Technology! How to Leverage New Innovations for a Better Customer Experience

We don’t use technology anymore - we live it. From wearables tracking our steps each day to online voice ordering with Alexa and rapid kiosks at McDonald’s - available tech is dictating how people interact with businesses and with each other, gathering enormous treasure-chests of data along the way. As marketers, we are in a position where we can leverage more data and information than ever before.

At the 2017 Marketing and Mentoring Summit, Dawn Fitzgerald, Sr. Director, Marketing Services at Sysco, and Tim Clevenger, VP of Brand, Creative B2C Strategy & Integrated Marketing at Cambia Health Solutions, led a panel discussion covering the ways in which top brands can leverage technology to optimize business, create new opportunities and solve present needs.

Fitzgerald opened with a thought: “Ask yourself, what work are you creating for people that they don’t want to do?”

Technology should be about introducing balance, not more work. It should bridge a business' solutions with the customers' needs and make it so that the two feel seamless. For example, the restaurant industry has seen that they can stay competitive by investing in interactive tech and digital ordering options that make the purchase process faster and more efficient, reducing both operational costs and human contact.

“The trend with millennials is that they don’t want to interact with people,” said Fitzgerald. 

Today's consumers want to be in and out as quickly as possible, and while we’re not saying we don’t - or won’t - need people in the future, the companies that are applying this approach to customer service are improving their bottom line by saving significantly on operations cost, labor resources, and physical space. This also creates and opportunity for smaller businesses to expand in an industry where physical locations were previously too cost prohibitive.

Fitzgerald cited some examples in the food service industry when taking a look at specific ways brands are implementing technology into different parts of the customer journey:

  • McDonald's –  Installed nutritional kiosks, applied mobile ordering and started curbside pick up.

  • Amazon Go Store – Is testing out a business model without cashiers whatsoever. The framework allows you to put whatever you want in your basket and have it charge to your Prime account on your way out.

  • Chipotle – Built smaller stores for only take-out options. Previously, most were created to be dine-in.

  • Panera – Increased personalized ordering and improved order accuracy with heir 2.0 ordering kiosks.

  • Starbucks – Has reinvented all the ways you might get your coffee - you can order online, from your phone or in-store without doing the line.

Perhaps most notable in all of these examples is that the technologies used and the insights that drove them weren't complicated, futuristic innovations. Instead, they were simply additions that solved the customer's desire to get their product or service faster. It's critical to think not just about new technologies, but where friction exists in the customer experience and how technology might solve that.

Tech Enabled Frictionless Service

This idea of a frictionless service is all about creating the most fluid and pleasant experience for our consumers - and it can only be achieved through smart data analysis. To do this, Sysco's two main goals right now are to provide businesses with information that helps them run more efficiently and to allow clients to order stock directly from their phones - sans salesperson interaction.

Perhaps a bit more challenging than other industries, Clevenger and his team are also looking for similar ways to disrupt the healthcare industry with new technological advances. In an industry that hasn't evolved much over the years (in the way of marketing and patient experience), this is no easy feat.

"The concept of changing our entire marketing approach and member experience was daunting at the time, but now they can see a future that enables that [friction-free service],” said Clevenger.

Remember that even Facebook was daunting when it first arrived on the scene - now it seems inconceivable not to leverage it in marketing.

In the healthcare industry, there are still many painful touch points across a customer’s experience, be it from the patient, doctor or institution point of view. Clevenger's team is using technology to create more transparency and engagement when it comes to doctor-patient relationships. By leveraging the availability of user-generated data (through things like wearables, and food trackers, etc.) and creating more seamless data collection, storage and transfer they are reinventing how patients approach their healthcare. Some of the areas for innovation include:

  • Improving navigation of the overall healthcare experience. For instance, transferring records from doctors to doctors, which is currently cumbersome and painful, and even scheduling check up appointments before there is a health problem.

  • Using technology to provide transparency around costs for patients – at provider level, prescriptions, MRIs, lab work - making all of this easily accessible in a way that decreases sticker shock and last-minute surprises for patients.

  • Allowing for more seamless cost comparisons. For example, if an MRI is recommended, patients should be able to easily compare prices between provider and the MRI options.

  • Establish a system for prescription comparison – comparing brand name to generic versions - to help doctors and patients make educated decisions about their medications and pharmacies used.

Leveraging data that already exists, the healthcare industry can provide highly targeted services based on predictions and user generated content. For example, by providing the aforementioned prescription ratings for efficacy, patients can be provided available alternatives to consider.

As marketers, these principles and overarching ideas can be extrapolated to other industries and brands in order to better serve their customers. The secret to great technology in the customer journey is that it doesn't stand out. People shouldn't be aware that they are using it - it should just intuitively lead to a better experience. 

Technology Helps Marketers Be Better Stewards for Customers and Brands

“If you don’t understand who [your] customers are, how often are they coming in and how you can get them in more often, you’re wasting an important opportunity," said Fitzgerald. 

The sheer amount of data and technology offerings can certainly be intimidating, but making smart decisions now will have a tenfold result on your marketing efforts in the future. 

Discriminating between the shiny new 'tech du jour' and the ones that will actually move your marketing and business objectives is the part that marketers often struggle with the most. But Fitzgerald and Clevenger reminded members to reverse-engine the process: Look for areas in the customer journey that could be improved or are causing drop-off. Brainstorm why this is happening and what the problem really is - then identify what possible solutions might look like. Then and only then, seek out the technology that could help you solve it, keeping in mind that this solution might already exist in your current tech stack.

“The space of staying up to speed and learning in the technology space is aggressive; things are changing rapidly compared to 20 years ago. Perspective is important - involve the IT department and get their insight to make sure you invest in tech that will grow, adapt and be scalable," said Clevenger.

Changing your point of view on the problem allows you to be a better steward for both your brand and your customers, creating sustainable processes for future success.