The Customer Is The Channel

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Customers First – A lesson from Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab Head Scott Emmons

As technology advances and customer expectations evolve, stores are faced with two choices: innovate and thrive, or continue business as usual and fade into irrelevance. Presenting to a full room at a recent conference, Scott Emmons, head of the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab, made it clear during his keynote that the retailer would not be passive. Instead, with Emmon’s guidance, Neiman Marcus is making strides to be a role model for the store of the future through forward-thinking technology initiatives. As Scott demonstrated throughout his presentation at the conference, his vision boils down to one key goal; exploring different ways to deliver great customer experiences using new digital methods throughout the retailer’s channels.

 

 

In-Store Initiatives

While some believe that the storefront is on a path towards extinction, savvy retailers realize that, if utilized correctly, physical stores still have a major role to play in the life of the consumer. For example, at Neiman Marcus’ Fort Worth, Texas store, the retailer has been introducing unique digital features to engage with customers.

For example, one unique offering is buttons in fitting rooms that customers can use to ask for assistance while trying on clothes. These buttons are connected to each employee’s company iPhones that are equipped with an in-house CRM platform to help associates quickly manage and organize fitting rooms by customer. Additionally, Neiman Marcus has installed “memory mirrors” that record eight second videos of a customer in an outfit which customers can review, share via social media and decide if they like what they’re trying on. The concept has successfully expanded to sunglasses and beauty makeovers, to make it easier for shoppers to decide what they truly want to purchase.

Other in-store, customer-centric offerings include digital signage, a platform that allows customers to select the music they hear in the store, as well as cell phone charging stations. While charging stations may not seem like an advanced technology, Neiman Marcus uses the stations as an important opportunity for a marketing touchpoint with customers – asking them to log into their system so they have yet another avenue to find out valuable information about the person.


On the Digital Side

Scott Emmons and the Innovation Lab team recognize that digital initiatives inside and out of the store are essential to creating a superb omnichannel experience. One option available on the Neiman Marcus app allows shoppers to take a picture of an article of clothing they want, and the retailer will find that item or a similar one available for purchase. Also, the Innovation Lab recognized the value of understanding the customer’s context, and has started by investing to upgrade their existing live agent online chat with addition information about customers, including their shopping habits and past interactions. In a move to truly become a leading innovator in retail, with the help of Linc’s Customer Care Automation platform, Emmons and Neiman Marcus invested in voice-assistance platforms to assist customers with “Where Is My Order” inquiries. The brand’s Alexa capabilities are fully operational, with Google Home coming soon.  

With a focus on putting the customer in the center of everything he works on, Emmons noted that conversational commerce is important for the future of retail and with these advancements, the retailer has made a good start to what will be a very important part of commerce moving forward.

It’s refreshing to see thought leaders and visionaries like Scott recognize the necessary areas of investment in the retail arena both within the physical storefront and throughout digital channels. While Emmons’ work with the Innovation Lab is providing great technology for Neiman Marcus, these methods and products aren’t an end in themselves. As Scott mentioned at the end of his discussion, it’s not about the store of the future, it’s about the customer of the future. As long as brands focus on the customer and her evolving preferences, the technology and success will fall into place.

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Designing a Customer Experience Strategy for Conversational Commerce

When you master conversational commerce, you’ll deliver experiences that make your customers feel as if you hired a personal assistant to help each of them.  There are several key strategies, smart brands need to think about as they go about creating their conversational commerce strategy. Don’t Forget The Data If conversational commerce is the new paradigm of customer experience, data is the engine that drives all those delightful interactions across touchpoints. Your customers are creating data every time they click, swipe, and like --it’s up to you to find it, analyze it and use it to inform customer engagement. Nordstrom, for example, uses sensors and Wi-Fi to track who comes to the store, wherein the store they shop, and how long they stay. They also incentivize their Nordstrom’s credit card and rewards program to gather data about their clients. Target is also known for its data-collecting. The mega-retailer assigns every customer a Guest ID number, which is linked to their credit card, name, or email address. This Guest ID number becomes a repository of info on a shopper’s past Target purchases and any demographic information the company has collected about them and/or bought from a third-party source. Target’s data is so accurate and fine-grained that they were even able to determine a teenage shopper was pregnant (and send her the appropriate mailer filled with baby items) long before her father ever knew. Collecting relevant data, analyzing it and using your learnings to inform which conversational channels make sense for your brand and what types of experiences your particular customers seek to have on them is the foundation of your conversational commerce efforts. Focus On The Highest-Value Activities Put your energy toward meaningful services that customers already care about. Look at service-oriented features, such as notification capability and on-demand service and support capabilities, to guide the customer journey. Don’t just focus on the “Checkout.” The main benefit of service-oriented conversational channel offerings is the ability to organically drive usage into new channels. For example, a customer might place an order on your website and learn that she can subscribe to order status updates through Facebook Messenger. What she sees as taking advantage of a perk will benefit you by encouraging her toward a channel where your chatbot can take over. ChatBots are best for organic conversations with common use cases, but also provide a sense of personalization and convenience for the shopper. Customer service should be your core use for this technology to start. Be Prepared For Bot-to-Human Handoffs The great thing about a conversation handled over text or Messenger is that the customer doesn’t have to know when they might be switching from a bot to a human. Bot design in the future will focus on what they can do, knowing what they can’t do, and designing a bridge to employee assistance that feels seamless to the customer. It’s not just the customer that will be helped by the bot, but the employee. It will provide faster information and better analytics in real time, perhaps then parsing information to pass on to the consumer. The most important aspect of innovation is convenience for the shopper. They should never have to explain their request twice. Start Simple and Grow to Brand Management You can start with bots as a single voice in the chorus of messages from your brand. The long term will have bots as representatives of your entire brand, managing relationships with your customers. You can start conversational commerce, however, with just a single entry point. You can get your customers used to interacting with you on the same channels they use to chat with their friends. You can piggyback on the culture of quick and informal communication, but be ready to meet their expectations for highly personal and meaningful results. If your bot can’t meet that expectation, your customer could walk away disappointed or annoyed. As the technology improves, and it is, even as we write this, you’ll be able to put more and more of your brand management in the hands of the bots. Authentication Giving your bot a way to confirm the customer’s identity is key to a truly intelligent communication that can leverage data from across your other channels. If this isn’t done right, your bot will see each customer as a stranger, negating the opportunity to provide personalized service. Focus On Concepts Rather Than Solutions Your customers might be on Kik today but head over to Facebook Messenger tomorrow. Focusing on the concepts of conversational commerce rather than today’s hottest medium will help you keep your sanity and provide an agile approach that can be applied to meet your customers wherever they migrate. Try not to get bogged down with the details of how to build for one particular channel, and look instead to use-cases. You can learn more about conversational commerce and engaging your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, JustFab.com and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.