While a new year means new opportunities for retailers, the importance of a successful customer loyalty program remains as important as ever. Companies need to build a trusted, positive emotional connection between their brand and their customer to drive new business and nurture brand advocates.
But in the digital era, the methods to accomplish this goal are rapidly shifting. Knowing your customer is one thing; successfully using the right tools such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and chatbots to enrich the customer experience is another story altogether.
According to one recent survey of 500 marketing, customer service and technology executives from different parts of the world and across multiple industries, 63% of executives believe emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and advanced analytics are instrumental to success.
When done right, these powerful technologies certainly can lead to positive customer experiences that translate to greater retention, reduced churn and a more loyal customer base. But getting the balance wrong by just a little (by relying too heavily on tech, for example) can lead to negative repercussions.
It’s all about navigating the fine line between the human touch and advanced technology in a way that enhances the customer experience instead of detracting from it. Using the right technology is more important than ever as customer buying patterns shift, with many choosing brands they didn’t previously consider. When value trumps brand loyalty, incumbent brands that have invested in AI, ML and advanced analytics may be better positioned to use data and act accordingly to prevent further net customer loss.
Tech Trends Shaping Customer Loyalty
Many companies realize that mastering emerging technologies is pivotal to winning customer loyalty. According to the survey, nearly half of respondents said they are already using technology effectively in their loyalty-building efforts.
For those that in recent years have recorded improvement in key customer metrics — such as churn, retention and lifetime value — technological factors have been vital ingredients in their success. The secret sauce? An ability to act on insights generated by the analysis of customer behavior. Also important in this context has been investment in emerging technology to improve customer experiences.
Despite this good news, there’s a lot of confusion and uncertainty out there. For example, while technology is viewed as a way to build empathy, 37% of survey respondents said they are struggling to use technology to strengthen customers’ emotional attachment to their brand.
Executives believe better empathy training of agents is vital, but many also cite a need for better visualization of analytics insights about customer preferences. Technology that captures customer preferences effectively — and immediately — will also be important.
What’s more, many brands struggle to use new technologies to build loyalty effectively. A large minority (39%) of respondents said their companies have failed to capitalize fully on the advanced technologies they’ve deployed in recent years in their customer-facing operations. This challenge comes as employees struggle to adapt to new tools and methods, encounter difficulties integrating new technologies with existing ones and fail to create sufficiently intuitive processes for customers.
A Strategy to Deploy Advanced Tech
Retail leaders that want to continue engaging with their customer base and invest in building consumer loyalty do have options to tap into AI and other emerging technologies in a smart, successful way. At a minimum, such an approach should provide for the following:
- Start with a smart analysis of your customers: Companies must conduct thorough research into their customers’ needs and behaviors and discover how best to use emerging technologies to create a positive emotional connection with their brands. Only then should they begin to make decisions about which technologies to invest in and how they should be deployed.
- Implementing change requires big planning: As in all facets of enterprise activity, making effective use of emerging technologies in customer-facing operations requires considerable attention to ancillary areas, such as training, process change and culture change. It also requires technology integration — in particular, the elimination of data silos to ensure that all agents and technology tools act on the basis of common, accurate and current customer data.
- It’s okay to fail (quickly) with new tech: AI and other emerging technology fields are nascent, and businesses are learning through trial and error how best to use them in an enterprise environment. Brands should adopt a “crawl, walk, run” approach to using new technologies in customer-facing operations. Experimentation with use cases should be the norm before seeking to scale them up. Keep what works, ditch what doesn’t.
- Make the executive suite your best customer: Customer experience, and by extension loyalty, will struggle to benefit from new technologies if the data and insights flowing from them do not influence decisions made at the senior level about how to improve customer interactions. A C-level voice is needed — from marketing, technology or other key functions — to ensure that this link is strong.
Will Gordy is the Director for Workplace and Customer Experience at Verizon Business, where he is responsible for enabling clients to achieve their business outcomes through better collaboration with their customers, employees and partners. As a results-driven technology executive with a proven track record of leading high-performance organizations across large enterprise sales, business development, process improvement and leadership coaching, Gordy has held several leadership roles across consulting and collaboration services for Verizon Business. Prior to Verizon, he served as a Senior Engineer in the U.S. Air Force for five years.