Online companies still trying to understand the SA customer


Leading South African online experts have their sights set on the convergence of customer-centricity, agility and data. These concepts have been around for a long time, but today they are different. This is enabled by the connected, platform economy where companies can finally unlock deep personalisation and, let’s not forget profits.

Woolworths’ Head of Online, Nikki Cockcroft and Accenture’s MD of Technology and Digital, Lee Naik, both believe we are not there yet, but are not far off. Each suggests that our approach needs to change before we can lay claim to the 360-degree customer.

Addressing the Digital Economy Summit, Naik underlined the rise of deep personalisation, at scale, to the point that every customer receives a uniquely tailored experience with a maximum of value and a minimum of friction, frustration or fear.

Naik, who is quick to criticise the common approach of companies simply replicating the products and services they sell via an electronic channel, believes that the “Internet of me”, in contrast to the ‘Internet of things’ so commonly talked about, will unlock a deeper relationship between company and customer.

Nikki Cockcroft, speaking at the RetailTech Africa conference, believes that overcoming the problem of leading SA retailers’ meager online revenue ratio lies in the data.

“Data allows you to have a one-snapshot view of the customer at any time. It’s a complicated story. Nobody is getting this right, yet,” says Cockcroft.

According to Cockcroft Woolworths’ single customer login functionality was their most challenging piece of digital work. It took three years to get right.

John Lewis, the UK merchandiser with 44% of their sales coming from their online channels is perhaps the best example of an e-tailer who transitioned successfully.

Local organisations are taking notice of this. “By constructing the service relative to how customers want to consume the service, in one month we were able to grow sales for a client of ours in the financial services space by more than 200%,” says Naik.

The modern customer wants to be better understood when choosing what products to buy, what company to buy from and when purchasing those items online. This comes from the customer being in control, according to Mustapha Zaouini, CEO of payments specialist PayU.

“Enabling the customer to drive that understanding, as opposed to making assumptions about it, is what has opened up opportunities for seamless, intuitive online payment that allows customers to pay with peace of mind, knowing that sufficient security and behavioural data is supporting each purchase.”

Zaouini continues, “In our business, the agile customer has enforced an agile checkout process which has moved the heavy weight security behind the scenes. This has resulted in less drop offs at the checkout and increased repeat sales.”

Nikki Cockcroft speaks about agility in everything. In people, in systems and in approach. This includes admitting that a decision was wrong and changing your minds fast.

Data and agility

Given the immediacy and pervasiveness of technology, customers want to give their opinion. It is now much easier to capture those opinions and to build on them. And data collection will not be slowing down any time soon. 

Sensor-based technology like wearables – used in homes, in the workplace and in the car – will soon give large organisations insights into fine-tuning strategy around the behaviours of customers.

Lee Naik sees companies making crucial mistakes when it comes to the type of investments being made into customer data analysis. “We see organisations buy lots of analytics technology as opposed to focusing on traction metrics which focuses on key numbers that tell them how to serve customers and how to move their investments forward, says Naik.”

The winning formula – speed and simplicity

There are those who have figured out how to wring the money out of digital. And this may not always be the shiniest technology, or the most disruptive.

 

Mike Sharman CEO of digital agency Retroviral, may have a point. “South Africans are totally lost in the digital space. Most brands are obsessed with going viral. It is not a popularity contest.” Very often it is about speed and simplicity.

Futurist Neil Jacobsohn, says the companies today who are winning are those who master speed and this is because they adopt an exponential model, as opposed to a linear model.

Alibaba, Apple, Facebook and even Uber all bear the hallmarks of a networked, collaborative, market-responsive entity that have not forgotten the human being. They possess a high-risk appetite and a big, transformative vision according to Jacobsohn.

The organisations that are falling behind are those who are top-down and hierarchical, driven by financial outcomes and believe only in innovation from within.

Jacobsohn says companies who know their ‘why’ are the ones who create the future.

Collaboration

South African companies do understand the principles required for digital profit mastery, however, we have to quickly work out how to use the masses of data collected in a meaningful way.

The call from experts is to collaborate to make this happen. The more shoppers online, the more potential customers for everyone. Sharing the space and learning from other operators is essential, as not many businesses have the time to learn it all themselves.


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