How tommorrow’s tech trends could change consumer behaviour. Take a look at the CMO’s handbook for 2017.

Jan CDO digital edition

Hisense’s CMO on how CES affects your marketing strategy

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 01/11/2017
At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday, Jan. 4th 2017 in Las Vegas, Hisense unveiled its newly redesigned Smart TV platform. (Jeff Bottari/AP Images for Hisense)

Chances are you haven’t heard of Hisense Co., but are familiar with at least one of its products.

The Qingdao, China-based electronics manufacturer, originally founded in 1969, has owned the North and South American rights to the Sharp brand since 2015, but more importantly serves as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of appliances, televisions, and technology including a 98-inch “ULED” smart TV; mobile nursing and computer assisted surgical systems; a short-range projector-based television; traffic control systems; optical switching devices that help power the Internet; and even a cloud-based smart dehumifier and smart air conditioner that use sensors to read the surrounding temperature and respond accordingly.

Those products are sold in 130 countries, and Hisense’s worldwide network of offices and manufacturing facilities includes R&D centres in Toronto; Atlanta, Ga.; and San Jose, Calif.

Hisense CMO Mark Viken says that tailoring his company’s story to both of its primary audiences was key to its CES marketing strategy.

“We say on our website that we’re the biggest technology company you’ve never heard of,” Mark Viken, the company’s vice-president of marketing, says with a chuckle. “But we’re working hard to change that.”

That type of candour was key to Hisense’s marketing strategy at last week’s CES in Las Vegas, where the company packed a standing-room-only crowd into its 10,000-square-foot booth for a Jan. 4 press conference showcasing its latest products and technology, including the aforementioned 98-inch ULED (Ultra LED) television, which Hisense claims is up to three times brighter than a comparable OLED model, and the short-range projector-based 4K Laser Cast TV.

Each product was backed by what Viken referred to as its “story” – both of its own development and of the company behind its creation. Hisense’s ULED technology, for example, is trademarked and supported by 20 patents, while its medical solutions leverage the company’s 47 years of experience in display equipment research and development and were showcased for the first time at CES.

“That’s how we separate ourselves,” Viken says. “By letting people know how we’re ahead, where our technologies are headed, and by launching these products that we’re displaying.”

A fixed approach

Like the products and technology being showcased, Hisense’s CES marketing plans were themselves devised many months in advance, Viken explains, anticipating both the competition on display and audience demand. Nothing changed on the show floor.

“You can’t just walk on the floor and change your strategy,” he says, noting that in his opinion the show is no different from any other consumer-facing platform – except in its unparalleled ability to reach Hisense’s two most important audiences: Consumers and retail partners.

“These types of technology investments are long-term commitments,” Viken says. “And the best way to reach our consumers is through the tens of thousands of international and local press that attend CES.”

“Laying out the technologies that Hisense is getting behind for display products, and our intelligent products for the future, for the press, who then write the stories that get out to hundreds of millions of consumers, was our number-one priority,” he continues.

Naturally enough, the company’s number two priority was bringing clients and retail partners into its booth and telling them Hisense’s story as well, whether that meant discussing the company’s products, demonstrating them live, or discussing how they could collaborate on bringing the products to life for consumers over the next year – a goal that Viken realizes Hisense’s many competitors were pursuing at CES too.

“There’s a lot of buzz about television technology,” he admits. “Some companies are talking about OLED, others are talking about the improvements happening in 4K, with LCD technology and LED-based technologies… so we told our story of where we think these technologies are headed.”

That strategy, which Viken believes paid off on the CES show floor, is the exact same one the company plans to pursue throughout the year.

“There are a lot of big competitors, including some major corporations, but we’re breaking through the noise with our story,” he says. “I think we’re in the hundreds of millions of impressions so far, and we’ve backed that up with a social campaign – for example, a Facebook page where people could watch our press conference – so it keeps building. We’re pushing our message out, and it’s working.”

“We’ll keep using the same approach with the stories we’re telling here, and the products we’re showing, to bring our technology to life,” he continues. “Our marketing strategy was never a short-term thing. It was about laying out a long-term strategy that brings our newest products and technology to life.”


Preparation will be key to digital transformation in 2017, Constellation Research says

Mandy Kovacs Mandy Kovacs Published: 01/03/2017

Preparing for the technological changes ahead will be the biggest hurdle for leaders and businesses in 2017, according to Constellation Research.

Digital transformation became a hot topic in 2016, and companies soon learned that investing in such projects was more than a just one-time initiatives, according to the organization’s new report. With this in mind, Constellation expects digital transformation to remain a priority for business leaders throughout 2017, and budgets to increase as a result.

“We’re going to see greater budgets and more understanding by boards and CxO’s that [digital transformation] is more than a one time project. This is a longer-term commitment,” R. “Ray” Wang, founder, chair, and principal analyst at Constellation Research and the report’s author, told ITBusiness.ca.

The report found that 61 per cent of Global 2000 companies invested in digital transformation in 2016, and that 73 per cent of CxO’s expect to increase their transformation budgets in 2017.

It also discovered that 87 per cent of projects had a data component, something it notes is “fundamentally important” to any business looking to be prosperous in the new year.

“Conversations with digital leaders reveal that teams need higher data proficiency in order to succeed,” the report explained. “From identifying correlation to testing for causation, leaders must democratize skill sets for data proficiency.”

In pursuing digital transformation, businesses have become aware that combining technology and data – for example, with Internet of Things (IoT) devices or artificial intelligence (AI) – can accelerate the process, with Wang’s report suggesting that companies attempt to “achieve a level of automation and ultimately some level of machine learning and AI.”

“Organizations must build a data foundation that enables neural networks to self-learn and provide predictive and preventative capabilities that eventually will lead to automatic situational awareness,” he added.

Wang identified AI as the biggest disruptor in 2017, pointing to a blog post he published in November on the topic.

“Organizations can expect AI-driven smart services to impact future of workflows, IoT services, customer experience journeys, and blockchain-distributed ledgers,” he wrote on Nov. 28. But once companies master the technology, AI can be used to “orchestrate, automate, and deliver mass personalization at scale”, he added.

Upcoming challenges and how to avoid them

However, Wang pointed to internal governance and how organizations prepare themselves for these changes as the biggest challenges leaders face as they begin 2017. To successfully shift towards greater digitization, he and Constellation Research offered five recommendations for businesses:

  • Answering the hard questions – organizations need to identify a mission and goal they want to achieve, and should pinpoint what experiences they want to deliver to consumers.
  • Left vs. right brain – organizations need innovation from multiple disciplines and should find a balance by employing both scientists and engineers along with artists and designers.
  • Starting from the bottom – a brand needs to develop a core business model first before figuring out the people, technology and process to support it.
  • Follow your brain, not your gut – data is the foundation of successful digital businesses and using that information flow to make informed decisions is key.
  • Partner up – companies can’t do everything alone, and finding partners to co-innovate and co-create everything from content and products to services and experiences will be necessary in our ever-evolving digital world.

Expect more technological integration and consumer power in 2017, Fjord predicts

Mandy Kovacs Mandy Kovacs Published: 12/22/2016

Next year will see widespread application of living services and a shift towards more evolved, human-centric businesses, according to a new report by Accenture subsidiary Fjord.

According to the consulting firm’s design and innovation division, next year will further highlight the shift now taking place from a mobile-centric technological world to one based in real-life environments.

“We’re in this shift from mobile devices being the centre of our lives to what we call ‘living services’ taking over, which is essentially connected technologies and devices that have evolved and are shaped to work with customers and individuals to meet their needs,” Scott Weisbrod, group design director and Toronto Fjord studio lead, told ITBusiness.ca.

Technology such as self-driving and connected cars, connected homes and mixed reality (think Pokémon Go, which combines virtual reality with the real world, or Snapchat glasses) are three innovations that Weisbrod is particularly excited about going into 2017, and says that they will see continued application in everyday life, both for consumers and businesses. But as these technologies become more prevalent, businesses will need to change how they operate and market to consumers.

Connected cars and homes

Fjord predicts that autonomous cars will shake up just about everything they touch, from urban planning, to healthcare providers, to tax programs, and more. There will be a decreasing need for public parking spaces, as well as driving insurance as accident risks will be reduced. More self-driving cars also means fewer instances of speeding and fines for various distracted driving actions, and local governments will need to plan accordingly.

Consumers will also see the rise of in-car mobile internet, which could create new digital revenue opportunities, since “car time” will no longer be synonymous with “pointless downtime,” Fjord says.

Along with the connected car, 2017 will see the concept of connected homes mature and become more mainstream, Fjord says, estimating that the number connected homes will grow by 30 per cent next year in the US alone. Twenty-two per cent of households have at least one connected device already, and this is only the beginning, the report adds. Smart home services such as Amazon Echo will continue to grow in popularity too, as the desire for a “helping home” grows.

However, Fjord also warns that the rise of connected homes will also open up new opportunities for security threats, as seen in October’s DDoS attack, the largest in history and conducted through connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Weisbrod expects the connected home and connected car to be the biggest disruptors of 2017 for businesses. With technology integrating more seamlessly into everyday life, brands will need to be in more places at once to connect with consumers.

“Brands need to understand that it’s not a one size fits all situation; they will need to deconstruct their apps and/or websites, repackage the algorithms and design their services for what we call ‘invisible interfaces’ that work through voice interactions, whether it’s in a car or home,” he explains to ITBusiness.ca. “This has huge implications for companies and they need to be prepared to respond to this evolution.”

Evolving businesses and new marketing techniques

Businesses themselves will need to become more agile to keep up with innovation and technology as well. Fjord says that as technology becomes more integrated into every position at every company, many digital-focused positions will become obsolete. And fitting in with the overarching theme of 2017 bringing a more human-centric shift, Weisbrod suggests that businesses invest in emotional intelligence training for their employees, such as the program FedEx implemented this year, in order to succeed at putting people first.

“Companies should be making human centricity a mandate within their organization, which will allow them to organize more effectively and make better investments, whether it’s through qualitative research or better data aggregation,” he tells ITBusiness.ca. When asked if this would bend too much to the will of the customer, Weisbrod says “it’s ultimately a balance” between consumer wants and what businesses can actually manage.

Expanding on this, Fjord predicts that marketing and branding will need to become more casual and humanized in order to fully reach consumers. Weisbrod points to the strength of social media as the reason behind this, which has allowed everyone to become their own storytellers. It has also redefined expectations of what consumers want to see in terms of content.

“We’re seeing tension between delivering classic brand storytelling, which is highly refined and packaged in the way that it’s delivered to customers, versus the very human raw authentic stories that we as individuals are sharing on social media,” Weisbrod explains. “Consumers want to see brands loosen up a little bit and think more authentically and raw in the ways that they’re telling stories that have little to do with the brand itself.”

He says the success of platforms like Snapchat, and now Instagram stories, which are often used to show ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities, have proved that consumers respond well to this more authentic way of getting a message across and want a more meaningful connection with the brands they love.

‘Social media isn’t going to go away and brands should jump on board quickly in order to test and refine what works and what doesn’t for their customers. Then they can establish guiding principles to apply to all their storytelling and ‘storydoing’, as we’re calling it, going forward,” he advises.

Mixed reality and the rise of robots

The report also mentions the emergence of mixed reality, which combines virtual reality with augmented reality. Alibaba in China, for example, launched a virtual shopping experience that allows customers to explore and buy products in New York department store Macy’s, thousands of miles away. As businesses learn how to harness these technologies, countless new integrated experiences that bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds will enter the market, Fjord predicts.

And in what we hope is not another sci-fi movie that ends with self-aware robots wiping out humanity, the Fjord report expects artificial intelligence to make leaps and bounds in 2017. Consumers will see the arrival of AI with the ability to understand and respond to human emotions, and businesses can expect data-crunching AI machine learning software to begin replacing the role of financial analysts on Wall Street and beyond.

“The overarching lens we’re looking through is the rise and dominance of ‘living services’ technology, and the implications that come from that,” Weisbrod concludes. “Organizations will need to rearrange and reevaluate how they operate, governments will need to take a closer look at how they plan cities, and consumers will need to be wary that a more connected life means more security risks to be managed.”


Salesforce’s Vala Afshar predicts AI will drive marketing in 2017 – with Canada playing a lead role

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 12/21/2016

Vala Afshar has only formally been associated with Salesforce.com since September 2015, but as a customer of the popular CRM provider since 2003, he’s proven himself to be the perfect “digital evangelist” for the company’s outreach efforts, helping others join what he calls the “cloud revolution” as enthusiastically as he did more than a decade ago.

Salesforce digital evangelist Vala Afshar
Salesforce digital evangelist Vala Afshar believes AI will drive marketing in 2017 – and that Canada could play a lead role.

“You can imagine the spirited conversations we had about moving our most sensitive data into this thing called the ‘cloud’ 13 years ago,” he says. “Then we saw the dramatic, positive impact that it had on our business.”

Of course, the speed of cloud’s impact – he notes that by 2020, Forrester predicts the public cloud market alone will be a $236 billion industry – is business as usual in the tech industry, where relatively young game changers are the norm: Think Google’s founding in 1996, Facebook starting in 2004, Twitter in 2006, the first iPhone’s release in 2007 – and, of course, Salesforce itself, which first hit the scene with its brand of social-driven marketing in 1999 and didn’t really begin hitting its stride until 2006.

“The social revolution only started in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century,” Afshar says – and in his opinion, the latter part of the second decade has the potential to be just as revolutionary.

“When Salesforce and I look at this decade, there are three technologies that have gained significant traction: artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, and data sciences,” he says.

Why AI will become the backbone of marketing

Afshar believes, having worked “fairly intimately” with business executives across multiple industries and with companies of all sizes, that there is an “unquenchable thirst” for insights which can help companies better understand consumers and B2B business buyers alike.

“Artificial intelligence will be the defining technology of the 21st century,” Afshar proclaims, admitting that “the term was coined in 1955, so we’ve been talking about AI and AI sciences for decades,” but adding that “we’re closer to it today than ever before.”

“It’s become an indispensable technology for consumers,” he says. “If you are shopping on Amazon, if you are watching Netflix, if you’re using Apple’s Siri – you’re using AI.”

More importantly, he says, today’s consumers have come to expect features that incorporate the machine learning, image recognition, smart data analysis, and natural language processing capabilities offered by today’s AI.

“We recently surveyed the expectations and buying behaviour of 7000 global consumers and B2B buyers, and personalization, intelligence, and speed are the new currencies in the digital economy,” he says. “Technology has made it easy for customers to switch brands, and they will take advantage.”

Meanwhile, he notes, nine out of 10 B2B buyers expect the businesses they work with to anticipate their needs.

Fortunately, Afshar says with palpable glee, many businesses are recognizing changing consumer expectations and adapting to them – a far cry from their standard behaviour even two years ago.

“I’m finding as I speak to chief marketing officers, chief revenue officers, CIOs – and, more and more, to my delight, CEOs – is that digital transformation, analytics, and insights are now a boardroom issue, instead of just a technical issue,” he says. “And so from efficiency to revenue growth to customer/employee experience, they’re actively participating in discovery meetings; they’re at the front of the sales cycle; and they’re driving the conversation.”

What Canada brings to the table

Afshar spoke to ITBusiness.ca during a mid-November visit to Canada, which he believes stands to gain a great deal from the coming AI-driven revolution in digital marketing.

“Here’s my advice to Canada and Canadian businesses in general: You need to promote yourself more,” he says. “There’s a rich heritage of innovation in this country. Seven out of 10 Canadians have smartphones, so you’re among the top five countries in the world in terms of smart device connectivity. Ninety per cent of Canada’s population are Internet users… Canada is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to Internet connectivity and mobility, and when it comes to AI, most in the data sciences space view Toronto as a pioneer.”

From the industry-leading AI projects that have emerged from the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Labs to Facebook, Google, and Twitter incorporating some of the most bleeding-edge technology developed by students, professors, and thought leaders in Toronto, the Great White North is shaping Silicon Valley’s approach to artificial intelligence, Afshar says, with consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicting that more than $10 trillion USD will be invested into AI-driven technologies such as IoT and knowledge work automation by 2025.

Salesforce alone has nearly 200 data scientists working across eight clouds, he notes: sales, marketing, services, community, analytics, IoT, and ecommerce.

“Think about cloud in early 2000, and how we couldn’t imagine that in 15 years it would be a multi-billion dollar business,” he says. “It’s the same with AI.”

“Whatever the industry, your company needs have to have that deep insight of your customer shared across every line of business,” Afshar says. “You cannot invest in silos and optimize your transformation initiatives.”

He cites a study in which consulting firm Deloitte interviewed more than 300 Canadian CMOs, and found that 71 per cent considered applying analytics their leading challenge.

“There is an awareness that there’s a need for a data-driven, simply defined way to apply information and technology to bolster the stakeholder experience,” Afshar says. “Companies that are data-driven, using information-lead technologies like CRM that give them a holistic view of their customer base, have the best chance to not only avoid disruption, but gain market share.”

And though Canadian businesses are poised to reap part of that market share, he says, research shows there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

For example, Vashar cites another Deloitte study of Canadian businesses that found only 13 per cent were ready for emerging technology disruption.

App, app and away

It’s not just businesses that Afshar sees being affected by AI – he believes AI-driven apps will play a leading role into the next year and beyond as well.

“Studies show that 90 per cent of the time when you’re behind a smart device, whether it’s a phone or a tablet, you’re using an app,” he says. “And whether it’s voice-enabled apps, or the integration of apps and chatbots, the next generation of apps will be powered by AI.”

In the case of Salesforce, the company plans to make its AI capabilities available to customers and partners for integration into their own custom apps, he says.

“We are in the age of the customer, and Canadian businesses that embrace artificial intelligence will have a significant – I don’t know if you can bold and underline ‘significant’ in the story – advantage over their rivals in delivering the next generation of customer experience,” Afshar says.

“AI is just no longer a projection of what the future will look like,” he says. “It’s here now, and it needs to be integrated into every facet of your business.”

Juniper predicts more chatbots and fintech in 2017

Gary Hilson Gary Hilson Published: 01/04/2017

Ashley Madison users have already unwittingly encountered a great deal of bots, but in 2017 they are going to become more prevalent – and more transparent to the user, according to U.K.-based Juniper Research.

In its top 10 predictions for the year, the organization forecasts that chatbots – virtual agents which operate via social networks and messaging platforms – will grow in presence and popularity, streamlining e-commerce activities such as booking flights and hotels, or to order items directly by speaking with a bot through an app.

More Chat

The research firm also expects there will be more opportunities for businesses to personalize these services, using social media analytics to provide consumers with specially tailored incentives. While acknowledging that many messaging bots have not seen a significant uptake in Western markets yet, due to their basic features and the technology not being fully-developed, Juniper noted that in Asian markets including China platforms such as WeChat have already established chatbots that aid in daily tasks. Meanwhile, North American applications such as Facebook Messenger are finally beginning to drive chatbot integration using ads.

Bots won’t be the only helpful technology to get more widespread use this year: With Google Assistant coming to multiple devices and Alexa, Cortana and Siri already available on several platforms, Juniper said 2017 will be the year when digital assistants become sufficiently mainstream for the device ecosystem to become a key battleground. While many homes will initially be served by multiple voice assistants, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are all focusing on bringing consumers into their own services’ ecosystem. This means that single-branded homes and offices will start to become the norm, with companies endeavouring to win customers over by introducing exclusive features or brand discounts, such as inclusive subscriptions to content channels for a given period.

Money Moves

Established financial companies will continue to see disruption driven by the emergence of so-called tech-challenger banks and technology-first players, according to Juniper, and the failure of many traditional banks to innovate and keep pace with pure-play providers and technology banks will lead to some high-profile acquisitions and consolidation within the sector, alongside continued direct investments.

Meanwhile technology giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are competing to invest in emerging fintech markets such as payments, including contactless and mobile. Juniper expects that alongside banks, these tech giants could, and will, buy out startups to expand across other payment verticals, such as money transfer and remittances, to become more fintech-relevant.

Like the banking sector, traditional insurance businesses are also going to be disrupted, said Juniper, as technology is enabling insurance to become much more personalised. “Insurtech” has seen new entrants deliver a more nuanced approach to insurance than traditional providers, often having products that enable customers to tailor the cover to their specific requirements. The research firm anticipates the emergence of Person-to-Person insurance, an approach which may appeal to millennials in particular.

Juniper also believes that if Google, Facebook and Amazon enter the insurance market, they would likely be seen as a far better value proposition than incumbent competitors thanks to their huge customer bases. While many of the world’s largest insurers, including Aviva, Allianz, AIG and MetLife have created venture capital funds to invest in promising technologies and propositions, Juniper expects more companies instead to partner with the giants’ insurtech firms.

Of course, you can’t really talk about what lies ahead for fintech without mentioning the blockchain. In fact, as Juniper noted, most blockchain deployments thus far have been limited to the financial sector, with exchanges and banks trialling the technology as a means of increasing the speed, transparency and security in areas such as transaction settlement. However, in 2017 the research firm predicts that a raft of proof of concepts will be developed, integrating the technology into a much wider array of applications and bringing logistics and identity management to the fore.

Game On

Juniper Research’s top 10 predictions for the year is also forecasting the rise of so-called eSports – the competitive playing of video games at the professional level – predicting that more than 190 million unique viewers will be watching through mobile and online channels in 2017, and that game consoles such as Microsoft’s upcoming “Project Scorpio” will help developers and their sponsors alike keep up.

But where does this gaming chatter leave the much-talked-about virtual reality? Juniper said that while the latest PC and console-powered VR headsets were released and mobile VR was expanded in 2016, 2017 will be the year when most content creators come to the VR platform. In fact, Juniper predicts that console and PC-based VR companies will spend the next year focusing on creating experiences across all platforms, while media and tourism companies will aim to build interactive experiences for smartphone VR to add extra dimensions to a tourists’ visits.

Customers sharing data want to know what’s in it for them

Gary Hilson Gary Hilson Published: 12/14/2016

It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know how your data is being used?

According to research recently released by marketing analytics firm Aimia, the average consumer now realizes their data is valuable to marketers – 42 per now see their data as being highly valuable – but they still don’t understand how it’s being used. Nor do they know how their data is being collected, what is being collected, or how they can maintain control over their personal information.

This insight arrives courtesy of Aimia’s annual Loyalty Lens report, which involved surveying more than 15,000 customers in nine countries in order to predict customer loyalty standards for the year ahead.

Unsurprisingly, the research shows that customer expectations and behaviours are evolving: As companies increase their use of customer data, those customers in turn are becoming more aware of what they share, and many now want to explicitly understand the value they get in return for sharing.

Traditionally, the assumption has been that customers were more than happy to share their data through an “implied consent” model. However, the Aimia report found, there is now an emphasis on “informed consent.” As they knowingly sharing data, customer expectations are increasing, and getting discounts and reward points are no longer sufficient. The price companies now pay for customer data is the expectation of consistent surprise and delight.

In light of this evolution, the Aimia report said that companies must move away from simply collecting data; instead, they must use it to provide more value for customers, along with a better experience. Otherwise they risk both their reputations and data quality, since consumers are better able to withdraw previously given consent to use their information and voice their dissatisfaction through social media, researchers said.

Ultimately, the researchers came away with five insights into customer loyalty that marketers should keep in mind in this data-driven era:

  • The value of data is rising: Aimia found that the number of customers globally who view their data as highly valuable has increased by a third since 2014, while more than six in ten customers expect better experiences with companies whom they know hold their data.
  • Different data has different value: Internet savvy consumers believe that online behaviours and contact details are worth more to companies than lifestyle and demographic data.
  • TMI: More than seven in 10 customers worldwide don’t know who knows what about them, but are still sharing an increasing amount of data with companies every year.
  • Young and carefree: Younger customers place a lower value on their personal data than their older counterparts, viewing data exchange as an integral part of doing business. But as previously mentioned, because they are more willing to share data, they also expect a better experience.
  • More digital wallets: Customers are becoming more likely to use digital wallets, and as the technology moves into the mainstream, marketers need to consider how they can use them to get closer to their customers.

As for what marketers should do with these five insights, Aimia has five recommendations:

  • Personalize your product or service’s value proposition to meet customer expectations.
  • Be transparent and responsible about how it uses data.
  • Rethink targeting using data.
  • Become a better custodian of customer data.
  • Shift focus from, “What can we do to our customers?” to “What can we do for our customers?”

Not surprisingly, customers are looking for more simplicity in their lives, so businesses must ensure they employ technology not to complicate or obstruct a customer’s journey, but rather to make it smoother, quicker and more enjoyable, while also keeping data secure, the researchers said.

Otherwise, customers are going to revoke their informed consent.

Optimizing customer service will be driven by AI and collaboration, Salesforce says

Gary Hilson Gary Hilson Published: 01/12/2017

The future of exceptional customer service will be a united front powered by artificial intelligence.

That’s the theme of Saleforce’s Second Annual State of Service Report, which surveyed more than 2,600 customer service professionals worldwide to better understand how smart technologies are affecting service protocols and how service leaders are responding to customer expectations.

For example, the report found that 64 per cent of consumers and 80 per cent of business buyers expect companies to respond in real time.

Not only does meeting that heightened customer demand require a unified approach, companies need to arm their agents with the right tools and training, in addition to leveraging artificial intelligence to deliver a smarter customer experience, Salesforce said. Customers are expecting these smarter experiences because they are “super-connected” and more informed than ever – and more empowered than ever. In fact, 70 per cent of consumers and 82 per cent of business buyers say technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere, making customer experience more than an indication of loyalty, but a means of rising above the competition, the report found. As a result, customer service has become a key business differentiator rather than merely a cost centre to be managed and controlled.

According to the Salesforce report, 81 per cent of service teams believe service has the largest impact on how customers perceive their brand, and over the past two years, 89 per cent of service teams have increased or maintained their budgets. Because customer experience has become such a key competitive differentiator, it’s more important than ever to invest in customer service.

And creating a great customer service experience requires a collaborative effort across the entire organization, the company said. Not only does this business-wide approach deliver a more consistent and efficient customer experience, the Salesforce research found it also creates opportunities for cross-selling and upselling opportunities: 78 per cent of customer service teams believe that every employee is an agent of customer service, hence the need for collaborative customer service across sales, service and marketing.

Collaboration between sales and service also needs to get better, Salesforce said: right now, 63 per cent of service teams have a formal process in place to collaborate with sales and more than 65 per cent of service teams are able to proactively provide their sales counterparts with intelligence on customer issues and needs, so there remains room for improvement.

As already mentioned, collaboration is not just about making customer service a better experience. The Saleforce report found that cross-team collaboration can boost sales, as 59 per cent of service agents find themselves empowered to create add-on renewal quotes and orders directly from their CRM.

Technology plays a part in creating the unified customer experience: service agents need access to the right tools, including a single view of the customer, as it dramatically increases their productivity. The report found that 79 per cent of service teams agree that a shared, single view of the customer empowers agents to provide consistency and continuity in every customer interaction. Having the right tools also makes agents more likely to stay with the company, as 90 percent of those among the top performing service teams intend to work for their same company a year from now.

Technology is also changing how customers interact with service agents, as phone and e-mail interactions are merely the tip of the iceberg, Salesforce said. More than half of service teams deliver customer service on at least five different channels, the report found, with mobile apps in particular seeing a spike with triple-digit growth: From 2015 to 2016, there has been a 196 per cent jump in service teams using mobile apps.

Ultimately, customer service interactions will involve more technology as service teams are doubling down on their use of artificial and predictive intelligence, which are expected to benefit both the agent and the customer. The Saleforce research found that 77 per cent of top service teams excel at leveraging AI as it enables agents to focus on the most complex customer inquiries, better understand the customer and deliver a more personalized experience.

By 2020, 51 per cent of consumers and 75 per cent of business buyers expect that companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they reach out. But in the meantime, there is plenty of room to improve intelligent service capabilities as only 37 per cent of service teams excel at gathering insights across the entire customer lifecycle and perform next-step analysis that enables sales, service and marketing teams to anticipate customer needs and prioritize tasks.

Generation Z doesn’t prefer to shop online

Alex Radu Alex Radu Published: 01/13/2017

Generation Z doesn’t prefer to just shop online, making the in-store experience still a vital part of the business.

Despite what you’d think, the first digitally native generation actually prefers to shop at bricks-and-mortar stores, says a study released by IBM and the National Retail Federation. According to the study, 98 per cent of those in Gen Z shop in-store despite growing up surrounded by technology that encourages the switch to online shopping.

In fact, Gen Z may be the most demanding yet – at least in what they expect. Fifty-two per cent agreed that they would transfer their loyalty from one brand to another if the brand’s quality is not up to par, for example.

“Generation Z expects technology to be intuitive, relevant, and engaging – their last great experience is their new expectation,” IBM general manager of global consumer industries, Steve Laughlin, said in a statement. “This presents a significant challenge for retailers and brands to create a personalized, interactive experience with the latest digital advances or risk falling behind. This kind of innovation is not linear or a one-time project – it is a new way of thinking, operating, and behaving.”

By 2020, the global Gen Z population is projected to reach 2.6 billion, and the group will have tremendous buying power – $44 billion. Three quarters of those surveyed said that they spend more than half of the money that is available to them each month.

While that number will surely go down as the generation reaches adulthood, this represents an opportunity to capitalize on for retailers who stay on top of generational trends, especially given the study’s indication that Gen Z already has a significant influence over what the family as a whole spends its money on.

Customer experience is an especially important matter to Gen Z, and those consumers are more than willing to play ball with the brands who create an interesting and innovative experience. This generation has no qualms with getting involved in brand campaigns either. According to the study, 36 per cent would help create digital content for a brand, 42 per cent would participate in an online game for a campaign, and 43 per cent would participate in a product review.

With so much buying power at hand, retailers have to look past the often talked about millennial audience and start dialing Gen Z.

For more insights from the study, check out the infographic below (click for a larger version).

Gen Z more likely than predecessors to pick up the phone

Mandy Kovacs Mandy Kovacs Published: 12/16/2016

Young people are often characterized as anti-social and too reliant on technology, but Generation Z might just prove us all wrong.

In fact, according to a new study by Seattle-based mobile advertising analytics firm Marchex, the whippersnappers of Gen Z use their smartphones to actually call people more than any other demographic, including baby boomers, Generation X-ers, and millennials.

The notion of short attention spans, however, rings true: Gen Z-ers are 60 per cent more likely than the average consumer to hang up if businesses don’t answer quickly, and 30 per cent more likely to curse at customer service reps than any other group.

Marchex, which examined anonymous data from more than 2.3 million consumer phone calls to businesses in 2016 to analyze the behavioural patterns of Gen Z’s adult consumers, found that “our youngest adults communicate more casually, make faster purchasing decisions, and demand top-tier customer service,” Marchex analytics manager Sabrina Gravlee wrote in a Dec. 15 blog post.

Further dispelling the anti-social stereotype is the fact that Gen Zers are more likely to call businesses because “they desire a real-time, authentic connection”, Gravlee writes, despite having a variety of other options to connect with businesses, including text messages, social media, and email.

It’s also interesting to note that Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with cellular technology and the Internet already fully established and popularized; as a result, they can toggle between different devices, screens and apps at breathtaking speed, Gravle explains, noting that Marchex’s data suggests that businesses need to keep up with the multitasking abilities of the world’s youngest consumers.

The company released an infographic to go with the study, which you can check out below.

staples-generations-infographic

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