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What use of tech will be most helpful in customer retention post-pandemic?

What use of tech will be most helpful in customer retention post-pandemic?

Computer vision for sales projections, always-on self service tools and more data for personalization are all keys to loyalty, according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.

Louis DiCesari

Global Head of Data, Analytics and AI at Levi Strauss & Co.

The use of AI to drive customer loyalty and retention is more critical than ever post-pandemic. At Levi Strauss & Co., we embrace the belief that all companies need to be data and tech companies. And for us, our use of AI all comes back to our fans; we're using AI to drive personalization across channels, in consumer-facing ways as well as behind the scenes, to create environments where consumers will want to come back again and again.

For example, our online product recommendation engine learns from each consumer click. In real time, we're using clickstream data as well as inventory availability, product attributes, and historical purchase data to tailor product recommendations to individual consumer needs, expectations and preferences. We predict what consumers are likely to be looking for and show similar products, suggest complementary products, and recommend products that will help them qualify for free shipping — all in a matter of seconds.

We're also working to optimize assortment in our physical stores — we use internal and external data, including things like weather and ecommerce sales in the area, to predict the ideal assortment for each Levi's store, based on the specific needs and preferences of consumers who shop in the catchment area of the store. Additionally, we've started to apply techniques like computer vision to predict how new products will perform based on visual similarities to previous products that have sold well in specific areas.

Whether online or in-store, when people get an experience that's relevant and personalized to them, they are more likely to come back again and again and become lifelong fans of your brand.

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Jeff Titterton

Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk

When it comes to customer loyalty, what was true before the pandemic, continues to be true today, only more so. Meeting your customers' rising expectations starts with using technology that allows you to move fast, and with empathy. Whether they are buying a pair of shoes or installing a big enterprise system, they can't afford to wait for you to deliver, or feel like they are speaking to a brand that doesn't have a human voice behind it. This has always been important for customers, but after weathering a pandemic for more than a year, it has become the key differentiator.

The most forward-thinking and agile companies are shifting their resources toward earning customers' trust by being there when customers need them. This means adopting new technology that makes it easier for customers to self-serve on any information they need around the clock, or adopting tools like messaging because it is fast, convenient and personal.

Customer retention is ultimately about building trust, which the shockwaves of 2020 have put firmly back at the center of the customer experience.

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Lidiane Jones

EVP & GM, Commerce Cloud at Salesforce

Using technology to drive customer retention will be key in the post-pandemic world, as every customer interaction is a chance to win or lose loyalty. After experiencing the flexibility of curbside pickup and online appointments, loyalty will likely hinge on businesses' abilities to deliver convenience, trust and the experience customers are looking for — both in-store and online. Businesses tailor experiences to each customer and make it easy for them to engage and transact with them from anywhere — on social, marketplaces, web, chatbots, messaging and more.

To do this, businesses need a commerce platform that offers the flexibility, speed and scale to connect all customer data — spanning sales, commerce, marketing, service and order management — to create a complete, real-time view of their customers. With this connected approach, businesses can build frictionless shopping experiences and quickly react to customers' needs on any channel. AI functionality like product recommendations, automated merchandising and insights will continue to become advantageous for businesses to quickly deliver personalized shopping experiences to customers. We'll also continue to see an increasing need for more flexible and scalable loyalty management programs that are connected to the broader commerce experience, enabling businesses to better attract and retain customers with personalized incentives, communications and experiences.

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Brooke Burdge

SVP of Marketing at Attentive

In the past, brand loyalty looked like opening a credit card or downloading a company's app. Today, consumers are adding their favorite brands as contacts in their phones. Text messaging has moved beyond person-to-person interactions — increasingly, it's how shoppers are communicating with the brands they love. We recently ran a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers, and 91% indicated they'd sign up for text messages from their favorite brands. Consumers want that direct and personal connection. Personalized text messaging creates direct connections between brands and consumers by:

  • Allowing brands to meet consumers where they are (on their phones): Market/consumer data platform Statista found that people are spending an average of almost 4.5 hours a day on their mobile devices. The ecommerce boom has raised consumers' expectation for convenience — and that includes getting updates from brands on their phones.
  • Powering real-time conversations: Whether it's clicking on a link, responding or asking a question, consumers expect brands to interact with them in real time. SMS marketing lets brands engage subscribers at exactly the right moment, with the right content.
  • Creating highly personalized interactions and experiences: When customers sign up for texts, they expect brands to understand their needs and preferences. Engaging in 1:1 conversations with customers that are relevant to them via text — from recommending products based on past purchases to rewarding VIPs by giving them first access to a sale — builds that trust.

When brands are able to create personalized customer experiences, they're able to build deeper relationships — ultimately turning shoppers into brand loyalists. Personalized text messaging will play a critical role in helping brands retain customers post-pandemic.

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Carl Rivera

VP, Product at Shopify

I believe what we're building with Shop — Shopify's personal shopping assistant for consumers — is one of the most important customer retention solutions available to merchants today. The cost of customer acquisition is rising, so it's more critical than ever for merchants to build and nurture long-lasting relationships with their consumers.

That's where we come in: Shop engages buyers through detailed order tracking, which has traditionally been an under-utilized touchpoint among merchants. By helping consumers track their packages — whether they've ordered from one store or 10 — in one easy-to-access place, we've turned what used to be a disjointed experience involving impersonal, templated emails and third-party websites into a fully integrated shopping experience. From there, Shop turns a transaction into a relationship by giving consumers product recommendations from all the brands they've purchased from before.

Ultimately, the best commerce experiences are just that: experiences. As channels diversify and commerce continues to grow, the struggle to capture and retain consumer attention has increased. And for independent merchants who might lack the years of brand recognition that keep consumers coming back, leveraging the right tools to keep buyers engaged after checkout is paramount.

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Jose Luis-Gomes

Managing Director, Retail & Consumer at Google Cloud

Retailers that did well during the pandemic are going to have to fight for share of stomach and consideration in a way they haven't had to for the past 18 months. As customers are re-exposed to new opportunities to eat out and spend their disposable income, it will be imperative for retailers to provide them reasons to continue shopping with them as much as they did during the pandemic.

To retain their customers, retailers need to invest to provide them hyper personalized and frictionless experiences by reimagining the way they interact with them online and in-store. Let's be clear: The physical store isn't going anywhere. Technology will be essential to put customers' experience at the center of all decision making regardless of the channel to enable data-led decision-making and experiences, digitizing the store and rethinking store formats and operations.

As innovation in the physical store accelerates, customers expect experiences that are timely, targeted and tailored to their unique needs. As customers increasingly shop via both physical and digital, retailers need to keep them engaged across all channels. By having a single view of all customer interactions, retailers can deliver highly personalized customer experiences. For example, retailers can use technology like AI chatbots, voice enabled shopping, and in-store product locations to deliver relevant information and helpful nudges across digital and physical properties.

Overall, there's more competition than ever for retailers to retain customers. By infusing new technology and thinking about how they expand existing technology systems/processes, retailers can build long-lasting relationships by making it easy for customers to shop, now and in the future, the way they want.

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Fara Howard

Chief Marketing Officer at GoDaddy

With the lack of opportunity to connect in-person during the pandemic, technology has become essential for small businesses to reach and retain customers. Last year, GoDaddy saw record customer growth as entrepreneurs brought the entirety of their businesses online. And while consumers will continue to use many of the online services they relied on this past year, they'll also go back to shopping in stores. The best way SMBs can retain customers is to create meaningful relationships by providing a real value customers can't get anywhere else.

To do this, businesses need to know who their customers are and what they need from the business. The best technology to use during this time is tracking metrics within marketing tools to increase the understanding of how customers are engaging.

Social media is a great place to start. SMBs can hone strategies by seeing if what drives engagement there can be extended to other marketing channels or experimenting with content and identifying what themes have the best response. Tracking metrics can expand to every aspect of business. After identifying patterns in how their products/services are being sold online — common days or times of sales, or the impacts of holidays — SMBs can engage directly with customers to find out why.

As small businesses better know their customers and their preferences, they can communicate with them on a much deeper level. Instead of being "noise" on their social media or in their inbox, customers will start looking for their next email to engage.

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See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated May 27, 2021).
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