Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Gamification in Customer Engagement Management

Gamification is the use of game techniques for non gaming purposes. Humans are hard wired to compete and thus gaming has become a hugely popular and profitable industry. Gamification does not mean that systems are becoming full- fledged games but just few game elements are being included in them. The common elements of game mechanics are: points, levels, leaderboards, badges and quests. Gamification is finding many uses like making websites more engaging, driving loyalty for brands and encouraging desired behavior through incentives and real-time feedback.

Often the objective of gamification is to make the system more enjoyable or more efficient and further increase the loyalty, fun, revenue and engagement. The term engagement defines the connection or the bond the customer shares with a product or a service. There are no clear metrics to measure engagement and page views or unique visitors may not tell the true story behind engagement of users with products, services or websites. The benefits of engagement are increased brand loyalty, positive word of mouth and increased sales.
 At the heart of success of the games is a concept called flow. The experience of flow is often defined as a spontaneous joy while performing a task. To create a highly engaging gamified system, we must harness the power of flow. The unique thing about gamification is that most of the times, the rewards have little or no monetary value. According to a Gartner report, 70 % of the top 2000 companies in the world will have at least one gamified application by 2014. But India is far behind with less than 10% of Indian Corporations using gamification.  

Successful applications of gamification: The successful examples of gamification have been Samsung, Nike and Khan Academy.
Samsung created user-generated content by rewarding users to participate in discussion with other users, reviewing products and watching videos. The rewards included unlocking batches, moving up in levels and chance to win Samsung products.
The world’s largest athletic footwear and apparel company Nike created Nike Plus which is a social running app. The Nike app can be downloaded into android phones and iphones and it captures the distance, pace and calories using phone’s inbuilt GPS. The runners can also upload data and connect with other runners. 

Khan Academy also used gamification techniques very effectively. Right answers give an instant happy face as well as movement on multicolored progress bar. Answer the questions quickly and you are awarded with “Picking Up Stream” award worth 100 points which you can share on Facebook or Twitter. Another gamification element is its recommendation system that recommends courses based on the student’s learning characteristics.
Being a buzz word, many companies are trying to implement gamified systems. But implementing it goes beyond badges and points. The organizations must keep the business goals for long term in mind while designing the systems. Further they should add the fun elements to otherwise routine tasks. They should also provide differentiated user experience.    
Gamification is already producing great results wherever it is properly implemented. Well designed game mechanics have already produced significant improvements in brand loyalty & employee motivation levels.  Gamification experts are encouraging people to involve game mechanics wherever possible, even in personal life, to make those mundane daily tasks interesting. There are increasing examples of people becoming fitter, healthier, more skillful, and more knowledgeable with the use of gamification. Customer Engagement Management (CEM) genre is developed with gamification at its backbone. With exponential increase in its adoption, expect gamification to be a major part of our professional & personal lives. So, did you measure how many minutes it took you to read this piece? Can you do better next time?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Rise of Omnichannel & Traditional Indian Retail

I happened to come across some news about the retail industry in India. It’s a fairly recent survey about retailing in India that estimates that Indian retail industry is likely to touch a staggering Rs. 47 Lakh Crores by 2016-17, while exhibiting CAGR of 15%. While these were some really huge figures which had me stunned for a moment, it wasn’t really that unexpected. After all, India’s population is well above 120 Crores & to fulfill demand of such a large number of people, retail industry has to yield such numbers. However, that is not exactly my point. I want to touch upon the fact that Online Retail (e-commerce)  is rising with CAGRs at least 2.5 times that of overall retail industry & this has genuinely scared many of the traditional brick & mortar stores. I have one word for them ‘Omnichannel’.

There’s no need here to start another story on how cut-throat the Indian retail market is. In this battle to gain a larger share of consumer’s wallet, retailers & brands are continuously searching for new ways to increase the interactions with customers, or at least they should be searching if they want to thrive in this IT-enabled marketing storm.  Customer touchpoints are at a premium not just in India, but all over the world. But this is not new, as this white paper from Winterberry Group ( explains, the India spawned in the minds of some Y&R executives as early as 1972. They called it ‘The Whole Egg’. From then on, concepts like ‘Multichannel’, ‘integrated marketing’ evolved over the time. However, there was (& there still is) something lacking. While these terms talk about unifying marketing communications of various channels, there was little consideration about unification of customer experience. That is exactly what omnichannel aims to achieve. Such channel-agnostic approach could very well be the holy grail of omnichannel. This unification of customer experiences is what I’ll refer to as omnichannel for now (unless it gets radically changed). Premise is really not that difficult to understand. Technology has enabled brands to provide customers with many touchpoints, both physical & virtual (with highly interactive platforms, it’s hard to even differentiate them anymore). Omnichannel approach aims to unify customer experiences across these touchpoints, so as to have seamless switching between them, many times without the customer even realizing of a channel switch. It differs from multichannel, in that omnichannel doesn’t talk only about unification of communications; it talks about integration of entire retail process, right from information & communication to actual completion of the buying transaction.
Now that we have an essence of what omnichannel is, let us explore how our traditional retailers can apply it to their advantage. If you’re still confused about ground level impact of omnichannel, just go through 1st para of this article- As the article goes on to explain, our traditional retailers can start with approach of white-labeling their activities. A simple e-commerce portal can be a good start. Also, whenever an e-commerce or any web site is built by the retailer, I cannot stress more upon the mobile optimization of the site. Many people are going to access the website from their smartphones & customers will quickly lose interest if they are faced with poor alignment & navigation issues. To take the mobility even further, retailers might do well to build a specialized mobile app. Not only does it add one more touchpoint to your repertoire, but it also helps a brand consolidate the brand image, enhance it by giving great service & gives an ability to communicate latest info about new campaigns, changes in the offerings & processes & so on.  To take the mobility further, retailers can also incorporate QR Codes, WiFi & Beacon technologies in their selling process. QR codes present special opportunity for customers to have faster, hassle-free checkouts. WiFi & Beacon technologies help retailers locate/track the customers & offer a personalized experience inside the physical stores. Sending personalized offers through emails & SMSs is another important aspect of omnichannel. Custom notifications at the right time can really preserve a customer’s connection with the brand/store, giving him/her the ability to continue the interaction with the firm. 

While implementing all above channels, it is drastically important to integrate them. Customer shouldn’t have to repeat the process which he/she partially completed over one channel when he/she switches to another channel.  There is no time to wait; omnichannel has already entered in Indian market.  We can find the corresponding examples in this presentation - However, small & medium retailers seem to think of it as a white elephant which only wealthy retailers can nurture. They back off from the domain altogether & don’t look at individual components of it which they can handle currently. That is not a very advisable thing to do, especially since technology is quickly penetrating the Indian market. Traditional retailers, who are already concerned about their growth, would be better off embracing the concept of omnichannel. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The‘Geeky Side’ (Technology) of Customer Engagement

In our last article, we focused on the basics & procedural side of customer engagement. You will find us repeating the basics of CEM many times over. That is because many organizations get so lost in jargons, buzzwords & day-to-day deliverables that they often let themselves get detached from the foundations of CEM – customization/personalization, accessibility, responsiveness & active 2-way communication. While procedural aspects may prove vital for designing the overall engagement program & for drawing the high-level information flow diagrams & process flow diagrams; it is of paramount importance that one is aware of different technological options available to them.

So what are the technological options available to you if you want to create a customer engagement management program? The answer depends on a particular procedural aspect you are designing. In other words, technology choices depend upon the particular problem you are trying to tackle. Optimal choice of technology would be different for different processes (enrollment into the program, targeted marketing, interaction, reward redemption etc.). Since a specific technology can be used in many processes, it is only logical for us if we consider each major process at a time & then explore the technological options for it.
Let us discuss the process of enrollment or registration into the program. At Birdvision, we have been talking about ‘frictionless enrollment’ for quite a while now. Whenever customers face any kind of friction while registering or enrolling into the program, there is a high probability that they won’t bother with it.

Until customers recognize the real benefits of participating in a customer engagement/loyalty program, the program is essentially an auxiliary thing for them. Unless the audience is properly ‘gamified’, only the core services of the brand are necessary for them & customers may feel they can do away with such perceived supplementary services. Hence we feel that enrollment process should be multi-modal. Possible technological choices are Web, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), SMS, USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) & mobile apps. In web registration, there are 2 scenarios: you can either give a portal so that participants can self-register; or the CEM software can be connected to POS (Point of Sale) of the merchant so that participants can enroll at the billing/checkout counters of merchant’s outlets. However, the latter option involves a painful process of integrating the CEM software with the POS systems of each merchant. Also, making participants self-register via a web portal could involve some falloffs since some customers may already consider the CEM to be a supplementary service which they don’t think is worth the effort. If a CEM system is taking participants’ mobile no. as a unique identifier, then registering via IVR, SMS & USSD may be a viable option. Still, we feel it’s necessary to provide multi-modal enrollment to increase the probability of new registrations. For participants having smartphones & mobile internet, providing mobile app is not a bad option. It provides the brand with a continuous touchpoint while accruing convenience & mobility to the participant.
The next process aspect to be considered is interactions/transactions & targeted marketing. This incorporates transmission of personalized messages. For this, timely & accurate offers must be sent to the respective participants. The best approaches in such scenarios where time & accessibility are of immense importance are SMS, Voice Call & mobile app.  If one expects the customers to check their email inboxes or web portals to get the targeted offers, then the communication loses most of the time & place virtues. Hence, SMS & voice calls are your best bets. However, with avg. mobile user getting flooded with so many spam SMSs & voice calls; we cannot stress more upon the importance of incorporating personal identifiers & succinctness of the information. Otherwise, customers will simply ignore/block the calls & SMSs. Mobile apps are also important for the instant notifications. Nowadays, apps can even send push notifications on smartphones based on various parameters. Still, mobile apps have some limitations. These apps require appropriate permissions from the app user & an active GPRS or 2G/3G internet connection. Moreover, many such apps need to be launched by user manually or they necessitate a service to be run in the background. Without these conditions, such mobile apps may render themselves useless. However, these mobile apps when used properly can bring fantastic new possibilities for the marketers as well as users. A participant can easily check his/her points balance, learn about new ways of earning more points & discounts, seamlessly redeem the points (often in a contactless manner!)& get recognition within participant community as well as on social networks in the form of virtual badges & rewards.
Lastly, let us shed some light on a novel aspect of targeted marketing. Until very recently, targeted marketing was only based on profiling a customer through gradually collecting information. This still being the prime function of targeted marketing softwares, there is an increasing tendency to create dynamic segments based on location of the customer. Make no mistake; these are not those fuzzylocation advertisements where you are presented with the local ads when you are present in that city or town. Location tracking technologies have become so accurate that they can send you targeted offers when you are just a few tens of meters away from the respective outlets or they can incredibly pinpoint your location to just a few meters to offer you the ads & discounts depending upon the isle that you are walking down inside the store. In descending order of location pinpointing accuracy, I think the technologies used are GPS < WiFi < Beacons (I’m no expert in this subject so please feel free to correct me!). GPS can roughly pinpoint your location to a few hundred meters, while WiFi & Beacons have the capability to determine your location & confine it to just a few meters. This gives endless opportunities to the marketers. Apple has recognized this & they have taken a lead the development of ‘Beacon’ communication by incorporating the beacon signals in its iPhones. Apple is also supporting the development of apps that could use Beacon services. A beacon is nothing but a Low-Energy Bluetooth (BLE) signal that can communicate with the devices recognizing such signals. Many times it is difficult to get GPS signal connectivity inside the stores& hence tracking locations of customers could be difficult. In-store beacon devices can communicate with the beacon signals sent from mobiles of the customers to pinpoint their locations. For this purpose, specialized devices (mostly transceivers) for beacon signal transmission & reception are coming up. These beacon devices have to be fitted intelligently throughout the stores so as to cover all the important areas. In future, many more applications of beacons are expected to launch.

 To round off this topic, I’d like to point out that though organizations have adequate technological tools at their disposal, using them intelligently & fine-tuning them to your market & target audience is not an easy job. As far as I know, that bit is still dependent on human intuition, clarity of thought & vision. Words of advice - “Integration of technology is the means to achieve something, not the end goal.”

Monday, 5 May 2014

Tracking Customer Activities (A Process-based Approach)

Today, every other brand wants to have loyal customers. However, many organizations don’t realize exactly how difficult it is to run a good loyalty program. On top of that, it is exponentially difficult to effectively engage your customers. With the advent of newer light-weight personal communication technologies & customers becoming more mature as a result, operating loyalty programs is simply not good enough nowadays. To create a truly binding relationship, the customers must be engaged with your brand. Great customer engagement requires customization & personalization. In our last article we saw how to achieve this by capturing information of a specific category called PII (Personally Identifiable Information).  Now let us see some underlying procedural aspects involved in customer engagement & respective challenges involved.

So, to have constructive dialogue with customers, we need to track various customer activities, gain insights & then reward the desired behavior. We can divide this activity tracking process into following parts: capturing, storing, analyzing, protecting & applying.  Let us individually study the challenges posed by each one of these parts. First challenge is “capturing” the transactions. The key challenge here is capturing all the pertinent information about the transaction (like purchase amount, products purchased, time of purchase, retailer/outlet etc.), without sacrificing the speed of transaction. This information can then be used for analytics & predicting behaviors. Standing in long queues just to earn some points (which are anyways just a fraction of the purchase total) for a loyalty/engagement program is not acceptable to the customers. Hence capturing the right info at right speed is important.
Second challenge is “storing” the captured information. Information collected through activity tracking must be stored in proper way so that it is quickly retrievable & accessible to various stakeholders in a layered manner. Format uniformity should be well thought out so that data is practically useful for multiple platforms. Connectivity of the data-generation & data-dissemination points is required to efficiently transfer information. Some properties like Timestamp, Retailer ID, Customer ID should always be associated with the information. The next challenge is “analyzing” the data. Here, one has to make a critical decision about real-time processing or batch processing based on volume & speed of incoming data as well as cost of technology implementation. The analytics engine should be able to derive proper insights from the data to give the engagement levels of the customers. Engagement related statistics typically include new product trials taken, repeat purchase rate, avg. purchase amount, no. of dialogues with the brand, feedbacks/surveys given, brand product range knowledge, product knowledge, new referrals brought in etc. Analytics engine should be designed by taking into account all these requirements.
Fourth challenge in tracking customer activities is “protecting” the data. As we may be aware, protecting the sensitive customer information should be the cornerstone of any system design, if that system is to inspire any kind of trust. Customers won’t give the data with same vigor if they are not sure about the privacy of the data. Even if India lacks stronger laws on digital data security, trust is one of the prime catalysts to the acceptability of any campaign/program. Then there’s the challenge of “applying” the insights obtained from ‘analyzing the captured & stored data’. Timely messages in the form of targeted offers & personalized messaging are the most visible results. Other benefits which are not so direct for the customers are minor tweaks in the product features & product offerings based on customer engagement data. The advanced analytics would be of not so much use if brands cannot derive actionable conclusions from it.
This process will of course vary from product-to-product, brand-to-brand & sometimes it could even vary from a customer segment to another.  In our previous article, “The Friendly Spying That Maximizes Value”, we have already mentioned how tracking of customer activities & rewarding them could drive the desired behavior. We could even go ahead & claim that it is possible to cultivate communities of similar interests via such brand engagement initiatives. Companies are already doing it. Check out the community of runners/joggers or community of footballers created through Nike’s brand engagement efforts (Also see Nike Fuel+ gadgets while you’re at it!). The experience is so awesome for customers, that switching to a competitor’s product becomes almost impossible for them. Next, let us delve into the technological aspects involved with tracking customer activities. In our next article we’ll try to address that perspective. Till then, keep spying on your customers (don’t curse me though if you get incarcerated)!