By Kabelo Makwane, Managing Director for Accenture Operations in Africa
Keeping up with today’s consumers is a challenge. They expect not only the digital convenience of platforms and apps, but sophisticated, consistent, personalised and immersive brand experiences across the digital and physical worlds. The one-size-fits-all approach to marketing is over– in its place: the need for tailoring, personalisation and contextual relevance. Succeeding with today’s consumers requires not only data, but the smart partnerships (and computing power) to enable intelligent operations.
The convenience economy
One of today’s consumer expectations, convenience, is almost taken for granted. Consider, for example, how banking has changed: few customers visit their local branch any longer – their phone has become their branch with all the functionality needed. Most transactions can now be done without speaking to an actual bank associate. More broadly, omnichannel engagement is now on the c-suite agenda of organisations across every industry.
Effective – and resonant – online engagement, however, requires a key input: data. For financial services applications for example – banking and insurance – countries with structured financial markets (like South Africa) have easy access to e necessary personal data like credit histories. But, many markets – elsewhere in Africa – are more opaque. Here, unique business models – deployed in countries such as Kenya and Ghana – are finding ways to overcome the poor access to information and leverage citizens’ engagement in cyberspace. For example, we can use certain inputs from social media feeds to assist credit decisions.
The convenience economy means we can now allow data and algorithms to inform micro-decisions and utilising machine learning will allow marketers to focus on more important decisions that drive business outcomes.
The New Normal
At a broad level, customers are becoming more at ease with services and experiences powered by data and algorithms. These experiences have become what many – and particularly the most digitally-savvy – have come to expect. Done well, these kinds of data-driven experiences can strengthen customer-brand relationships immensely. Done poorly, they impede engagement. More than ever, algorithms serve as companies’ digital gatekeepers – and they are redefining the boundaries of both service and marketing.
Algorithms can now deliver customer experiences that are not only hyper-relevant-, but also based on the context in which consumer purchasing decisions are made. For example, rather than focusing only on fixed customer attributes (like gender or residential address), companies looking to offer hyper-relevant experiences can aim to understand what customers need and how they make decisions in a given context. Predictive analytics and AI come to the forefront here as they allow real-time decisions in response to customers’ changing circumstances and contexts.
Intelligent technologies are also emerging as the drivers of other behind-the-scenes functions that help promote customer satisfaction. Let’s look at retail supply chains. By applying predictive analytics to customer buying patterns, seasonality effects and so forth, retailers can stock goods more intelligently. The result is reduced wait times, more intelligent warehousing and a steep reduction in the dreaded ‘out of stock’ notice. As competition among retailers increases, every customer touchpoint becomes increasingly important as a brand differentiator – hence the need for tailored and personalised experiences.
Glimpsing into the future?
How else might digital technology play a role in the future of commerce and industry? One area is virtual reality (VR). VR remains fairly niche technology at a commercial level here in South Africa. The applications, however, may well soon proliferate – for example in training or building expert skills. Consider how we can preview homes using VR glasses. Extend the possibilities to the medical field, where demand for specialist skills are rising, and VR may help in training those future specialists.
The rise of applied intelligence
Addressing the complex challenges businesses face today requires not only human ingenuity but intelligent technology and analytics.
Organisations that demonstrate intelligent operations are: those that harness diverse data, driven by applied intelligence and human ingenuity, to empower insight-led decision making, superior customer experiences and breakthrough business outcomes.
When the right tool sets are applied to companies’ cores, they become able to shift and flex with changing customer demands. This means not only the ability to keep pace today – but an important technological stake in the future, too. Both digital capabilities and consumer expectations compound rapidly – waiting to take the plunge with technology may mean being left behind.