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Technology & data help retail industry formulate the next step in the CX journey

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Over the last few months, the Coronavirus pandemic has led to an unparalleled shift in the way both retailers and consumers view and utilise technology. Over the last few months, we have seen how digital technology has firmly established itself as one the most important factors driving innovation and consequent business success for enterprises. As we accustom ourselves to the ‘New Normal’, the traditional template of retail has been completely overhauled – brands and retailers are now compelled to step up their reliance on the power of modern technology to create new values and richer experiences for consumers.

In order to comprehend the new ways of consumer engagement and the ways by which retail businesses can leverage data, and emerging technologies like AI, AR, VR, etc., to attract, inspire and retain customers in the age of the ‘New Normal’, Phygital Retail Convention (PRC) hosted a session titled, Customer Centric Transformation: Formulating The Next Step In CX Journey.

The session was moderated by Piyush Chowhan, Group CIO, LuLu Group International, UAE and featured a handful of the most eminent names from the Indian retail industry as panelists, including:

Sandeep Jabbal, VP- IT, Jubilant FoodWorks
Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Titan Company
Pankaj Singh, Director – National Chain Stores & E- Commerce, Levi Strauss & Co
Thomas Reju, Country Digital Manager, IKEA India

“Customer Experience and Customer Journey are two of the most important parts of the digital transformation journey. It is extremely important for brands and retailers alike to get an in depth understanding of a what customer experience transformation journey looks like. It is paramount for businesses to identify the key facets and the transformational agenda so that they can align their organisational strategies according to be able to provide engaging customer experiences,” said Piyush Chowhan.

Creating Engaging Customer Transformation Journeys

The right consumer journey starts with how the consumer comes and interacts with a brand – both physically and digitally. Most often, organisations use their internal processes of doing things to build customer experience. But according to Pankaj Singh, it is paramount that brands and retailers build their processes with focus on consumer perspective.

The concept of customer-centricity has been integral to retail since long. But according to Chowhan, organisations seldom live up to it. “This happens mainly because of the silo nature of organisatins. Every organisation is broken down to marketing, sales, supply chain, customer service, etc., but they seldom has a single view of the customer. To unite each of this departments to have a single lens of the customer is not easy but mandatory for success. This transformation has been enabled to a large extent after the advent of digital technologies – through data points. Defining your strategy of providing experience to the customer based on data is very crucial for every organisation,” he added.

For a brand like Titan that serves a wide variety of segments from eyewear and watches to sarees, the orientation around the real value that the brand provides through customer experience is very different. But the central value of what the brand delivers is articulated from the customers’ perspective. “It is well established that attempting to craft internal processes and projecting them to ensure customer experience never work, especially in today’s day and age. We, at Titan, have had the good sense to not even try that – everything we do is done from a customer first perspective,” explained Krishnan Venkateswaran.

When the pandemic hit and the nationwide lockdown were announced, the grocery industry was among the very few retail segments that continued to be in operation. While it was spared the horrors that most businesses had to go through, grocery retailers were compelled to pivot their businesses overnight to optimise existing systems. Grocery retail in India has largely depended on traditional supply chains and most businesses faced unprecedented challenges in rapidly adopting to the digital transformation as well as the new normal. Grocers, as such, had to go the extra mile to ensure customer experience during such circumstances.

“We were among the first ones to offer contactless delivery in India – much before the lockdown was announced. It was a huge challenge as it called for seamless integration of numerous platforms including mobile platform, in-store POS, rider platform, etc. While technology played a major role with the entire real time integration, I believe that it’s utterly important to have some form of human intervention so that the everything can be stitched together to present a unified experience to the consumer,” said Sandeep Jabbal.

Key Enablers for Successful Transformation

One of the key enablers to define customer journey effectively is to unify information and data across all touch points. But breaking data silos is an uphill task for most organisations according to Pankaj Singh. He said retail organisations are still struggling to unify data gather from online and offline sources. “There is a big gap between the data of online and offline consumers – probably because they are generally stored at two different places. This stops us from getting a single view of the consumer. It is almost impossible to implement an Omnichannel strategy until and unless you have an enterprise view of the consumer. The customer have to be uniquely identified irrespective of the touch point that they choose to interact with the brand,” he adds.

In the new normal, safety has taken precedence as the prime consumer concern while shopping – whether online or physical. Most brands have aligned their strategies around this to be able to attract more consumers. IKEA, for example, has introduced ‘Click-and-Collect’ services in its Hyderabad store through which consumers can order products online and collect them from the click and collect area in the store carpark.

“Basically, the aim was to link the online and the physical world together and creating value and convenience for consumers. We believe that going ahead, a Phygital ecosystem will be an inherent part of retail. Moreover, to ensure consumer experience, we need to actively listen to consumers so as to get a hang of what the market needs and be able to translate it into a potential opportunity. Also, data is the new fuel, and it is indispensable for any organisation to offer a seamless experience to the consumer. But at the same time, we also have be very serious about the security of the data that our consumers have entrusted us with,” said Thomas Reju.

Acceleration of Technology & Digital Transformation

COVID-19 is spurring digital adoption like never before. The pandemic has compelled organisations to embrace technologies and systems that have accelerated the pace of digital transformation worldwide. The entire digital adoption cycle has been shortened by 2-3 years because of the pandemic. Organisations that were primarily dependant on physical sales have been challenged and digitally native organisations are rapidly grabbing the market share.

“The pandemic have morphed organisations’ long term technology aspirations into short term plans. It is highly apparent by now that survival will be at stake if organisations fail to integrate emerging technologies into their business. Technologies like AR 7 VR are readily available today and can go miles in offering a superior experience to the customer. But at the same time, we also need to consider – what is customers’ expectation – because whatever technology we adopt should be for benefiting our consumers’ expectations,” said Reju.

According to Pankaj Singh, technology could be an enabler, but it shouldn’t be an end itself. “When we build digital transformation using technology as the starting point we end up making sub-optimal choices. Before jumping on to the technology solutions we need to ensure what we are going to stop. Sometimes, our problems could very well be solved by bite size technology solutions but as larger organisations we tend to lean towards elaborate technology. I know a lot of technology solutions that are simple and modular but have the potential to bolster customer experience efficiently,” he added.

To sum it, technology has become a critical aspect of retailing today, but brands and retailers need to have a clear technology adoption plan.

Key Workforce Transformation Initiatives

In pressing times as these, organisations and employees face large periods of uncertainty driven by fast moving changes in customer behavior. Along with technology adoption, the importance of developing a sound workforce transformation strategy has accelerated now than ever and has become a vital part of organisations in a bid to enhance customer experience. Businesses now have to ensure that their employees are trained, skilled and transformed so that their customer experience journey becomes more meaningful.

But getting the workforce to voluntarily adopt technology can be a challenging task. The trick here is to utilise technology in such a way that it succeeds in arming the in-store staff so that they can serve the customer better. “You don’t have to force anyone to adopt it. Once the staff realises that it makes their life and work easier and helps them to sell more, they will readily embrace it themselves,” explained Singh.

IKEA has been focusing in creating a customer centric digital mindset across its workforce. “The building block within the workforce has to be data driven, and help retailers develop an innovative, collaborative and agile mindset to serve the customer better,” said Reju.

Titan has been a customer centric company for decades now and hence the culture of training the workforce to serve consumers better is well imbibed in the organisation’s DNA. “We have always strived to keep the definition of a store experience uniform at a high level and hence we have invested elaborately on training the staff. So getting my colleagues to appreciate the importance of digital has not been difficult,” stated Venkateswaran.

Titan has also been running a Kaizen program for years and encourages all its employees to participate in it. “Everyone is an innovator in our organisation is spirit. And we, ensure that innovations are recognised and rewarded so as to encourage the entire workforce to imbibe it as a culture. Tata Group has had the InnoVista programme, a unique ‘One Tata’ platform for recognizing and celebrating innovations of the companies at the group level, for many years now. Once the intent and the culture is there, everything else falls in place automatically,” he concluded.

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