Becoming A Customer-Centric and Data-Driven Business

On 25th April, I had the honor of chairing the second day of Savant eCommerce Amsterdam. Over the course of the day, we heard talks from some interesting speakers about how to make organizations more customer-centric and data-driven. I also conducted a small interactive poll amongst the conference participants about big data and technology. You can check out the full poll results here. Let’s explore what I found out.

I started with an easy question:

What will be the key technology for enhancing your customer experience in the coming 5 years?

Graph taken from small interactive poll at Savant eCommerce Amsterdam which asked respondees "What will be the key technology for enhancing your customer experience in the coming 5 years?" 36% chose big data analytics, 28% chose chatbots/voice assistants, 22% chose mobile technologies, 14% chose other technologies.

* Mobile technologies include mobile payment and geofencing.

** Other technologies include technologies such as block chain, AR, VR, and 3D printing.

According to event participants, big data analytics will be the technology of choice for retailers in the coming 5 years when they look to enhance customer experience. But how can retailers take advantage of the opportunities big data provides? Dutch online supermarket Picnic’s CTO, Daniel Gebler, gave some good examples. Picnic uses big data and AI to reduce their customers’ order time by giving bulk product recommendations. Picnic’s aim is for its customers to fill half of their shopping basket with just one click. Picnic also uses big data to calculate the most efficient route for its delivery vans and customers can pinpoint the location of their delivery van in real time. Thus, Picnic’s value proposition is all about operational excellence: they try to outsmart the competition using big data & AI by offering their customers the best prices and most efficient shopping process.

Of course, as a new market entrant, Picnic was able to be a data-driven company from the start. For established market players this is much more difficult because of a lack of skilled personnel, budget constraints, ethical issues and organizational culture.

Conclusion: Being a startup can be a business advantage when it comes to utilising technology.

But while big data may be a key technology for enhancing the customer experience, it also comes with its own issues.


What is currently your company’s biggest challenge for using big data?

Graph asking "What is currently your company's biggest challenge for using big data?" 53% answered integrating info systems/data sources, 11% answered "the organizational culture," 11% answered "Generating insights in a timely manner," 5% "Recruiting and retaining big data talent," 5% "Data security and privacy," "handling voluminous data" 3%, "Other" 13%

The biggest challenge for using big data among the attendees is currently the integration of information systems and data sources. However, this does not mean that retailers do not face other challenges in becoming data-driven as other speakers of the day also stressed.

Both Janina Vriesekoop & David Bloeming from Heineken and Shehnaaz Chenia from LEGO presented the challenges of large corporations undergoing their own digital transformations. The Heineken case study showed that the use of chatbots can enhance customer satisfaction and customer engagement. Meanwhile LEGO presented a case study about becoming an omnichannel business by unifying the digital and physical store. In both cases, the role of culture in the digital transformation was stressed: all employees should have a good grasp of the digital sphere and should take part in the digital transformation of the company. Disney Yapa (ContentSquare) gave a good example of how to involve all employees in digital transformation: ContentSquare made the  insights their website performance tool provides available to all their employees.

Getting actionable insights from data is key, but can also be challenging for many companies. By outsourcing one part of the data analysis process, companies can take advantage of external expertise in data analytics and machine learning. Especially for small and medium-sized companies, it is difficult to have sufficient resources for carrying out big data analytics in-house. I believe that to become a data-driven business the big data agenda should be the direct responsibility of a company’s Board of Directors. With Daniel Gebler on Picnic’s board (Daniel has a both a PhD in computer science and an MBA), the online Dutch supermarket clearly understands this very well!

Conclusion: Corporate boards should be responsible for making sure they utilize the opportunities of big data analytics  — but that doesn’t mean that all analytics work should be done in-house.


Big data analytics goals in order of priority for retailers***

Big data analytics goals in order of priority for retailers graph — shows that marketing performance optimization is leading goal, followed by customer journey optimization, followed by inventory optimisation, followed by benchmarking/competitor analysis, followed by social listening, followed by workforce/energy usage optimisation, followed by fraud detection

*** Average rank on a scale from 1 (lowest priority) to 7 (top priority).

Event attendees’ top big data analytics goals were optimizing their marketing performance and the customer journey. As such, retailers primarily use big data analytics to improve the customer experience and relationship. Customer-centricity and data science can easily go hand-in-hand as many speakers showed during the day. However, big data is not a prerequisite for being customer-centric. Do not forget that customers are not numbers and do not want to be treated as such. This can be the case when using algorithms to optimize the customer experience (although technological developments go very fast in AI and machine learning). Some speakers presented other strategies to enhance the customer relationship. Steven Klooster of Travelbird talked about the “power of surprise” when it comes to building a strong relationship with the customer. Similarly, Damien Poelhekke of showed how you can forge strong customer relationships via co-creation.

Conclusion: The customer is not a number, so do not just focus on data analytics or technology to enhance the customer experience.

In an era of strong competition, swiftly changing consumer demands and rapid technological developments, having a clear customer proposition is key for retailers. Over the course of Savant eCommerce Amsterdam there were good discussions and inspiring examples about how retailers can add value for their customers by using big data and via other means. I am already looking forward to next year’s event!

Written by Jesse Weltevreden.


About the author

Jesse Weltevreden is professor of Digital Commerce at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) and founder of the Centre for Market Insights. Weltevreden is also Director Research of the Ecommerce Foundation, an international non-profit organisation ‒ founded by national e-commerce associations and e-commerce companies worldwide ‒ that produces key facts and research in the field of e-commerce.

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