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Big data on its own will not add to much

Retailers need to interlink data with the right set of tools to make it count

Gulf News

In today’s world where various factors affect customer experience, listening and adapting to customer needs is a business imperative. In fact, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, data-driven organisations are 50 per cent more likely to deliver stronger sales than those that do not.

However, translating vast volumes of data into relevant, actionable information can be challenging. I believe that an effective strategy is achieved through four key pillars: omni-channel data collection, data processing, hyper personalisation and predictive analytics. In implementing these pillars, organisations must do so within a secure framework that protects customers and their privacy.

Establishing data collection touchpoints across each stage of the customer journey is critical to building a successful listening framework. This includes a mix of traditional such as point-of-sale and loyalty programmes as well as innovative means — online and offline.

Brick-and-mortar businesses, for example, can acquire a great deal of information about customers who connect to their Wi-Fi networks and apps, such as their preferences, behaviours and frustrations.

As boundaries between online and offline customer journeys continue to blur, omni-channel touchpoints provide endless opportunities to understand customers, thus helping drive commercial success. For an organisation to have an effective listening framework, it must have the right talent, listening tools and integrated marketing strategy in place.

Omnichannel customer understanding requires collecting terabytes of information everyday. Traditional IT frameworks cannot cope with such amounts of data. That is why, powerful processing technologies are prerequisite to an effective analytics infrastructure.

Using a combination of clustering techniques, association rules and machine learning, these technologies process large volumes of data from various sources in real-time. Apache Kafka, HBase and Spark — a recent cluster-computing framework capable of processing large data sets rapidly — are examples of technologies that are growing in popularity.

One of the most common errors companies make is to design customer experiences that look great on paper, but do not reflect customer needs. Data-driven insights eliminate ambiguity, enabling customer segmentation based on personas, with the ultimate goal of delivering highly personalised experiences.

At the rudimentary level, organisations must use analytics to address two broad areas: product and service essentials and motivators. Essential services are vital to a seamless customer experience and can be frustrating to customers if not designed properly — these are potential pain points.

Complex, difficult-to-use web forms are a good example of this. A lack of ample parking space at a retail store location is another. At the other end of the spectrum, motivators are services that add value, differentiate the experience and leave a lasting impact on customers.

A truly personalised, superior customer experience is one that is able to remedy pain points and innovate products and services using analytics.

In the Middle East, data analytics is a nascent area. But as companies recognise the imperative to invest in this realm, I expect significant adoption of advanced analytics processing tools in the future, in particular for predictive analytics. As the name suggests, predictive analytics processes raw data using complex techniques, statistical algorithms and machine learning to predict customer behaviour.

The data tells us, for example, that there is a 70 per cent probability of a customer buying a product or service when they visit a shop — either during that visit or in the future — and that they are likely to visit similar stores. Based on that data, shopping malls’ layout and store mix can be optimised to create better in-mall experiences for customers.

Essentially, predictive analytics enables organisations to identify what customers want before they know they want it.

Majid Al Futtaim recently launched a School of Analytics and Technology designed to help the company enhance its advanced analytical capabilities and, in doing so, revolutionise the experiences it offers to customers. The school will deliver several education programmes to employees focused on enhancing their understanding of how analytics can be used to improve the delivery of unique and engaging experiences.

As business intelligence technology continues to advance, deciphering the vast amounts of data collected over time can be daunting. But equipped with an effective omni-channel data collection and processing framework and the capability to predict consumer needs, organisations can make significant strides in elevating their customer experience and staying ahead of the competition.

— The writer is Chief Marketing and Brand Officer, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding.

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