Hi Somraj, tell us about yourself, your background?
I am a retail and technology enthusiast with experience in driving transformation and innovation in this area. I have played several advisory roles in the retail and distribution industry, helping retailers reimagine their CX, operations, and technology requirements. We live in an interesting and transformative time, where technology just about drives every aspect of our lives.
I started my journey with HR consulting and organization restructuring and moved into the retail business and technology advisory later. As CX became front and center to the whole retail business and key to differentiation, I took up customer experience, working with executives to understand and reimagine customer journeys.
Over the years, I have seen the industry change from a process-driven approach to a CX-driven approach. The need for convenient and seamless experiences at scale, and all this while reducing operations cost and complexity, has driven a transformation across the landscape. It has been a privilege to be part of this transformative journey helping my customers adopt, execute and accelerate their omnichannel roadmaps.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
It is interesting to see how the pandemic has accelerated omnichannel commerce and how it has driven adoption across different income levels and age groups. This has generated great new metrics and content across the board, consumer reviews being one part of it. I see three major ways in which brands can use this data for driving their customers’ experience:
- Use the data to improve your product and services – This is the most obvious use. Look at your product’s positioning and how you can improve it to align your go-to-market messaging or bundle additional services. If you can improve the product design based on feedback, that will help as well.
- Provide customers a better view of these reviews – Providing customers a quick and honest way to look at the data will promote loyalty and benefit the brand in the long run. For example, provide an anchor review, personalize “What you will like (or not like)” information, provide alternatives based on reviews, etc.
- Use the data to uncover new up-sell or cross-sell opportunities – Analyze reviews to find if you can bundle other products or services with it as well. In addition, see if you can provide more genuine recommendations about associated products. Not only will this increase basket size, but it will also improve the brand image.
Somraj’s tips for personalization
What tips do you have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?
Understand your customer and empathize with them if you want to improve your personalization strategy. While technology is an important part of the journey, it often treats people as a uniform entity. It is necessary to go into creating some micro-experiences (point in time experiences) to understand their needs. Personalization strategies are getting into more specific targeting based on emotional state, time of day or year, and environmental factors like a place/ company. In a way, companies do a much better job of personalization when they are small and have limited technology. As they become larger, they look more at segments and micro-segments and start calling it personalization.
It is also important to have a consistent and up-to-date marketing strategy that defines clear outcomes. Personalization strategy should be aligned to the overall marketing strategy and KPIs to have a multiplier effect.
Last but not the least, invest in the right set of technology platforms and solutions. Take a long-term view of your CX strategy as you prioritize your investments.
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
Customers have been asking for convenience, value, and novelty in the way brands interact with them. A lot of us are working from home right now, with little time on our hands, and brands are trying to be more aggressive in their outreach. In a way, customers are spoilt for choice and do not respond to outreach unless it is relevant and useful in their context.
The key to delivering these promises is personalization and customer-centricity in every aspect of the engagement, so they are going to become more relevant and even more front and center than they are there today. Customers are looking to share more information in return for personalized journeys and offers, and retailers/ brands have been happy to oblige. In a sense, it is kind of a self-feeding mechanism; customers share more data in return for personalization which helps deliver even more personalized experiences. Post pandemic, the competition will increase significantly for acquiring and retaining customers, and these will be key levers to winning in the market.
The only caution here is that customers are not willing to pay for personalized experiences, so brands need to be cautious in making promises that will result in operational complexity and increase cost in the supply chain.
Social media pages have become crucial for companies in most industries, especially in eCommerce. What’s the most common mistake you see in a company’s social media strategy?
There are two mistakes that I see commonly, almost every day. Both can be very discouraging and have the potential to drive away customers.
- One is not engaging with your customers when they speak to you. If you are on a social media platform, you have a duty to respond to your customer’s genuine complaints and grievances and stand up strongly for what the brand stands for; you cannot be waiting for the storm to pass.
- The other is too much promotion. As customers, we do get the message when you send it, but we may choose to ignore it or file it away for future use. I see this response come through in multiple brand surveys as well, with customers being wary of signing up as they think that they will be inundated with offers. However, customers do need engagement. So, keep up your value-added services, a friendly blog, a community update, how-to guides, etc., in between those promotions.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?
Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala. I like the way the book balances the need for human and AI to co-exist and work together. In the authors’ words, it is all about “spreadsheets and story.”
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?
Good question. I think we are all beginning to realize that the key to success is the same as in the off-line world – communicate, empower and empathize. Just that it is difficult to do that when working from home, the human touch is difficult in the work from home scenario, where all connections are virtual or over the phone. So, we need to try harder at these things than ever before. Reconnect with people as we would do in the office, set up coffee meetings, or a project that can be jointly executed by the team. Find time for friends and family and meet up with the team when it is feasible and safe, even outside work. Trust and display of trust during these times are critical to driving high-performance teams.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
NPS and CSAT are still my favorite CX metrics. We live in the “Age of the Customer,” and it is necessary to know the pulse of the customer while keeping it simple. These are two metrics that never seem to lose relevance, no matter how much we try to come up with new ones.