With over 15 years of experience working in different parts of the world, Abhishek Shanbhag has gathered a vast repertoire of expertise spanning from marketing to technology. Currently heading the AI and Automation practice area at Acuvate, he is creating new age solution offerings that focus on providing enhanced customer experience and engagement using emerging technologies like AI, Automation, Chatbots, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Machine Learning (ML).
In today’s world, businesses can be seen living through an interconnected digital shelf. Just as any other conventional retail store or shop, customers are entering the digital shelf to discover, research, and eventually buy a product or service from various touchpoints. The digital transition has become more tangible given the rapid virtual shift prompted by the advent of the pandemic. So much so, that the advancements in technology have led us to reimagine how we respond to the growing customer demands in the market.
In an interview with We-Storytellers’ Chief, Nidhi Mahesh, Abhishek talks about how every viable customer constantly seeks instant gratification from their favourite brands. This puts a lot of pressure on the customer management processes – even a single slip in CX could put a frown on a loyal customer’s face and adversely affect the brand’s relationship with customer. Eventually, minor slips in CX could organizations significant revenue dollars. Therefore, organizations are constantly adopting customer experience strategies that make them serve faster and better. With the rise in digital shelves offering an immersive experience and everything a customer needs on a single screen, businesses seek to use AI/ML, chatbots, and effective storytelling to influence the buying persona.
Technology Equips Marketers to Stay Ahead of Customer Expectations
Q1. Keeping pace with customer expectations is a big challenge. Tracking it is more difficult now because customer expectations have grown, given now customers are always online. In such a scenario, how does technology help marketers stay connected and stay ahead of the desires of the customers?
A: The last two years have seen a huge change in customer behaviour when it came to finding the right brand or product to buy. Equally, there has been a considerable rise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) solutions touching our daily lives. Therefore, when it comes to technology and the way it helps marketers cope with the changing customer behaviour, we first need to understand what are these new technologies that are redefining the customer buying behaviour space.
Emerging AI technologies like computer vision provide services like image recognition, image analysis, image-based search, natural language processing which includes sentiment analysis, classification, topic modelling, speech recognition as well as speech synthesis. Using these technologies marketers are analysing the buying behaviour of customers who are online doing their research, looking up brands, following influencers to see what others are buying, and then making a purchase.
With customers spending most of their time online, this has led to an increase in digital payments. Gone are the days of cash-on-delivery. Now there is a new area which is coming up called Conversational Commerce. This practice deploys chatbots and virtual assistance to guide customers through their buying journey, help them research, analyse different products, and then make a purchase.
As customers move online and are monitored by these emerging technologies, a huge amount of data is getting generated. This data needs to be sieved, analysed, and made sense of by businesses to help them provide the right solution or suggest the right brand to a customer. In this case, AI, and ML play big roles as they help in analysing the data. The analysed data helps to make better predictions, precise audience targeting, market segmentation, plus personalization and improved campaign outcomes. While technology is helping customers in their buying journey on the digital shelf, it is also helping marketers make better decisions by providing data and analysis to better help customers.
Chatbots Are Helping Brands Win the Digital Shelf
Q2. How has the role of chatbots evolved and how has the chatbot itself evolved as against the scripted answers?
A: There was a time when we used to visit a store to buy things. Now, most of us prefer to shop from the comfort of our homes. It’s challenging to understand what influences the customer behaviour. With a large digital shelf out there, there are many ways through which a customer can reach a brand. Thus, it has become important for marketers to specifically position their brand to win. Chatbots and virtual assistance are two major areas that can help businesses win the digital shelf and maintain their competitive edge because:
Acuvate has built and launched many bots to help our customers in various industries. For example, Acuvate has devised a chatbot for a large food brand in Netherlands that provides information on various food products that a customer can buy and also shares recipes to go with the ingredients. Another example is of an advisory bot that provides recommendations. Built for a large skin and healthcare brand, the bot provides skin analysis when a customer takes selfie, along with possible remedies on how to improve the health of the skin, what products to use, which routine needs to be followed, and so on. Acuvate has also built shopping assistants that provide information about the best place to buy a particular product and available coupons, creating a ‘sticky’ experience with the customer.
Technology Powering Customer Loyalty In The New World
Q3. How important it is for marketers to look at not only building a customer base, but also retaining one using technology? How does a brand build its loyalty using technology?
A: As a customer, I will be loyal to a brand or to a company if they give me better features with respect to the competition, if they provide better pricing or are close to the market standards, and the most important point of they provide good customer service. Technology is therefore enabling brands in these three areas –
features, pricing, and aftersales support or customer support.
Better Pricing: Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning equip marketers in devising better pricing aligned to market reality. Given the large amount of data generated, marketers can analyse the data to better insights.
Better Features: The digital shelf is a collection of diverse and rapidly evolving digital touchpoints which are used by shoppers to not only engage with a brand, but also to do their research and eventually purchase the product. Therefore, technology is enabling the customer to put their product in front of the digital shelf and figure out the placement of the product with respect to the available features as opposed to the competitions.
Aftersales Support: Technology enables omnichannel support experience, gradually building up a loyal customer base. That means a customer could reach out for aftersales support via phone call, or WhatsApp or any other medium supported. A lot of organizations today, especially in the consumable and services space are booking a service appointment just by sending a WhatsApp.
Language Processing: Similarly, using translation services, which is another critical AI device, companies are now able to support a lot of more diverse languages with a much more qualified set of subject matter experts and support staff.
Sustainability: Another important factor for marketers while budling a customer base using technology is sustainability. We as consumers, we want to have choice. We want to go for an organization which is not only better, faster, cheaper, but also more sustainable. Emerging technologies like digital twins, IoT analytics, smart factories, etc. are helping companies become more sustainable and work towards reducing their carbon footprint.
Using Business Storytelling to Connect with the Audience
Q4. Major part of customer success is the ability to connect to them. As you also work in marketing ideation, how do you see business storytelling as a discipline aiding this engagement and making the RO(M)I more tangible?
Everybody loves a great story. Everybody loves to listen to stories. It is something that we have been used to right from the time we are growing and even today. Acuvate approaches its customers and potential prospects by telling stories.
For example, Acuvate was able to help a different customer improve their operational efficiency by helping them deploy chatbots for IT and HR to reduce the overall support cost and at the same time improve the employee experience and engagement. Another example of a story could be how Acuvate deployed a customer support agent which brought in 65% reduction in the overall support tickets that get generated, thus lowering costs, and freeing up time of the resources to focus on more critical problems.
These are all stories of how we have helped customers. When Acuvate customers listen to these stories, they get inspired. The difference between telling how great we are versus how well we have helped a customer is where storytelling is far more effective. It helps to connect better, helps customers achieve value, and leads them from a vision stage to an actual goal stage.