and general propensity to buy. AI and machine learning will play a big part in the success of marketing automation systems next year.
Lastly, microservices will be a major disruptor in 2017. At a base level, microservice is a new software that will fundamentally change the agility with which businesses can operate. In the short term, microservices will be most prevalent at the front-end of the business (i.e., the way that brands interact with customers). Microservices can easily be integrated into organizations’ existing technology stacks to create an end-to-end solution that will set a higher bar for engagement between brands and consumers.
If there’s one key area that marketers should focus on in 2017, it is leading the digital innovation that drives change. Once businesses are fully acclimatized to operating in the digital world, they will learn to use it to use it to their advantage – by following consumer journeys from beginning to end, determining what engages a target audience, making predictions about what’s on the mind of customers – and ultimately using this information to form deeper relationships.