Having returned from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Customer Engagement event in London, I decided to hit the shops – specifically the late-night supermarket - so that I could grab milk and bread for the morning and reflect on the day’s discussion and debate. I’d been fortunate to have heard a summary of the results from the latest customer research undertaken by the DMA, followed by several excellent case studies, and I wanted a little bit of time to reflect and organise my thoughts – where better to do that with a spot of consumer-watching in my local supermarket!

The shop was quiet, and I couldn’t help but think that late-night store footfall must be different to the path taken by the core regular day time shopper. As I considered trying to perform some spontaneous basket analysis of the nearby shopping trolleys (once a stats guy, always a stats guy!), my mind returned to the debate from earlier in the day around the future world of customer engagement, and the 3 key themes that I took away from the day…

1.     New Channels

More and more new channels will appear over the coming years, and that was evidenced across the content of the day. The increasing testing of new technology and the application of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) will change consumer behaviour. The DMA research found that although only 11% of customers have used an automatic replenishment service, 3 times that number (34%) would be interested in using such a service. In America, Miller Lite has recently trialled a ‘push-button beer ordering’ service using a voice activated Amazon Alexa command and a programmable fridge button. Other applications could include being able to automate the re-ordering of printer paper, toiletries, coffee, milk and bread – removing the need for my late-night shopping trip!

2.     Continual Rise of Artificial Intelligence

A key theme from the day was the continual rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the increasing use and application of chat bots (a previous Comet blog post discussed the rise of bots within the travel industry). Recent DMA research showed that general interest in these services is high with c.50% willing to use chat bots to enquire about a delivery or ask about a flight. The DMA research reported the level of use and interest in instant messenger services to ‘communicate with a brand for product advice’ has jumped from 32% to 39% in the last 12 months: a sign that customers are becoming more and more comfortable with new ways to interact with brands as they seek to obtain the information they require. The continual development of AI techniques and applications combined with computational advances is creating real opportunities for businesses to promote their products and services, providing a convenient way for customers to engage with brands.

3.     Increasing World of Data

New channels and the world of big data will give rise to increasing sources and types of data that will be required to be understood and integrated within customer engagement activities. Walking around the supermarket I can see the correlation between what’s in a customer’s trolley and their high-level profile and I quickly get a sense of their life-stage and potential purchase habits – all very useful for targeting in-store promotional coupons. However, the increasing range, complexity and availability of data will enable companies to go beyond purchase behaviour to understand all aspects of the consumer’s life. In the store, I start to wonder about which shoppers are heavy social media users, which customers shop at competitor stores and how this impacts their loyalty, and I attempt to identify the tech savvy shopper and some of the challenges in matching individuals across an increasing number of devices and locations. My mind then turns to projects that we’re currently undertaking with clients on the implementation of data management platform (DMP) solutions to collect, integrate and manage their customer interaction data to build a centralised customer layer so that the client can create a seamless experience across online and offline channels. This is an area we’re seeing more and more interest in from our clients, both in America and Europe, as we work with them to review their approach to customer engagement and develop capabilities that will be able to cope with the increasing number of channels and create a great customer experience.

As I reach the checkout on my late-night shopping outing, I reflect on the opportunities that these new technological developments will bring. The recent DMA research identified a clear gap between consumer expectation and their perception when it came to trust; 64% of customers felt it important that brands “Do not lie to me” but only 49% felt that brands were currently “Doing this well”. The rise of new capabilities will make not only understanding your customer increasingly important, but also identifying them amongst the increasingly complex world of data and channels. Creating the best customer experience and delivering positive customer outcomes will become more challenging, but companies able to grasp new opportunities will be able to grow and deepen the relationship with their customers and close this gap in consumer trust.

As I prepare to leave the supermarket, I pack and pay for my shopping and notice that I’ve forgotten the milk that I came out for – if only I had that automated replenish button on my fridge! Hopefully my late-night outings will soon be a thing of the past…

David Thomas

Senior Consultant at Comet Global Consulting

David is a Senior Consultant within the Strategy & Insights practice at Comet. He is an experienced CRM & customer insight professional, with a passion for delivering customer centric projects using data, systems, analytics & insight. David has 15 years' analytics experience in Financial Services (both in the UK & Canada) and is a keen believer in working with people, whether that’s coaching & developing individuals, working with client teams, or actively participating in his role as a member of the Direct Marketing Association’s Scottish Council.