Featuring: BrainVision Market Analytics Inc. and Keatext
Whether your customers are online or offline, their loyalty is a key driver of growth. As the current global pandemic has likely impacted every physical retail business, two disrupters in customer loyalty described how their landscape was shifting in favour of those who acted early and consistently to deliver the best value to their customers with ongoing support, assistance and resources to engage with their clients and potential clients in difficult times. When simple user-friendly loyalty platforms are enhanced by the newest wave of technologies like the internet of things and artificial intelligence, a lot more customer-centricity can be achieved.
According to Albert Lam, Founder and CEO of BrainVision Market Analytics Inc., an internet of things powered retailer focused platform that delivers a customer retention and loyalty management program to retailers across a range of categories, “The current COVID-19 crisis affects the retail sector everywhere but especially small businesses because the loss of revenue hits the smaller stores harder than the big stores that already have their own infrastructure and financial backing in place. Overall, there’s lots of cutting of hours and reduced hours in the labour force for workers in the retail industry.”
The internet of things helps solve two problems: it senses when customers are in range with a Bluetooth for retailers that host the platform, and secondly it is able to serve up ads cost-effectively for retailers in order to target the best deals to their customer base.
In times of crisis, customer retention is even more important through communication, engagement and better listening. Lam’s company BrainVision is thus looking to empower small business owners with IoT powered digital technology to lessen their losses in retail. “In the time of COVID-19, we are giving them (retailers) 100% assistance to sign up with SalePointer, a loyalty and retention platform that connects retailers with a loyal customer-base that is attracted to the best deals of the day/week/month on offer,” said Lam.
The SalePointer tool notifies customers of the best deals on offer inside a store every time you are detected within the store’s vicinity, say in the parking lot of the store or walking distance within a mall. Retailers can advertise up-to-the-minute deals and send out unique offers to certain segments of customers without needing to print and distribute pamphlets door-to-door, making it an environmentally friendly option.
For every store that has signed up with SalePointer, there’s a Bluetooth device that is connected to the platform to detect the customer visibility near the store. Stores without a website that are signed up for SalePointer are automatically indexed to Google searches and are offered their own websites. IoT helps sense presence and location. Two other trends of O-to-O or online to offline and vice versa and AI powered e-commerce only emphasize the growing importance of being omni-channel and following the customer journey into online and offline spaces. Among other operations on the horizon are AI powered e-commerce that according to Lam will “tap into the soft side of the hard science using consumer behavioural methods and machine learning as well, to target consumers based on their needs and motivations.” At BrainVision Market Analytics Inc., the goal with advancing retail intelligence for especially underserved retailers is synergistic with using the power of new technologies to drive forward growth through customer retention and targeted rewards programs.
AI, Text Mining and Customer Loyalty
Across the Ontario border and into Quebec, loyalty entrepreneur Narjès Boufaden, founder and CEO of Keatext, a Montreal based text analytics company sifts through the internet, or online reviews to offer differentiated customer sentiments through their AI text mining tool that reads volumes of data online of customer feedback reviews and tickets to categorize client feedback. Online data like open ended comments in surveys, online reviews, social media streams and customer feedback tickets are mined with NLP, and coded by AI into categories of praise, problems, suggestions and questions that offer an indication of customer feedback and sentiment for client brands, like retailers.
Featured Excerpts from an Interview with Narjès Boufaden
What is the role of customer loyalty programs with brands?
Narjès Boufaden (NB): Customer loyalty has always been the cornerstone for growth and profitability. With the COVID-19 crisis, it’s the difference between a business that will be in survival mode and planning for growth after the outbreak versus a business only planning for survival. This is particularly true for SaaS businesses where customer churn can jeopardize all new customer acquisition efforts.
In these difficult times, ensuring that your customers remain loyal to your brand is the most important and potentially one of the few factors with which you can have (plan) some “customer predictability”. There are tools, processes, and systems in place to measure and track loyalty in many organizations depending on the specific products and services on offer.
How are retailers preparing for the consumer shifts? What are key differences between pre-COVID19 customers versus now with the share of wallet for retail brands?
NB: As a SaaS business, Keatext’s main concern is to make sure customers are finding value in the solution, in particular with the shift of priorities for many businesses in the new COVID-19 reality. As most of the resulting efforts are towards keeping in touch with customers, customer success is more important than ever at this point.
In the meantime, many retail businesses are facing exponential growth in online sales. Customer requests—that up until now were easily managed in-person or via phone—are now being sent through text communications such as e-mails and reviews.
This shift towards e-commerce based activities makes it more strategic than ever for brands to offer a good online experience. Reviews and social media channels are replacing the other channels such as surveys. We see old feedback analytics projects come back to the top of the list of priorities, and traditional companies are losing market share to more digital/agile competitors.
That being said, the general trend is that now more than ever, businesses are seeking insights from their customers. More surveys are being launched and consumers are using all available communications channels to interact with businesses, including through chatbots and live chats.
Hence, despite the COVID-19, we are continuing our efforts towards customer acquisition. Demand is there and we suspect that it will increase as consumer behaviour leans towards online purchases. As for the time being, we are witnessing more demand in text analytics for reviews and more customer support tickets than before.
How are you managing customer loyalty in an uncertain age ?
NB: We are witnessing a shift in terms of prioritization, where needs associated with operational improvements and optimization in the supply chain, as well as workforce management, are put in priority as they directly impact the cost of operations. Operational efficiency (and revenue optimization) is also the aspect of business that can be controlled by the company, especially in uncertain times where revenues are difficult to predict. This prioritization means that loyal customers will prioritize budgets on a must-have basis with the highest ROI.
When the house is on fire, you’ll likely look for water to stop the fire before looking to open windows for fresh air. As we speak with customers and prospects, despite their need for consumer insights to make sure that they are staying in sync with their changing needs, they have immediate worries they need to take care of. They want first to make sure that the business will continue to operate and that money is not wasted by overlooking operational discrepancies. We expect to see priorities come back to normal in the coming months and potentially new opportunities to better serve our customers while leveraging learnings from the crisis.
What kind of vendor partnerships are retail loyalty programs best matched up with?
NB: With the proliferation of communication channels and media, consumers have multiple ways to connect with a business. Keatext’s strength lies in making sense of unstructured consumer feedback regardless of the textual medium used. Moreover, ideal customer loyalty partners are those with the added technology that provide us a means to collect the customer feedback such as survey platforms like Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey, chatbots such as Intercom and live chat platform providers as well as CRMs such as Zendesk or Salesforce.
The internet of things offers a strong opportunity as well and customer loyalty platforms like SalePointer can offer to connect consumers with a range of retailers offering attractive deals to those in the vicinity of physical stores; and in pandemic times, the opportunity lies in connecting the app’s users with retail delivery services or in O2O services of converting online traffic to offline traffic and vice-versa. For example, BrainVision has partnered with companies like IBM and Uber as well.
On top of all the communication channels, Keatext are now providing a complete suite of feedback collection services to manage customers’ public reviews to help retail businesses capture the consumer feedback loop within a single platform. This move is in line with our vision of a customer feedback management platform where feedback is being collected, analyzed and actions are being triggered based on a unified view (or reporting) of customer insights.
Ultimately, the best way to take advantage of text analytics is by putting it at the service of processes supported inside the platform, rather than outside, democratizing the use of text analytics, making it more accessible and easy to use.
Can you share more about your work in loyalty across businesses and sectors?
NB: Keatext’s customers are B2B and B2B2C businesses across industries such as finance, telecom, beauty and cosmetics as well as in automotive. We’ve seen loyalty in these different industries so far. We try to provide our customers with an insightful picture of how their customers are interacting with the business and explanations to consumer behavioural changes associated with their purchase decisions. In special times like this one, where consumers are faced with revenue uncertainty and health fears, it is crucial for businesses to be aware of any change of purchase behaviour and most importantly to the concerns (explanations) that triggered that change. Powered with this customer behavioural information, businesses can adjust their offering, provide more support, flexibility and overall show empathy towards their customer base.
For instance, with the current uncertainty comes the fear for brand managers to sound “tone-deaf” in their messaging. This is not the time to ignore what customers (and everyone really) are currently going through because this would hurt customers’ loyalty regardless of their disposable incomes. This translates into more customized messaging and the need for brands to listen to what their customers are saying.
Brands like Glow are now holding video conferencing based customer interactions such as “Happy Hours”. In times of social distancing, people miss social interactions and can be more available or interested in connecting socially with brands and the increase in survey response rates are an indication and proof of this new consumer availability. “Crisis connections” will no doubt impact (increase) loyalty when the crisis is over, as customers will remember which brands reached out to them in their time of need!
Today’s new reality concretely impacts simple things such as picking the right colour of foundation. When testers aren’t available anymore, it forces brands to be more creative to help their customers choose the right product, whether it’s through more detailed tutorial videos or virtual one- on-one sessions for instance.
This very contextualized information is mostly available in unstructured feedback provided in public reviews, surveys or customer support tickets. Every business acknowledges the need for adjustment and change; the challenge is knowing what to change. That’s what we provide, so businesses can take the appropriate measures with the confidence that this will result in increased ROI.
What does the future of loyalty programs look like for brands like Keatext and BrainVision?
NB: Dovetailing on the popularity and rise of investment spending in data analytics, is the major trend of personalization in the beauty market with a tremendous impact on customer loyalty. This goes from conversational customer experience with chatbots that suggest the best product based on consumer preferences, interactive customer experience with virtual reality to virtually trying products or the customization of products to make personalized offers that fit the customers’ reality. AI plays a major role in this personalization trend.
Mintel’s Global Beauty and Personal Care Trends 2030 report suggests that beauty start-ups and veterans alike embrace new technologies and innovative ideas including the internet of things. That includes teaming up with tech businesses – from body sensor technology inventors to virtual reality media studios to AI based companies. In fact, the beauty industry is one of the retail segments with a moderately high AI adoption rate. For retailers overall, AI adoption (19%) is followed closely by the internet of things (17%).
Text analytics plays a major role in providing data on consumer preferences to support personalization in every aspect of the business. With the abundance of textual information available through business social media channels, public reviews as well as surveys, it has become possible with advanced text analytics to reveal a wealth of knowledge about consumer habits, daily routines, and personal situations that impact product adoption and loyalty. Keatext has been helping customers get a granular understanding of how consumers react to products, and what seems to matter to them when using a particular beauty product for example. These insights drive social media marketing campaigns, which impact directly loyalty as well as new customer acquisition.
Companies like Keatext and BrainVision Market Analytics Inc., are changing the game for retailers offering them unique opportunities to invest in new technologies to attract more customers driven by personalization, data analytics and knowledge of consumer and human behaviour.