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10 Ways AI & Machine Learning Are Revolutionizing Omnichannel

Disney, Oasis, REI, Starbucks, Virgin Atlantic, and others excel at delivering omnichannel experiences using AI and machine learning to fine-tune their selling and service strategies. Source: iStock

Bottom Line: AI and machine learning are enabling omnichannel strategies to scale by providing insights into the changing needs and preferences of customers, creating customer journeys that scale, delivering consistent experiences.

For any omnichannel strategy to succeed, each customer touchpoint needs to be orchestrated as part of an overarching customer journey. That’s the only way to reduce and eventually eliminate customers’ perceptions of using one channel versus another. What makes omnichannel so challenging to excel at is the need to scale a variety of customer journeys in real-time as customers are also changing.

89% of customers used at least one digital channel to interact with their favorite brands and just 13% found the digital-physical experiences well aligned according to Accenture’s omnichannel study. AI and machine learning are being used to close these gaps with greater intelligence and knowledge. Omnichannel strategists are fine-tuning customer personas, measuring how customer journeys change over time, and more precisely define service strategies using AI and machine learning. Disney, Oasis, REI, Starbucks, Virgin Atlantic, and others excel at delivering omnichannel experiences using AI and machine learning for example.

Omnichannel leaders including Amazon use AI and machine learning to anticipate which customer personas prefer to speak with a live agent versus using self-service for example. McKinsey also found omnichannel customer care expectations fall into the three categories of speed and flexibility, reliability and transparency, and interaction and care. Omnichannel customer journeys designed deliver on each of these three categories excel and scale between automated systems and live agents as the following example from the McKinsey article, How to capture what the customer wants illustrate:

The foundation all great omnichannel strategies are based on precise customer personas, insight into how they are changing, and how supply chains and IT need to flex and change too. AI and machine learning are revolutionizing omnichannel on these three core dimensions with greater insight and contextual intelligence than ever before.

10 Ways AI & Machine Learning Are Revolutionizing Omnichannel

The following are 10 ways AI & machine learning are revolutionizing omnichannel strategies starting with customer personas, their expectations, and how customer care, IT infrastructure and supply chains need to stay responsive to grow.

  1. AI and machine learning are enabling brands, retailers and manufacturers to more precisely define customer personas, their buying preferences, and journeys. Leading omnichannel retailers are successfully using AI and machine learning today to personalize customer experiences to the persona level. They’re combining brand, event and product preferences, location data, content viewed, transaction histories and most of all, channel and communication preferences to create precise personas of each of their key customer segments.
  2. Achieving price optimization by persona is now possible using AI and machine learning, factoring in brand and channel preferences, previous purchase history, and price sensitivity. Brands, retailers, and manufacturers are saying that cloud-based price optimization and management apps are easier to use and more powerful based on rapid advances in AI and machine learning algorithms than ever before. The combination of easier to use, more powerful apps and the need to better manage and optimize omnichannel pricing is fueling rapid innovation in this area. The following example is from Microsoft Azure’s Interactive Pricing Analytics Pre-Configured Solution (PCS). Source: Azure Cortana Interactive Pricing Analytics Pre-Configured Solution.

  1. Capitalizing on insights gained from AI and machine learning, omnichannel leaders are redesigning IT infrastructure and integration so they can scale customer experiences. Succeeding with omnichannel takes an IT infrastructure capable of flexing quickly in response to change in customers’ preferences while providing scale to grow. Every area of a brand, retailer or manufacturer’s supply chain from their supplier onboarding, quality management and strategic sourcing to yard management, dock scheduling, manufacturing, and fulfillment need to be orchestrated around customers. Leaders include C3 Solutions who offers a web-based Yard Management System (YMS) and Dock Scheduling System that can integrate with ERP, Supply Chain Management (SCM), Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and many others via APIs. The following graphic illustrates how omnichannel leaders orchestrate IT infrastructure to achieve greater growth. Source: Cognizant, The 2020 Customer Experience.

  1. Omnichannel leaders are relying on AI and machine learning to digitize their supply chains, enabling on-time performance, fueling faster revenue growth. For any omnichannel strategy to succeed, supply chains need to be designed to excel at time-to-market and time-to-customer performance at scale. 54% of retailers pursuing omnichannel strategies say that their main goal in digitizing their supply chains was to deliver greater customer experiences. 45% say faster speed to market is their primary goal in digitizing their supply chain by adding in AI and machine learning-driven intelligence. Source: Digitize Today To Future-Proof Tomorrow (PDF, 16 pp., opt-in).

  1. AI and machine learning algorithms are making it possible to create propensity models by persona, and they are invaluable for predicting which customers will act on a bundling or pricing offer. By definition propensity models rely on predictive analytics including machine learning to predict the probability a given customer will act on a bundling or pricing offer, e-mail campaign or other call-to-action leading to a purchase, upsell or cross-sell. Propensity models have proven to be very effective at increasing customer retention and reducing churn. Every business excelling at omnichannel today rely on propensity models to better predict how customers’ preferences and past behavior will lead to future purchases. The following is a dashboard that shows how propensity models work. Source: customer propensities dashboard is from TIBCO.

  1. Combining machine learning-based pattern matching with a product-based recommendation engine is leading to the development of mobile-based apps where shoppers can virtually try on garments they’re interested in buying. Machine learning excels at pattern recognition, and AI is well-suited for creating recommendation engines, which are together leading to a new generation of shopping apps where customers can virtually try on any garment. The app learns what shoppers most prefer and also evaluates image quality in real-time, and then recommends either purchase online or in a store. Source: Capgemini, Building The Retail Superstar: How unleashing AI across functions offers a multi-billion dollar opportunity.

  1. 56% of brands and retailers say that order track-and-traceability strengthened with AI and machine learning is essential to delivering excellent customer experiences. Order tracking across each channel combined with predictions of allocation and out-of-stock conditions using AI and machine learning is reducing operating risks today. AI-driven track-and-trace is invaluable in finding where there are process inefficiencies that slow down time-to-market and time-to-customer. Source: Digitize Today To Future-Proof Tomorrow (PDF, 16 pp., opt-in).
  2. Gartner predicts that by 2025, customer service organizations who embed AI in their customer engagement center platforms will increase operational efficiencies by 25%, revolutionizing customer care in the process. Customer service is often where omnichannel strategies fail due to lack of real-time contextual data and insight. There’s an abundance of use cases in customer service where AI and machine learning can improve overall omnichannel performance. Amazon has taken the lead on using AI and machine learning to decide when a given customer persona needs to speak with a live agent. Comparable strategies can also be created for improving Intelligent Agents, Virtual Personal Assistants, Chatbot and Natural Language (NLP) performance.  There’s also the opportunity to improve knowledge management, content discovery and improve field service routing and support.
  3. AI and machine learning are improving marketing and selling effectiveness by being able to track purchase decisions back to campaigns by channel and understand why specific personas purchased while others didn’t. Marketing is already analytically driven, and with the rapid advances in AI and machine learning, markets will for the first time be able to isolate why and where their omnichannel strategies are succeeding or failing. By using machine learning to qualify the further customer and prospect lists using relevant data from the web, predictive models including machine learning can better predict ideal customer profiles. Each omnichannel sales lead’s predictive score becomes a better predictor of potential new sales, helping sales prioritize time, sales efforts and selling strategies.
  4. Predictive content analytics powered by AI and machine learning are improving sales close rates by predicting which content will lead a customer to buy. Analyzing previous prospect and buyer behavior by persona using machine learning provides insights into which content needs to be personalized and presented when to get a sale. Predictive content analytics is proving to be very effective in B2B selling scenarios, and are scaling into consumer products as well

What IoT Leaders Do To Drive Greater Results

  • IoT Leaders are achieving cost and revenue gains of at least 15% or more, while laggards see less than 5%.
  • Pursuing 80% more IoT use cases compared to their peers, IoT Leaders are progressing faster down the learning curve of monetizing their application areas.
  • IoT Leaders anticipate that their IoT use cases will boost their gross profits by 13% over the next three years, three times as much as IoT laggards.

What IoT leaders do to excel and drive greater results compared to their peers is explored in the recent McKinsey report, What separates leaders from laggards in the Internet of Things. The study is based on interviews with 300 IoT executive-level practitioners from companies with more than $500M revenues which are implementing large-scale IoT strategies with projects that have progressed from pilot to production. Enterprises from 11 major industry segments from Canada, China, Germany, and the United States were included in the survey.

McKinsey found 16% of enterprises have IoT programs in production, delivering aggregate cost and revenue impacts of at least 15%. The study also found 16% of enterprises are lagging, attaining aggregate revenue and cost improvements of less than 5%. The following graphic compares companies by the level of financial impact from IoT initiatives:

Nine practices differentiate IoT Leaders from laggards, and the study provides a fascinating look into each based on the survey data. Key insights into IoT Leader’s practice areas is provided here:

  • Leaders are more aggressive about pursuing a greater number, scope, and variety of IoT applications and use cases than their less successful peers. What IoT Leaders learn quickly is how steep the IoT learning curve is, and how it’s essential to run as many IoT pilots as possible to learn more. Leaders discover the first 15 or so IoT use cases typically have a modest payback, with the average payback rising until approximately 30 use cases have been achieved. IoT Leaders anticipate that their IoT use cases will boost their gross profits by 13% over the next three years, three times as much as IoT laggards. The following graphic illustrates the financial impact per IoT use case by the cumulative number of IoT use cases enterprises initiate.

  • Leaders are more willing than their peers to change business processes to unlock IoT’s value. McKinsey found IoT Leaders are three times more likely than their peers to say that managing changes to business processes is one of the three most important capabilities for implementing IoT. CEOs who champion their company’s IoT initiatives make strong contributions in this area, removing barriers and roadblocks quickly to keep IoT programs moving forward.
  • Leaders design, pilot and move to production IoT use cases that rely on advanced endpoints far more than their peers. McKinsey finds that IoT Leaders are more visionary and aggressive than peers in developing applications with advanced endpoints.  Leaders are gaining expertise and mastery of how to creatively use advanced endpoints today, reporting higher levels of satisfaction and positive results.

  • Leaders clearly define how IoT will create value and excel in building effective business cases. McKinsey found that IoT Leaders are 75% more likely than their peers to cite the preparation of a strong business case as a critical success factor for their IoT programs. The study’s respondents who have an IoT vision that includes a strong value proposition, a proven delivery model, and a business model that drives revenue are getting results faster than their peers. 35% of Leaders rate the importance of “strong business case and vision for value creation” as one of the top three success factors versus 20% of laggards. Leaders leave nothing to chance when it comes to defining how IoT will deliver business value either in the form of greater revenue or reduced costs.

  • A CEO’s involvement and support are essential for any enterprise to succeed with  IoT. Based on personal experience with IoT pilots, C-level executives are indispensable in removing barriers and making process-level changes necessary for success. 72% of the surveyed executives agree. A vital catalyst of any enterprise succeeding with IoT is a clear, unequivocal time commitment on the part of the CEO. Enterprises in the Leaders quintile were 2.4 more likely than laggards to report that their CEO serves as the champion of IoT efforts as the following graphic illustrates:

  • Leaders credit strong alignment with IoT strategies and priorities enterprise-wide as a critical factor in their success. IoT initiatives and pilots on their way to production require executives, managers, and frontline workers to learn fresh skills and collaborate across business and functional boundaries in new ways. Enterprises need to have a strong unifying vision of where they’re going with IoT, with the CEO championing the change management required to make sure they succeed.
  • Leaders begin by adding IoT capability to existing products and services first. McKinsey found that Leaders are three times more likely than their peers to make their top priority adding IoT capabilities to existing products. They focus on how to turn the current scale they’ve achieved with suppliers, selling and service networks into a formidable competitive advantage. They’re also more adept at cross-selling and up-selling IoT-enabled products by capitalizing on current customer relationships. The following graphic compares enterprises’ single highest-priority IoT effort:

  • Leaders excel at tapping into, scaling and relying on an ecosystem of partners for innovation versus doing it all themselves. McKinsey finds that IoT Leaders excel at scaling their partner ecosystems faster and more strategically than their peers. IoT Leaders also rely more on partners for the latest technology innovations instead of attempting to create them entirely on their own. They’re also deliberately choosing IoT platforms that support third-party developers and the advanced endpoints as the graphic below shows:

  • Leaders prepare for cyber attacks, so they don’t slow things down. McKinsey found that 30% of enterprises from both IoT Leaders and their peers say that they’ve experienced cyber attacks that have resulted in high to severe damage. 57% of Leaders had been the target of cyber attacks compared to 44% of their peers. The higher number of cyber attacks happening for Leaders is due to the broader threat surface their many pilots, and production-level use cases create. The more distributed and varied IoT use cases are the greater the risk of privileged credential abuse as well. Thwarting privileged credential abuse needs to start with a least privilege access approach, minimizing each attack surface, improving audit and compliance visibility while reducing risk, complexity, and costs. Leaders in Zero Trust include CentrifyMobileIronPalo Alto Networks, and others.

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