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Omni-channel retail demands the social touch

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From a brand’s perspective omni-channel means leveraging and coordinating the customer experience across multiple channels of communications to understand consumer behavioural patterns with the aim of delivering relevant product information, writes LYNETTE HUNDERMARK, MD at Useful & Beautiful.

The retail shopping experience has changed dramatically over the last few years. Shopping for a Fathers day gift at a local mall ten years ago literally meant trawling the entire mall until a consumer found that perfect gift for dad.

Times have changed as shopping for a Father’s day gift today as a digital savvy consumer would take on a very different experience. Before entering the mall consumers are already empowered with pre-shopping research. Consumers would be aware of deals available at shops that have already sent their promotional offers whether it be via email or apps push messaging, consumers would know what items are on sale, and ‘whats new’ and available in stock.

Consumers would also have likely seen reviews, and images of intended items to purchase via social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest (all of which have popular apps utilized on a mobile phone).The traditional linear approach to shopping is likely to be replaced with consumers walking into a mall and going into the intended shop of purchase, simply purchasing what they had planned to purchase then leaving the store. The post shopping experience is where consumers would then share their shopping experience via social media channels whether it  be anger, frustration or pure delight.

An omni-channel journey is the least customers expect as they increasingly dictate how they want to be engaged and serviced. With the addition of social media and mobile channels, the challenge for brands is to  tailor across all the channels for the finest consumer experience.

The impact social media has on the omni-channel customer journey can range from increasing awareness, influencing purchase,  earning loyalty and gaining brand advocates.

The core idea of omni-channel is a seamless customer experience, that bridges the gap between online and offline. But as we all know that is not easy, because if it was more brands would be winning at it.

While not a silver bullet, social media has made creating an omni-channel experience for consumers more achievable for brands of any industry (not just retail).

Start with the mobile customer ‘who is indeed Queen’

Both omnichannel and social media starts with the mobile consumer. With 23.6 million smart phones as reported by Mobile Consumer in SA 2015, World Wide Worx, customers want and expect to be able to contact organizations via social media channels on their phones via the Facebook and Twitter apps or mobi sites and have their questions answered, issues resolved and points of view heard in real time.

Research has shown that at least 1/3 of consumers have contacted a brand for customer service via social media to date and the number is rising. Failure to engage will be regarded by customers as a service failure meaning that consumers are looking for a meaningful real time response from a brand on social media whether it be during  the day, night, weekends and holidays 24/7/365.

Social media has provided customers with a platform on which they share their views. If a brands products, services and customer relationships are good, then their commentary will most likely be positive with greater brand loyalty, better customer retention, more repeat purchases and ultimately higher revenues (and who does not want that??)

When Social Meets Omni-Channel

Consumers are found on social media and can be easily researched from their profile information and engagements.  The data gathered from social media can be used to start the execution of your omnichannel strategy. A consumer-centric strategy includes content too,  therefore use social media to take note of your consumers’ behavior. When do they engage with your posts the most? What content do they like? If you’ve been successful at something, create more content based off of that, for example a case study blog.

Your consumers care about other consumers’ experiences – they are more likely to trust the content developed from experiences,  therefore use them to create consumer-centred content.

Social Media shouldn’t exist in silo

Social media can be a great tool for making the consumer experience seamless. Brands can use social media to respond in a timely manner,  to keep track of every question, complaint or engagement from a consumer. But, social media alone cannot accomplish a truly seamless experience—that takes a close relationship with all your channels in the marketing team.

All the data collected from social media is useless if it never makes it to the marketing team. Creating an omni-channel experience for your consumers’ means creating a unified customer experience across all channels and social platforms can’t be the only area where personal and seamless interactions between consumer and brand occur. Connections between your brand and your consumers should be made between web, mobile and in-store or in-office actions. To execute this cross-platform strategy, your marketing and social media teams need to be in constant communication.

A few days ago I saw a sponsored ad on Facebook by a well established book store encouraging me to update my personal details relating to their loyalty programme,with an incentive of winning a prize. While attempting to update these details, I noticed that the page was hosted on an insecure site and naturally I was hesitant to proceed with the update so I paused and reported the incident on Twitter (as I knew Twitter was likely to have more of an immediate response than Facebook).

It took over a week to get a response from Twitter  with a reply stating that the social media team was not responsible for removing the pages that were hosted and that the appropriate line manager will be informed if I sent further information via email. The conversation was then ended with the page still getting promoted on facebook. This left me and other twitter followers (who were following the conversation) quite perturbed by the response and needless to say, I have not had any immediate incline to use online channels of this book store, and I have also shared this experience with all of my peers.

Winning the hearts of the customer

In our current digital age, omni-channel is no longer a strategy just for retailers. Social media makes all brands accessible and exchanges seamless. On social media you can reach your consumers, research them and personally engage with them. While not the only part of an omni-channel experience, social media does make an omni-channel strategy viable for any business. The key to winning the heart of the consumer is without a doubt listening  and making smart decisions around the conversations (the real time social intelligence should give the team a heads up on what they need to know about anticipating issues, in the case of the book store example, removing the insecure page that was reported), and last but not least giving the customers a quick response without sacrificing quality for speed.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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