Crafting the Perfect Customer Experience

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04/28/2020
Vijay Krishnanji is Director of Customer Experience Innovation at NTT DATA.

A quality customer experience is the cornerstone of a successful retail enterprise. But unfortunately many retailers struggle to develop and deliver an experience that truly wows.

As the industry continues to become technology and data-driven the customer experience must evolve in lockstep. Retailers must invest in both their customer-facing technology and back-end systems to ensure every customer interaction positive, engaging and memorable.

To uncover how retailers can best perfect the customer experience NTT DATA’s Director of Customer Experience Innovation, Vijay Krishnanji, sat down with RIS for an exclusive Q&A on the topic.

RIS: What are the key drivers forcing retailers to rethink their business strategies concerning the consumer experience?

Krishnanji: Many playbooks have been reprioritized within a short time due to COVID-19. For example, the demand for online grocery shopping has surged in the US, overwhelming the digital departments of many retailers. As retailers transform existential challenges into opportunities with the help of technology, it is important to stay focused on the consumer journey first to solve problems and create new forms of value.

Customers are increasingly connected, mobile and socially influenced; and their expectations for convenience, safety and speed in the buying journey are steadily rising.

Take, for example, the evolution of omnichannel fulfillment. Fast and convenient delivery and pickup options are now available within the hour for many products. The heightened requirements put on retail during the pandemic have escalated the drive to digital commerce and contactless interaction methods. These once desirable services have now become essential and will likely see more adoption post-pandemic. But there are still customer friction challenges to be addressed such as improving stock availability, speed and accuracy of orders. Retailers also need to ensure stores are safe again when shoppers gradually start coming back.

While solving these challenges, it’s easy to pigeonhole people by generation, the reality is that human beings are unique and emotionally driven when it comes to their buying decisions. They are also adaptable, for example to become digital natives quickly when it is a necessity.

As a retailer, if you’re to remain relevant, it is important to create compelling, differentiated offers, by taking a customer-centric approach and developing a deep understanding of each shopper as an individual. 

RIS: How can technology help retailers differentiate the CX?

Krishnanji: Digitalization helps close the gap on revenue growth and drive operational efficiencies for retailers, but it also introduces more opportunity for technology distractions.

NTT DATA believes that data is the foundation of power. But it’s only powerful if you’re able to understand the human element behind the data. Earlier this year, I attended NRF 2020, where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reinforced the importance for retailers to embrace analytics and digital technologies to extract actionable insights from the massive amount of data that retailers generate every day to better understand customers and personalize the shopping experience.

One of our data-driven CX innovations for retailers comes through a partnership with Deming Robotics by Spacee. The solution can convert data about stock levels, planogram and pricing compliance into actionable insights using artificial intelligence-enabled computer vision. NTT DATA Nucleus, the cloud-based intelligent enterprise platform at the core of the solution, provides predictive and prescriptive analytics that retailers can use to reduce out-of-stock and shrinkage issues and ensure the availability of right product and right information at the moment of purchase or inspiration.

Retailers need to reinvent themselves by staying focused on the customer, embracing analytics, AI and automation while, using real-time and accurate data as the bedrock for real-time experiences that are personalized, flexible and business value focused. This is the new normal. 

RIS: What are some of the key capabilities that retailers should implement when deploying a technology focused CX strategy?

Krishnanji: In a market challenged by price differentiation, e-commerce’s endless aisles, and threats of pandemic type events, crafting purpose-built experiences that evoke the emotions of surprise, joy, excitement, love and trust across the CX journey can build long-term relationships and drive loyalty.

Designing a purpose-built shopping experience starts with empathy. Retailers need to understand customers’ current experiences and pinpoint any areas of friction. A purpose-built CX strategy must evolve in lockstep with technology and be data driven. Retailers must invest in both their customer-facing technology and back-end systems.

Consider the case of Neighborhood Goods, whose flagship department store is a short walk from my office, who has figured out how to tie in its flexible social space and contemporary brands with memorable experiences such as blind dates, workouts, happy hours and more. Underlying the experience is technology that enables brands with analytics that they would typically have online such as demographic data, enables customers with a mobile app to customize their shopping experience and empowers employees with tablets for customer service and frictionless checkout. By creating a flexible, personalized and community-based experience, the retailer created a key purpose-built CX strategy.

Another capability being accelerated by COVID, is retailers’ growing interest in enabling checkout-free grab-and-go experiences, so customer no longer need to wait in lines. NTT DATA is currently piloting the Catch&Go cashierless store service concept in Japan and recently added facial authentication shopping and inventory-linked dynamic pricing capabilities.

When it comes to implementing a purpose-built CX strategy, retailers need a few foundational capabilities to be successful:

The first is developing CX key performance indicators upfront, to understand what success should look like and how to measure it and get feedback continuously as initiatives roll out for customers.

Adopting an agile mindset and methodology is key in the current environment and post pandemic. This also entails having a flexible API-based framework on the backend to enable an omnichannel strategy.

It’s also important to invest early in preparing for the influx of the modern, data intensive customer and employee apps by modernizing the underlying infrastructure, applications and having a robust data governance framework in place. 

RIS: What does the future of CX look like for retail? How can retailers prepare for it today?

Krishnanji: During the 2019 Thanksgiving sales cycle, buyers turned to social media platforms for product research and to mobile devices for e-commerce more than ever before. In his keynote speech at NRF 2020, Erik Nordstrom, co-president of the family’s eponymous department store, talked about the brand’s shift to a single omnichannel view of sales rather than treating online and in-store sales separately, while also emphasizing that success for Nordstrom is success for its customers.

Intelligent automation powered by real-time Internet of Things devices, prescriptive analytics and in-store video cameras are just scratching the surface of helping retailers move from reactive to proactive decision-making, delivering real-time experiences and making it safe for customers and employees during and post pandemic. As the demand increases for real-time experiences, so do the threats to privacy and security. Finding the right balance between protecting consumer privacy and data and providing the experiences they want will be invaluable to building trust in the relationship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that while tomorrow’s retail experience will continue to be disrupted, the customer will remain king by choosing how they engage and interact with retailers and brands.

Purpose-built shopping experiences are the new competitive advantage, delivering positive ROI and impact to both the top and bottom lines.