Kick Out The Tills, CI Professionals

Mike Brown, CIO of Lowe’s, in an interview with Bloomberg on the purchase of 42,000 iPhones as point of sale (POS) devices:

Forget about the competition, we are playing catch-up with the customer psyche.

CI professionals need to follow Brown’s lead. A substitution of tablets and smartphones for cash registers promises both to improve customer experience and to transform face-to-face customer interactions into a stream of behavioral and contextual data. The benefits of digitizing human channels through consumer devices include:

  • Adding clickstream analysis to human interactions. As sales associates interact with customers, their devices can relay clickstream data back to the company’s data warehouse. For example, Pfizer’s tablet program allows it to track doctors’ content consumption patterns during sales presentations. Using interaction management, firms can test real-time content variations to optimize the sales process.
  • Expanding customer data integration options. By using the phones for mobile POS, employees will pull in customer identity. Firms can also add new methods for data capture – such as Bump-style, near-field communications – into its consumer and enterprise apps. As sales associates transfer a shopping list to the customer’s phone, the device can capture and associate customer identifiers and contextual information with the interaction.
  • Increasing the agility of customer intelligence professionals. By using consumer smartphones, CI professionals can deploy innovations faster than with traditional in-store technologies. As firms explore the possibilities of data collection or customer experience optimization, they can push updates to the phones in the field rather than having to go through a lengthy device update process. And since the devices carry so many sensors – GPS, compass, cameras, and soon more – CI professionals can rapidly add new capabilities to deployed apps.

The mobilization of human channels also carries risk. Firms must first look for consumer acceptance of enhanced interactions and privacy concerns. CI professionals should be wary because their efforts may:

  • Allow technology to impede human interactions. While the technology promises to improve customer interactions, it could encumber the process if the associate spends more time managing the device than the interaction. Prada ultimately abandoned a several-million-dollar investment in RFID technology due to poor adoption by a sales force unwilling to slow down customers who wanted to make quick purchases.
  • Create additional threats to privacy and security. Firms that do mobilize the sales force with smartphones will add new risks to customer data. With additional customer data in the warehouse and at sales associates’ fingertips, companies will need to perform rigorous audits to ensure that safeguards are applied at these new collection/delivery points. As companies add Wi-Fi to stores, they need to watch out for “men in the middle” intercepting the communications passed between devices and servers.
  • Further complicate the data integration problem. For all the potential that smartphones bring, CI teams will need additional resources – human and technological – to handle even more customer data. Already 50% cite data integration as their biggest problem. The mobilized sales force’s introduction of in-store clickstream, location, testing, transactions, customer identity, and preference data will place additional pressure onto CI, eBusiness, and customer experience professionals.

For all the benefits and risks, I’m excited by the introduction of smartphones into the sales mix, especially for what it means for the marketing technology backbone, such as:

  • how we can no longer think of POS as an adjunct function, but as the richest CI arm in the long run,
  • what a massive expansion of new users will do to content and campaign optimization, and
  • how the next big gains for CI may occur beyond marketing technology.

What do you think? Is mobilizing the sales force a boon or bust for Customer Intelligence?


Mobilizing the Masses

Today's buyers enter the store, armed with the world's information at their fingertips. Retailers need a "force multiplier" that will enable them to respond. There will be negative gateways, not just from obvious man-in-the-middle scams, but also new forms of employee pilferage as everyday workers discover how to exploit these new systems to help them save themselves a few dollars on the company's dime. An example of this is the abuse of pay-per-call systems wherein employees ask their friends and family to call them at work.

The key, in our opinion, is to enable employee improvisation, arming them to respond to the surprises of the day in a way that saves time and reduces hassle. Employees who are confident in their ability to get things done are going to be more prone to proactive approaches and less likely to brand efforts as "business as usual".

> What do you think? Is

> What do you think? Is mobilizing the sales force a boon or bust for Customer Intelligence?

I think it will be a huge boon for CI. My colleagues and I work extensively with retail data and we long for the offline equivalent of search/weblog/clickstream data.

Current approaches (e.g., shopper movement analysis with video cameras) are too coarse to be very helpful. And if you try to make them granular by using (say) facial recognition, shoppers will feel spied upon and you will spark privacy concerns. In contrast, tracking customer-INITIATED interactions feels far less intrusive. Also, the data will have the same level of richness as weblog/clickstream data and hence more amenable to effective customer-centric analysis.

I can't wait for this data to arrive :)