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How do you differentiate yourself in a highly competitive—and ever-changing—digital marketplace? I’ve long believed customer experience (CX) would be the key to success in digital transformation. But how do you improve CX? Build brand loyalty? Work with customers on their timeline, rather than your business hours? The answer, at least for the foreseeable future, is by building a strong foundation with real-time analytics.
SAS, Accenture, and Intel recently partnered with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services to examine the importance—and opportunity—of utilizing real-time analytics to better inform one’s CX strategy. More than 550 business leaders, drawn from the HBR Advisory Council and the HBR audience of readers, completed the survey. They came from different size companies in different parts of the world, but their input was clear and consistent: real-time analytics are the key to better CX. However, most companies aren’t quite sure how to integrate them.
Change can be difficult. Making changes from customer feedback is even more so. This research will serve as a beacon for those running the race—wondering how to get ahead, or at least not fall farther behind. Below, we’ll discuss a few key findings from the report, as well as some key takeaways as we move forward in successful real-time digital transformation.
It’s All About Action
In nailing down the key factors in successful adoption of real-time analytics and making a true and meaningful impact on CX, a few were obvious winners: having clear goals, obtaining actionable data, and collaborating well with others. What they all have in common is action.
So many companies today are gathering the data, culling the data, and reporting the data, but they don’t have a clear idea of how to use it in real life. In fact, 83 percent of respondents said that the ability to translate data into actionable insights at the right time is very important, but only 22 percent of respondents do this successfully. Fixing this discrepancy starts with setting goals for what types of improvements you want to make, which touchpoints on the journey, and how personalized you want that experience to be. Then you can actually start selecting smarter data that can give you the answers you need. In turn, you need to share that data with others who can drive change forward. It makes a lot of sense working from the goals backwards. As the pace of customer demands increases, so too does the need for companies to keep up. And you just can’t do so without clear goals and agile, communicative, cooperative processes.
One of the problems we found, from a process standpoint, is that most companies still don’t know who CX “belongs to.” The responsibility is delegated to a range of C-suite players, including CMO, CEO, CIO, and CTO—like a relational hot potato. If you don’t know who’s leading the ship, the ship won’t go anywhere very quickly. That’s why—again—it’s so imperative that leadership is involved with this process. They need to champion the value of real-time analytics, and all of the tech upgrades and training that go along with them. And yes, they need to figure out who is ultimately responsible for CX strategy.
Execution: The Missing Link
As noted above, with real-time analytics, it’s all about action. Several key findings in this report, had a huge discrepancy between importance and success rate. As I noted above, 83 percent think having the ability to translate data into actionable insight at the optimal time is essential—but only 22 percent saying their company is doing it very effectively right now. Moreover, 80 percent say data accessibility is of the utmost importance but only 21 percent are doing this effectively. THIS is the place where companies will make it or break it in coming years, and a huge chunk of the market needs help in doing so.
For the companies that aren’t doing it well: why? Look at culture. Look at your process. Look at your organizational structure. Look at your technology and where your capacity is falling short. Identify the area that is your missing link and then set out to fix it to improve the effectiveness of your execution.
Out with the Old
There are also a few common themes when it comes to what’s holding companies back from successful implementation of real-time analytics. First, there’s the continued use of legacy systems. You simply can’t operate in new ways while you’re using old technology. Real-time analytics processing requires faster systems able to process vast amounts of data and use AI and machine learning to help you make better, smarter, more personalized interactions with your customer—often, without you even knowing about it. But if your company is still using sluggish data centers and sorting reports in Excel—you’ll never run to the front of the pack. Your company needs to get onto the new tech ship—and quickly.
Second, there’s the continued issue of silos. I know: digital transformation is all about breaking down the silos. But company culture built around silos is sometimes incredibly difficult to shake. Some leaders love the silos. Some just can’t get used to sharing the information they worked hard to collect. But the fact remains that pulling data in silos, and then working in those silos, has only one result: you can’t use your data to the fullest. Indeed, 80 percent of survey respondents felt that data accessibility (getting the right data to the right person at the right time) was critical in creating an effective foundation for real-time analytics, and nearly 75 percent felt the ability to use that data seamlessly was also important. Repeat after me: Silos are never seamless. Work at knocking them down now.
Know It’s Worth It
85 percent of respondents to the HBR survey confirmed that real-time data analytics improved CX. We’re far more likely to shop and buy from companies who know us, who invest in understanding us, who understand our shopping habits and make good recommendations on where to go or what to buy. Data is the only thing that can provide information on these shopping habits—and real-time analytics is the only way to catch customers at the right time.
For me, what was more of a “sleeper hit” of the survey, however, was the realization that using real-time analytics can actually help streamline your marketing processes overall. After all, by handing over decision making to machine learning, you’re removing multiple steps to every CX question. You’re removing one more layer of approval. You’re eliminating one more level of meetings and analysis. The question remains: is your company ready to make data-based decisions? If not, you will still not reap the benefits of real-time analytics.
The digital marketplace is only getting more complex and more competitive. If you haven’t even begun the process of using real-time analytics to improve your CX, you need to do so soon. Below are a few places where you can start.
- Get it together. Unified customer data platforms can unify data from online and offline channels to extract customer insights and shape CX. It’s simple: the more data you have in one place, the more insights machine learning can extract from it. Without a clearly defined strategy connecting AI, data, and analytics, the underlying data infrastructure may never deliver on the promise of a world-class customer experience. Think it through! Then get it together. Data—like people—is most powerful when used together.
- Know your goals. Without clear goals, you won’t know which data you need to be collecting—and you certainly won’t know how to use it. What are you trying to accomplish? Where is your customer in terms of the customer journey (browsing product reviews) or physically (entering a brick and mortar location), and how will you draw the customer in to subsequent actions and purchases. Real-time analytics is about meeting your customers where they are. Improving your ability to track inventory. Offering your customers coupons as soon as they walk in the door. Each of these will build brand loyalty, and each requires different types of data. If you know what you are trying to accomplish, you will have a better sense of what data you need to collect.
- Remember your priority. Along with knowing what you want to accomplish it’s important to always remember that the customer comes first when it comes to CX. I can’t stress how important this is. No matter what your business goals might be, remember to frame them through a customer’s lens. Consider the journey you’re creating for them—the various touchpoints where you’ll meet them, and how those interactions should feel to encourage a long-term relationship. They need to be personal. They need to be genuine. And they need to happen quickly.
- Build for scale. Obviously, delivering these capabilities will require modernizing the underlying data infrastructure in order to make it more robust and agile. Be smart. Choose systems that can scale easily and are compatible with your goals for the future.
Lastly: Take action. Customers today want unique experiences—across all touchpoints—in real time. Data—fast-moving data—is the only way to give it to them. Be sure to download the full report to learn more about these and other insights for using real-time analytics to improve CX for your company.