Companies are at the mercy of their customers these days and customer expectation is sky-high. If customers are not getting good service, they’re off, as fast as they can redeem their loyalty points. So with global spending on cloud infrastructure on the up, how are businesses using it to maximise customer experience
Cloud-based services that help companies automate processes are changing the way retailers serve customers. That’s important, says Pierre-Emmanuel Perruchot de La Bussière, general manager at cloud-based retail management platform Vend, because customers are demanding it. “Customers expect a seamless shopping experience. They want their favourite brands to know what they like, how they shop, provide them with a fast service and deliver the same experience whether they are buying online or instore,” he says. Historically, there have been a few barriers to a seamless sales experience, such as a customer seeing an item online and then going in-store to buy it, but realising it’s no longer in stock.
“The cloud removes these barriers,” says Mr de La Bussière. “For example, the cloud can be used to sync inventory automatically across a company’s physical and online stores, and store assistants can look up stock for customers on iPads from anywhere in the store, driving sales. Companies are now automating their processes based on important business information. For example, pricing strategies can be changed depending on whether a product is performing well or badly and items can be automatically reordered when stock is low. Or you can trigger a personalised e-mail to a customer to entice them to purchase, based on their buying habits. Customers will shop elsewhere if they’re not getting that sales experience they’re after. Automation is now do or die.”
Working in the cloud means customer expectations can be met in an agile way. Chris Martin, chief executive of Waracle, which makes mobile apps for some of the largest companies in the world, says: “Often we don’t meet our clients face to face. Mobile apps are very visual, and this means projects are very fluid and things often change along the way. We use agile project management to allow for this where a customer buys a development team for a length of time and uses the team until the time runs out.”
In order to allow effective collaboration, Waracle uses a cloud-based agile project management tool called Trello, so the customer can insert user stories and functionality into a backlog. “We cost it in terms of likely time to complete and they prioritise it,” says Mr Martin. “This allows us to develop what they need in priority order and protects us from scope creep. We find collaborating like this leads to much better apps, better results for the customer and better resourcing planning for us – a win-win.”
“Over the next several years, you can expect cloud computing to deliver the same advantages to any enterprise application, regardless of the channel, as more and more enterprise computing moves to the cloud,” says Satya Ramaswamy, vice president and global head of TCS digital enterprise at Tata Consultancy Services, which has delivered digital projects in the UK for Boots, BT, Diageo, Nationwide, National Grid, NEST [pensions], Marks & Spencer, Thames Water and Virgin Atlantic. “Cloud computing allows deployment of servers in an elastic manner as demand increases. Take the example of a retailer who sees increasing demand as Christmas nears: the retailer may know that demand will keep increasing, but may not know by how much. Cloud allows the server deployments to match closely the demand and ensure the retailer does not miss any customer request, or deliver a delayed or inferior service to any customer.
Similarly when the demand later goes down, cloud allows the allocation of servers to go down, thereby saving money which can be spent elsewhere.” Cloud computing also provides reliability so that there is back-up for most systems used. Mr Ramaswamy adds: “This means that the failure of a few systems doesn’t result in customer services going down in entirety. Cloud is also more secure in most cases, providing peace of mind for customers when they access the service of companies. All these add up to make the customer experience much better when using the cloud.”
Sailthru helps brands, such as Dr. Martens, to engage with customers on a more personal level via its cloud technologies, including personalisation, analytics and predictions. Neil Capel, Sailthru’s founder and chairman, says: “Modern marketers understand that human connections matter now more than ever before. By connecting with customers as individuals, a marketer can deliver a better and more relevant experience that also optimises every revenue opportunity.”
Predictive analytics capabilities are increasingly being used to power profitable customer-acquisition strategies based on retention data. “In fact, Sailthru’s data revealed that 68.5 billion personalised e-mails were sent in 2015, a 94 per cent growth over 2014,” says Mr Capel. Data collected from customer engagement allows brands to understand what their consumers and readers are interested in, and predictions help brands understand their specific intent. This, says Mr Capel, allows marketers to offer a superior customer experience by ensuring that their digital touchpoints – e-mail, web and mobile – are individualised based on each customer’s specific interests. It also ensures they are proactively engaging with individual consumers based on both the position in the customer journey and intent by automatically optimising content, cadence and channel.
The cloud enables users of loyalty programmes to access platforms at all times. Corporate software company Okta and airline Etihad are working together to extend Etihad’s identity and access management to the cloud. Phil Turner, Okta’s vice president, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says: “The integration of Okta’s solutions to Etihad’s central system has given the company the flexibility to accommodate its expanding global customer base while accelerating its business by further securing the IT environment.” Using Okta’s cloud-based identity management solution, 3.2 million members of the airline’s award-winning loyalty programme, Etihad Guest, are able to log in to a single platform anywhere, anytime and from any device. Unlike other loyalty schemes, customers are able to navigate through a variety of features to book flights, redeem miles, and view statements and exclusive offers through the cloud.
Enterprise resource planning
Outing enterprise resource planning (ERP) into the cloud means a business can extend communication and functionality to external partners. “So a business such as Crocs changes when it goes from only being able to talk to customers and its production plant to being able to talk to customers, retailers, logistics companies, shipping businesses, warehouses, suppliers, manufacturing and everyone else involved,” says Bryan Nella, director of GT Nexus, an Infor company.
“This is the idea of being able to see into your entire supply chain, both that which supplies a company and the ‘onward’ value chain to the customer. For this supply chain to be end to end, from customer to fulfilment and all the associated processes, it has to be cloud – you cannot do it any other way.” Cloud enables sight lines and those sight lines enable new models of business.