It’s every marketers’ wish: being able to see into the future, and understand what customers want long before they know it themselves. Think it’s nothing but a daydream? Well, maybe not. This is what Elisabeth Olafsdottir, Analytics and BI Lead at Microsoft had to say during her talk at the Festival of Marketing.

Can we solve problems as fast as they appear?

Marketing isn’t getting any easier. Yes, there are plenty of tools and tricks to help get the required results, but customers have rising expectations and audiences are harder to crack. There’s now a real urgency to improve the scale, speed and volume of lead generation; to improve marketing spend efficiency; to create an omnichannel presence; and to differentiate on customer experience. Because by 2020, customer experience is predicted to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator[1].

But if your marketing department or company has legacy systems and processes, it can be hard to overthrow these and change to meet new customer expectations. Customers have changed a huge amount in the last few years, and this isn’t likely to slow down any time soon. A key part of digital transformation is adapting to meet these changing needs. So, businesses need to evaluate what they’ve got, and how they can evolve. Elisabeth points out that it’s a journey that Microsoft is going on too, so as we learn, we’re helping our customers transform too.

New digital marketing techniques and rapid product cycles raise the risk of making mistakes. Everything is happening much faster, and some businesses are finding that problems can get bigger before we can find a way to solve them.

Living in the ‘relationship economy’

Think back to the last purchase you made. Whether it was big or small, a product or a service, how much research did you do? How many reviews and recommendations did you read? Now, more than ever, customers are finding out everything they can before taking the final step in the buying journey.

Technology advances and innovation hasn’t just changed the way we live and work, but has also changed our perception of trust. Customers want to shop with companies that fit with their beliefs and values; companies that have a good reputation, and offer a great customer experience. This has led to a move away from the consumer economy, and towards the relationship economy. As we’ve all seen, the rapid sharing of bad experiences can lead to (sometimes irreparable) damage to brand reputation. You see examples in the media all the time – from data breaches in communications firms, to poor customer experience in airline brands.

In this digital age, the customer relationship is increasingly complex. Shopping options are diverse: you can buy products on apps, in person, online, and even using AI and voice commands. And however they’re shopping, customers expect each point of contact to be connected and consistent. Whether you’ve favourited a product on a brand’s app then decide to buy in store, you don’t want to repeat yourself every time you engage with a company.

Understanding relationship history and knowing your shoppers works: 56% of customers are more likely to buy if their experiences are personalised[2]. And 60% of engaged customers spend 60% more per transaction, which delivers three times as much value to a brand in just one year[3]. So, to ensure that each customer gets the experience they want across whichever channel they choose to use, businesses need to power their presence across all channels. They need to create a positive, seamless experience.

However, the average retail organisation uses between three and five different technologies to support multi-channel experiences. This disconnect – where marketing efforts and insights are separate to commerce sites and sales data – results in lost revenue, abandoned carts and unhappy customers. A whopping 62% of global consumers switch service providers due to poor customer service experiences.

But retail and consumer goods industry leaders know they need to invest in unified solutions. 69% of worldwide software spending in 2016 centres on unified commerce-related initiatives – and represents a huge US$30bn[4].

Ready to see the future?

Elisabeth points out that the rules are changing. Companies need to see how they can use digital to meet these new expectations. Using bots, AI and machine learning, marketers can create these personalised experiences and anticipate customer behaviour.

Using information based on previous interactions, marketing departments can create a targeted customer experience, individual to each person. Marketers can predict what customers will do next, based on what they explored on the company website, what they downloaded, what content they read or viewed, and what events they attended or were interested by.

But the only way to do all of this at scale, Elisabeth says, is using technology. Three types of technology need to meet: the cloud, data and intelligence. Then business outcomes can move into the fore, as businesses can do more and achieve new goals. From becoming more responsive and enhancing customer experience, to taking on new opportunities and anticipating customer behaviour and needs, it’s all possible.

Targeting customers with behavioural segments

The big data phenomenon means we can explore large volumes of data – and even better, we can make sense of it too. Big data has opened a plethora of opportunities, as the huge volumes of data means it’s more accurate. And because it’s more accurate, you can explore it in more detail, which lets you understand customers on a more granular level. Marketers can tailor interactions to suit customer needs. And this goes beyond just regulatory requirements like opt-in preferences, but spans as far as the channel a customer prefers to use, like chat or email, and even down to the time of day to speak to them.

And that’s where we need the ability to harness data.

Elisabeth describes how the team do it at Microsoft. Using predictive technology to analyse customer interactions, they can see where customers will get the most benefit. Then they’re able to segment and score customers, based on what content they interact with on the site. For every piece of content a customer reads, watches or downloads, they’re assigned a score. And once this score hits a certain level, the customer gets sent specific offers or events.

Microsoft technology and analytics scores each customer. And analytics is evolving too. It’s moved beyond being a predictive model that uses machine learning to understand evolving behaviours. It’s a self-adapting technology that can change according to the patterns it sees. And that informs the next actions to take.

Using this approach, marketers can improve response rates. You already know what your customer is interested in, and what they want to hear about. So, you can predict and deliver the best suited offer, depending on the customer’s unique profile. This could even span into the promotion of custom offers, and tailored landing pages and content.

It can also protect revenue by predicting the probability of a customer leaving to a competitor. This foresight lets businesses reach out to those customers with a high-risk score, giving them special offers.

Elisabeth points out that where we’re talking about these intelligent systems, we’re really just talking about AI. Microsoft can use that technology to deliver a human-like customer experience, and then pass the more complex queries onto customer service staff. This highly personalised, consistent level of services uses both people and bots, and is available 24/7/365. It frees people up from simple, FAQ-related tasks, and lets them concentrate on bigger, more complex tasks.

If you’d like to experience how AI, the cloud and analytics can help improve marketing and customer experience, sign up for the Azure Summit at Microsoft Future Decoded here

Plus, you can attend our free cloud workshops, where you can focus on analytics

And if you have internal analytics capability, why not visit the Cortana Intelligence Gallery to explore some pre-built assets?


[1] Customers 2020: The Future of B-To-B Customer Experience, Walker, 2017

[2] Pulse Check, Accenture Interactive, 2016

[3] The Economics of Engagement, Rosetta Consulting, 2014

[4] Unified Commerce: Retail is Coming Together, IHL, 2016