The latest Hub Institute HubDay in Paris, France examined all of the technological trends that are reinventing the way we attract and retain customers and underlined the fact that to really make the most of these new tools, businesses need to put the customer at the heart of their business and commit to transforming their organization.
Are big data and artificial intelligence (AI) the answer to all future business challenges? Even with the breakthroughs that have been made in AI in recent years, it’s still impossible to predict exactly what the technology will be able to deliver within the next decade across the enterprise. However, what is increasingly clear is that it’s already forever changed how companies market to their customers.
“It seems as if every day there’s a new buzzword around this technology,” said Hub Institute co-founder Emmanuel Vivier, as he welcomed guests to the event. “But the fact is we are in the epoch of big data.”
Vivier ran through all of the current enterprise implementations of AI from machine learning and computer vision to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and voice recognition in order to underline the importance of data.
“If we don’t have data, we have nothing,” he said. “Everything needs a dataset. That’s why there is still a lot of Frankenstein AI in the world because of the quality of data. We still have lots of work to do in this regard.”
For Accor Hotels, unlocking data across its ecosystem of products, services and partners has been the key challenge to building and delivering a new type of customer loyalty program that leverages AI to really resonate with customers.
“AI is transformation,” explained Ian Di Tullio Senior Vice President Accor Hotels. “It’s a journey because you don’t get to it overnight. It’s something you apply in a systematic manner.”
And it’s a journey the company has been forced to go on because of customer expectations.
“It’s what our customers want. They want simplicity – the world is more complex – and AI simplifies it,” he continued. “This is the shift from being a product company to selling experiences.”
Accor Live Limitless allows the company to recognize loyalty program members instantly across any touch point and to deliver real personalization.
“Everyone knows personalization should be at the heart of what you do,” said Di Tullio. “It’s beyond profiling. It should now be inferred. Customers expect personalization in real time within the confines of GDPR. But you can’t do anything until you connect your data, get a single customer view and deliver an omnichannel experience.”
Getting a single view of the customer is why automotive marque Renault embraced a transformational data-driven approach to marketing. It was unable to track potential customers across online and offline channels or understand what had driven a potential buyer to a dealership. By partnering with Google and 55 the Data Company it has been able to increase its sales by 9 percent while cutting its marketing costs. But while technology and removing silos has helped, the results are as much down to a change in culture.
“One of the biggest questions was how do we move to a culture of working with data and measuring impacts,” explained Laurent Laporte, Head of Digital performance and lead management Groupe Renault. “We got all stakeholders to buy in because of the strength of the project’s sponsor.”
The sponsor or champion is critical to the success of a business transformation – 50 percent of IT projects fail. And the primary cause is that there is no direct support at board level. This is why global drinks firm Pernod Richard has seen such massive benefits since it began its journey of leveraging data and AI to get closer to its customers.
“Our transformation was driven by the CEO,” revealed Thibaut Portal, Pernod Ricard’s Global Media Hub leader. “He said it was the only way for us to get closer to our customers and build stronger bonds with them. When it comes from the top it gives everyone absolute confidence in the project.”
It’s too easy to focus on the technological elements of moving to a data and AI-driven business model. But change starts at a cultural level. It’s about people, and a transformation is a multi-year commitment. That’s why La Poste, the French mail service, built expert teams that already understood the market state the organization would be moving towards, to lead the way.
“But this market is changing all of the time,” said Aurélie Davis Head of Marketing and Communication La Poste. “This is a 10-year transformation. We supported the teams with continuous training.”
For the same reason the organization placed a premium on identifying the right partners to work with.
“It was important to have trust in real partners who bring real benefits and can partner in the strategy,” Davis continued. “Your partners have to be strong and you have to be able to integrate them into your stack.”
With everything in place it’s crucial to remember that data is the raw energy that needs to be processed to drive business.
“Data should be seen as a way of serving your strategy,” said Thomas Faivre-Duboz, associate director digital and data consultancy Converteo. “But your strategy needs to be about becoming client-centric.”
If your organization is focused on understanding and serving customers, then taking ownership of the data and its associated tools should be simple.
“Every touchpoint generates data that traditionally belongs to or could be actioned by different entities or business areas; or it could be siloed,” continued Faivre-Duboz. “That’s why you need a clear data collection and reconciliation operation supported by a customer-centric organization. That’s what closes gaps between channels.”
For many companies, particularly smaller enterprises, transformation isn’t an issue, having the funds to invest in technology is a bigger challenge. And that’s why Microsoft has a global program investing in startups to help them go to market. “The idea,” explained James Parker Innovation Architect at Microsoft, “is to democracies access to AI.”
In France alone it has been steadily investing for three years and has directly and indirectly created 30,000 jobs.
And access means different things to different people. For Edouard Beaucourt Head of Southern Europe for Tableau, a software company that produces interactive visualization products, it means not having to use an intermediary.
“We’ve always wanted data to tell us a story,” began Beaucourt. “That used to be easy because the data was in books. Now it’s everywhere. That’s why we need a common language between the person and the software for making information easy to understand.”
Tableau has received over $1 billion in investment to make this a reality. Its tools turn data into a visual language that anyone can follow and act on.
“We’re all experts in our field,” Beaucourt said. “Experts should be able to work directly with and understand their data.”
As well as access and application, organizations have to be aware of how data and AI are already being applied by the biggest tech companies, from Apple and Amazon to Facebook and Google and understand how it could impact on their brands.
“Most of your digital traffic is already outside of your website,” declared Franck Negro managing director Southern Europe at global online brand management company Yext. “Third-party apps have replaced your web traffic. Your site’s homage used to be the point of entry to your brand. Now we all take a different direct path to your site’s features or pages.”
Despite this huge change, businesses still use website traffic to measure their digital performance, rather than considering all digital touch points.
“Look at Google’s featured snippets,” Negro said. “When it went live, Wikipedia saw a 21 percent drop in web traffic. And now, thanks to conversational business – chatbots and vocal assistants – the customer journey is changing again.”
Today the journey starts with a question asked in natural language and the answer, the end point could come from dozens of different sources. As a result your brand is everywhere and nowhere.
“Now your brand is made up of 100s of facts. You can’t control the interface or the knowledge graph of the vocal assistant that customers are using, but you can take control of the answers to the questions that customers are asking,” explained Negro. “Customers don’t follow a linear journey anymore. They ask questions and go where the answers are.”