Each month there are approximately 171,000 searches for omnichannel on YouTube and another 228,000 on Amazon as people hunt for information on what it is, how to best implement it and, perhaps most importantly, how to realize value in one of the most complex business environments to exist. The searches grow in volume each year and reached some of their highest levels in April 2018 as searches on each channel grew more than 22 percent.
Searchers will find countless videos, books, tutorials and other instructional materials on the above, but what’s often missing is arguably the hardest element for today’s Chief Data Officer or Chief Analytics Officer to meaningfully capture and analyze: unstructured data. As SAS notes on its website, “traditional methods of data analysis cannot efficiently derive value from this unstructured data.” Yet this is where so much value exists because it forces organizations to look externally beyond its existing customer databases that are nearly universally based on a consumer’s direct interaction with the company.
Traditional data lakes are filled with demographic and transactional information that was once enough in a single or multi-channel environment where the consumer’s expectations weren’t nearly as high as they are today. The basic purchase history, email address and macro shopping behaviors were enough to fuel mostly inefficient marketing campaigns that didn’t integrate offers and message across channels, customer care that was delivered without fully understanding the lifetime value of an individual and store clerks that were nearly blind beyond their own memory to recognize a customer and their personal preferences.
“Google has been called “digital truth serum” because people feel comfortable asking the questions and searching the topics in a judgement free area”
Today an individual’s passions, interests and other behavior typically outside of the organization’s walls provide the most value in tailoring a meaningful experience that will deepen a bond and help increase lifetime value. Four primary areas of focus for mining unstructured data that will lead organizations to know more about the individual consumer:
1. Customer Care: Long ignored by and siloed off from the rest of most organizations, customer care chat logs, phone recordings and other mechanisms can provide some of the most actionable intelligence on what customers like and don’t about a product or service. Basic text analysis programs can quickly filter out key themes, drivers of dissatisfaction and misconceptions that can be addressed by an organization’s marketing, sales, merchandising and other business units. Individual-level profiles, including transaction history, past complaints and even social network followings, can provide a complete view to trained customer care reps as well to help them provide the best service possible.
2. Social Media: Many organizations are currently tracking their own social media channels, particularly Twitter and Facebook, for when a consumer directly posts a message to them. Yet arguably the higher value intelligence comes from looking off channel to when people are talking “about” an organization, rather than “to” it. People will often feel free when hiding behind the veil on anonymity online to share their true feelings rather than having their personal account for the world to see. The large caveat here is that people simply don’t post about an average experience or something that met expectations. They also are highly unlikely to post about personally embarrassing aspects, such as a health disorder, inability to afford something or true feelings that may make them the object of ire or ridicule.
3. Search Behavior: Google has been called “digital truth serum” because people feel comfortable asking the questions and searching the topics in a judgement free area. The search engine truly knows the competitors (try typing your organizations name followed by “vs” to see the autocomplete work its magic), top barriers toward purchase, products or services with the highest interest and misperceptions. Google’s many products, including Trends and AdWords, are able to import many of this data along with any web analytics program that can show the top keywords driving traffic to a website.
4. In-Store: The final source of unstructured data is actually the newest as geo-specific data collection continues to increase with the sophistication of mobile devices. One burgeoning area is the use of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and beacons to collect specific shopper behaviors once in the store. Mapping either an individual or collective pattern of store traffic can reveal significant intelligence on the areas people spend the most time in, bottlenecks in consumer flow and uncovered areas of opportunity for maximizing returns.
Individually each of these areas can add new intelligence on the all-important consumer journey, but together, with the right data architecture and mechanisms to seamlessly distribute the data throughout an organization, it can make an organization more relevant to individual audiences.
Yet, omnichannel may be over before many organizations are able to meaningfully implement it as the Harvard Business Review’s April 2018 issue notes, “current obsession with creating an omnichannel customer experience will fade as AI platforms become a powerful marketing medium, sales and distribution channel, and fulfillment and service center.”
Only time will tell.