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Omer Minkara’s report, CEM Executive’s Agenda 2017: A Data-Driven Approach to Delight Customers, revealed that “creating a unified view of customer data throughout that business” is the “top strategy” currently pursued by Best-in-Class firms focused on creating a great customer experience.

In fact, both Omer and Aberdeen’s Business Intelligence practice lead, Michael Lock, have been talking about the importance of breaking down “data silos” in order to create such a unified view for a while now.

Of course, having a ton of data that you can’t adequately or easily access is one kind of problem.

Not being able to get enough data, or any real data at all, about your customers and their preferences is another problem entirely.

Who Are Your Fans?

Think about how many people eat at restaurant chains every day. If we focus solely on “fast food,” research puts the number at 50 million. In the “casual dining” category, we find that 55% of Americans say that eat at such an establishment at least once a week.

In other words, hundreds of millions of people visit restaurants on a regular basis. Unfortunately, as Shyam Rao, CEO of Punchh told me, most of these organizations have no idea who their fans are or how to get a meaningful return on customer loyalty.

Punchh is “a cloud-based technology platform that builds engagement, loyalty, and superior, customized experiences in the restaurant industry.” The need for a platform like Punchh, Shyam told me, is driven by two factors.

First, companies realize (or, sadly, are in the process of realizing) that digital consumers expect a seamless experience across all channels and touch-points. Rightly or wrongly, if someone has done business with you via your website, for example, they expect that you will know something about them when they come into your store.

Secondly, companies realize that digital consumers can be, as Shyam put it, “super valuable.”

This is what he’s talking about. In the first quarter of last year, Starbucks reported that 21% of transactions in the US were done via their mobile app. Aside from the revenue figure that this number represents (which is not trivial), Starbucks also collects an impressive amount of data about the customers ordering and paying in this way.

Thanks to results like these, Shyam told me, “Companies want to be like Starbucks.”

The Technology of Loyalty

Of course, being like Starbucks (or Apple or Amazon) is always easier said than done.

If you want to find out as much as you can about your customers, and be able to provide them with a seamless, engaging experience however they choose to interact with you, you need some kind of enabling technology.

Card-based loyalty programs have served as such an enabling technology for some time now. The problem is that, Shyam told me, most retailers relying on loyalty card programs don’t actually know very much about you. That is, they know what you bought when and where, but that’s about it. (We know longer use the phone number associated with my CVS card, for example.)

What’s more, the endless streamer of paper coupons the cashier hands you after you’ve made a purchase using your card seems more fit for a bygone (pre-digital) era.

Consider, by contrast, the power of offering someone a coupon as they are placing an order via their phone or via a beacon as they walk into your store. Thanks to this kind of contextual immediacy, Shyam says that organizations using Punchh see “upwards of 50% redemption rates on their campaigns.”

The cost of building the kind of technology that makes these sorts of customer interactions possible would be prohibitive for most organizations (e.g., organizations that aren’t Starbucks). On top of that, keeping the necessary data flowing through a system like this poses its own problems.

For a variety of technical reasons, Shyam said,”99% of brands can’t do this.”

Engage, Predict, Execute

So what do you need in a technology solution that can help you manage customer experience in a way that matches customer expectations for relevance and seamlessness?

According to Shyam, the technology needs to help you do three things: engage, predict, and execute.

Engage

Engagement today means “engage through any channel.” The solution you choose needs to support customer interactions be they online, in mobile apps, or at the point of sale (POS). On this last point, Shyam told me that Punchh offers integration with 24 existing POS solutions, covering “80% of the market.”

In addition to the channels mentioned, the mechanisms that companies use to engage with customers include all types of loyalty programs, offers, games, and surveys. The appropriate solution needs to be able to handle these and anything else marketers and customer loyalty teams can dream up.

Predict

However you choose to engage with customers, the more relevant the engagement the better. To ensure relevance, you need data. The more data you have, the better your ability to predict whether or not a particular offer will hit.

If, for example, you know that a customer traditionally orders the same meal or visits your restaurant on a certain day, then you can tailor offers either to enhance those behaviors or, frankly, encourage others.

Bottom line is that you need a system that collects and leverages data in a way that benefits both you and your customers.

Execute

A platform solution, modular or otherwise, is, in the end, just a tool. Its benefit to your organization derives from how you use it.

For this reason, any solution you choose needs to be easy to deploy, support as many forms of engagement as possible, and, as I just mentioned, capture data in a way that you can leverage it.

As Shyam explained, the best platform will allow you to, for example, “automatically reward customers and upsell based on behavior.” Efficient data capture, data analysis, and process automation is critical to that end.

Closing the Loop

Consumers move freely between devices. And they get disappointed easily if companies can’t keep up with their behaviors and preferences.

Closing the loop in an ecommerce environment is relatively easy; everything is happening inside the machine, so to speak.

In the retail environment, where people don’t have to announce themselves or sign in to transact or conduct their business, things get complicated.

Companies like Punchh are trying to reduce that complexity and, if my conversation with Shyam Rao is any indication, they are coming up with some genuinely innovative ways to do just that.

Image Source (Creative Commons): Prayitno.

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