The evolution of digital innovation and customer experience

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Savvy start-ups and new market entrants are shaking up their industries. By focusing on digital-first approaches, they are creating a competitive edge and reeling in new customers with the smooth user experience expected from brands today. However, digital innovation does not end there. More businesses are recognising the benefits of launching new initiatives that tap into innovative technologies to deliver the fastest and most friction-free customer experience possible.

Even centuries-old institutions are reaping the rewards of tackling digital innovation to create a smooth user experience. The Church of England has been rolling out contactless collection plates across the UK since last September – with great results. Churches at the front of the queue to try this technology are now bringing in 97 per cent more donations with the contactless technology in place. In fact, SumUp, the fintech company behind the card readers, confirmed that the churches using contactless technology saw their donations double within four months of bringing in the digital collection plate. 

The success of this initiative demonstrates the importance of assessing consumer expectations and adapting the customer experience accordingly. SumUp found that for every 500 church visitors, 35 per cent are looking to use contactless payments. By factoring new technology into their services, churches have been able to offer congregations easier, simpler ways to donate – revolutionising their experience.

But organisations adapting to meet today’s customer expectations will need to carefully consider their approach if they are to create an improved, sustainable, differentiated customer experience through digital innovation.

Tap into customer preferences

2018 was the year of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Businesses across every industry began utilising this technology further to deliver a more seamless, cross-channel customer experience. While some brands implemented AI to interact directly with consumers – such as SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper – many more are using AI to make sense of their data. The real power of AI and machine learning is its ability to analyse both structured and unstructured information, helping organisations to understand behaviours and preferences better so that more personalised experiences can be created for customers. 

The volume of information collected by the enterprise continues to grow. By deploying technology to navigate and manage these huge quantities of data successfully, organisations can speed processes, improve frontline services and reduce human error. AI and cognitive technologies enable companies to get faster access to sophisticated insights, and consequently empower the companies to make better decisions for customers. As just one example, more shops are now analysing data from checkout lines, shelf refills and customer activity to tailor product portfolios and store layouts to maximise customer satisfaction and sales opportunities. More brands can benefit from tapping into this technology to understand their data and therefore, their customers.

Look to the future

Customers are growing accustomed to quick, seamless interactions with brands. Whether using biometrics to unlock a mobile application quickly or asking Alexa to remember a shopping list, there is increasing acceptance of futuristic or ‘cool’ customer experiences. Businesses are implementing digital-first approaches to make these experiences possible. From the futuristic checkout-free concept shops developed by Amazon and Walmart to Marks & Spencer’s mobile shopping service, organisations are using AI and mobile technology to improve customer experiences – speeding up shopping trips, cutting down on queues and making the customer journey as smooth as possible.

Some organisations are going beyond mobile phones to consider the benefits of wearables. For instance, the Moscow Metro’s decision to offer dedicated rings and bracelets with embedded RFID has ensured travellers can ‘pay and pass’ quickly and easily, with no need to take out a wallet or phone. It’s an innovative approach but may not appeal to all travellers.

Add value

When considering innovative technologies, which could be employed to transform the customer experience, businesses need to consider if these technologies will provide an enhanced, sustainable and differentiated customer experience – or if the technologies are just a gimmick. Using wearables for non-contact payment is a cool concept, but the wearables don’t inherently add value. For instance, if the RFID rings and bracelets deployed by the Moscow Metro were rolled out across other cities, would this help travellers and time-poor commuters reach their destinations as quickly and easily as possible? Additionally, is the solution scalable? With only so many fingers and wrists per person, how can the use of dedicated rings, bracelets and other wearable payment devices – covering everything from travel to a supermarket loyalty card and gym membership – scale up for broader use?  

Contactless payments can ease friction on the customer journey, but other aspects of infrastructure could also be augmented to add more value for commuters. By aggregating data from everyone using the transport network at a given time, a predictive analytics-powered system could outline the fastest and most efficient route at that moment to speed up users’ journeys. In this way, when delays are expected, the aggregate data would feed into the system to help mitigate resulting travel issues. City planners could then make adjustments based on real-time data and insights, any service work required for the trains could be done more efficiently, and commuters would have a better customer experience on the transport system. 

The Church of England’s contactless collection initiative demonstrates the benefits of evaluating customer needs first and then implementing systems to meet these needs.  A digital-first approach will be key to delivering the fastest and most friction-free customer experience possible. Data generated from digital approaches can help pinpoint what customers want so changes can be made to add real value to the customer journey. As more brands utilise the technology available today to understand their data and customers better, those taking a holistic approach to meet customer needs will quickly differentiate themselves from organisations focused on innovation for innovation’s sake.

Sean Durkin, Head of Enterprise for UK & Ireland at OpenText