by Kevin Grauman
We live in an era of unprecedented data, where a consumer’s every action sets off a ripple of digital data. Strings of algorithms interpret this data to create consumer profiles, and companies use these robust data representations to target products and content with great effect. According to a McKinsey study, around 35 percent of Amazon purchases and 75 percent of Netflix selections are driven by machine learning recommendations.
As the machine learning and artificial intelligence systems that power these decisions become more refined and accessible, it is becoming easier for all retailers to employ the same data-driven tactics. In the short term, this can give early adopters a significant advantage, but in the long run, relying on such technology will simply be a routine part of doing business. Here is how your company — and your customers — can adapt to business in the age of big data:
Evolve Your Team
New technology requires new experts to manage it properly. Start by upskilling your existing team members and training them on the new technology that will be implemented. This can help them feel empowered, putting them on the leading edge of a field with incredible future potential. If your team already has an SEO expert, they make a natural first choice for taking on general AI Engine Optimization duties. Otherwise, it may be time to hire new staff that understand data, AI and machine learning, and can handle these new digital requirements.
Create Value from Passive Participation
Consumers are accustomed to giving away their email addresses or other personal information in exchange for something of value. This is especially true when they are ceding control of personal data in exchange for machine learning and AI algorithms to do work on their behalf. For example, granting access to data in exchange for automatically generated reports. Find ways you can obtain a customer’s permission once, then provide continued convenience for them without any further effort on their end.
Think of Customers as Contributors
Social media forever changed the customer/retailer relationship. It is no longer simply a transaction — instead, companies must think of their customers as ongoing contributors. This includes reviews, shares, and other user-generated content, but it also includes things that actively change your product. Consider how you can go beyond the basics to let the customers become contributors, such as letting your audience name — or even design — a new product.
Choose Platforms Over Products
Extending on the idea of customers as contributors, start thinking about your product as an open platform for customers to enjoy. A good example of this is the open online video game format, where the game company provides a “sandbox” and simply lets the players indulge their imaginations. Meal-delivery services are another example — they provide the ingredients and recipes, but customers do their own thing with it. All of this fosters a sense of collaboration, and therefore loyalty, between your customers and your business.
Reward Your Customers for Creating Value
Incentivize customer behavior by giving them something of value when they contribute to your brand, offering coupon codes or exclusive content to members who join the mailing list, or rewarding customers who regularly post creative social content. Many brands are now doing giveaways on social media to users who post and tag about their products. This system does not just motivate people to contribute more, it will also let your top contributors know how much you value them.
Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Favors
Similarly, it is impossible to overstate how important it is to ask your audience to spread the word about your brand. Asking for reviews, encouraging social shares or survey completions, and otherwise asking your audience to take certain actions can be incredibly effective. According to one study, 77 percent of online customers say they are willing to write a review when asked. AI makes it easy to automatically trigger such requests, delivering huge value with little time investment on your part. These can even be offered to in-person customers. If a customer is willing to give their email or phone number during an in-person shopping experience, software can automatically trigger a reminder when they leave the store to post, share or review their experience.
Focus on the Human Element
AI is not just changing the way businesses operate. Consumers are getting their own AI assistance as well, making it vital that you come up with solutions to win over an “automated audience.” One way to do that is to focus on deepening that human connection between retailer and customer. Employ your AI tools to tailor solutions to individuals and make sure your offers appeal to them again and again. If a customer knows your newsletter is always going to be relevant to them, for example, they will make sure it is getting past their AI-powered spam filters.
Improving the Experience
With an abundance of choices, retailers need to become increasingly customer-focused to win over their audience from their competitors, and that is why leveraging AI and machine learning can be so important. Using these to create better experiences for the customer will increase loyalty and help to improve customer retention. It can even improve your employees experience, as it automates menial tasks and leaves them time to have higher-value interactions. As data, AI and machine learning becomes commonplace in big box retailers, it is now time for independent businesses to take advantage of easy technology solutions to drive competition.
Kevin Grauman is the President and CEO of QLess, a line management system used by retail, education and government industries. He is no stranger to the world of startups, with a proven track record as a successful U.S.-based executive leader and entrepreneur. Kevin has been recognized as one of the “100 Superstars of HR Outsourcing in the USA” by HRO Today Magazine.