Driving Personalized Customer Experiences

Businesses in Hong Kong and globally are turning to digital to stay afloat amid the challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic and intensifying geopolitical disruptions. What can organizations do to stay ahead?

At a recent digital roundtable discussion with CDOTrends and Adobe, Scott Rigby, chief technology advisor at Adobe, noted that businesses should not only work on optimizing their existing processes and systems but also focus on innovation. According to him, businesses that have been innovating are not only securing more capital today but are also commanding a greater market share.

“There's plenty of data to show that businesses that cut spending during a downturn ended up weaker and with lesser market share,” said Rigby. “You need to do both at the same time. You need to optimize what you are doing; you also need to be innovating because otherwise you can very quickly get left behind.”

Strategies to forge ahead

Customer behavior had been fluid over the last 12 months, observed Rigby. To deliver better customer experiences, Asia Pacific (APAC) businesses must be agile, leveraging data that they are collecting. Doing this calls for moving beyond reporting or even deriving insights from data, to actively leveraging it and moving into action.

Optimization is a good first step. “Say I am selling a service or a product. How to optimize that? Can I remove a step out of the process? And does that drive an increase in people completing my insurance quotes or whatever it might be?” he said. When it comes to innovating: “Put the brand-new product in the market and test maybe the pricing and the [value] proposition. And you can do both in parallel – in fact, you absolutely should be doing this.”

Rigby cited computer maker Dell, and how it works with multiple versions of customer experiences that they are testing out at any time. “Part of it is optimizing the experience, part of it is testing new products and features and innovating in that fashion. And that is the level that organizations need to [get to]. Start by testing these new experiences, new products, new product lines, categories, new channels that you are going to market.”

The problem of data silos

One challenge brought up by participants revolves around that of stricter data regulations and an evolving privacy landscape. While hardly specific to APAC, the reality is how regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) impact organizations operating in the region.

According to the VP of IT at a hotel operator group based in Hong Kong, this is a significant issue for the hospitality sector. To learn what guests want while conforming to the relevant regulations triggered an initiative to make it possible through technology. The group decided on a cloud-first strategy after a careful rethink of its technology portfolio.

“We are reducing the number of systems running in our hotels, moving everything to the cloud. We do not have a lot of IT resources there – you are talking about one or two people serving the entire hotel. [This] shifts the risk to the vendor, too: The cloud vendors have more resources to address common requirements around data privacy and information security. In addition, you are not alone in case something goes wrong.”

This move also has the effect of eventually being able to combine data silos across multiple disparate but interlinked systems. Though meeting requests to remove or mask their information is still a tedious, manual affair, this should become easier over time as data get centralized in the cloud.

An integrated platform

When it comes to technology investments, Rigby suggested moving away from the traditional strategy of using multiple best-of-breed solutions in favor of integrated platforms.

“Brands found out very quickly that integrating [best-of-breed solutions] is very, very challenging. We need technology providers that have integrated platforms between their technologies to ensure that we are not spending all this time integrating it,” he explained.

“A lot of companies have shifted to using some sort of API or middleware to try and connect all these different technologies. The real problem that comes with that is that you have you still have the data sitting in silos in these different technologies.”

Personalization at scale becomes impossible in such a scenario, noted Rigby. “When that data sits in fragmented silos and different technologies, even with API, you can't run machine learning over the top of that to make a real-time decision on what is the right message put in front of that customer at the right time. And that is assuming you have [already] integrated all of those technologies via API.”

The result is that more brands today are opting for a technology platform provider that has integrated technology so as not to spend time maintaining integrations, which can only get harder as solution providers roll out new feature updates.

In closing

In closing, a participant who is a professor at a Hong Kong university offered a word of caution about the polarizing effect of machine learning-generated recommendations. Rigby agreed that it is a fine line between offering what customers want based on what the data is saying, and policing them, but noted that customers are taking back control over their data and choosing how they interact with a brand.

“It is up to the brands to make sure that they put that into practice, that they abide with the legislation, and use technology that [is scalable] because you can't do it manually. And [businesses] must find their own ethical, moral compass as a brand in respect of how they service and interact with their customers,” summed up Rigby.

Paul Mah is the editor of DSAITrends. A former system administrator, programmer, and IT lecturer, he enjoys writing both code and prose. You can reach him at [email protected].​

Image credit: iStockphoto/imtmphoto