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Determining the Value of the Virtual Shopping Experience

We are increasingly hearing about the value of improving the shopping experience by adding virtual expertise to the store. As head of Cisco’s Retail & Hospitality practice, I frequently talk to customers who are exploring this concept – though what I mainly hear are questions! While many are interested in the idea, they are still trying figure out whether or not a virtual customer expert is going to add more revenue to their bottom line.

Putting a collaborative expert into the store – virtual or physical – can actually be critical to meeting the needs of the consumer, especially during the purchase of a high-priced product or for a purchase where it is very important to make the right decision. However, very often this level of expertise is not available in the aisle when the consumer is dwelling there. And yet, the presence of such an expert can be extremely important. For example:

  1. A mother is shopping for an over-the-counter decongestant late in the evening for her child, who is also taking medication for ADD. A pharmacist is not available, but getting the wrong medication could be life-threatening.
  2. A couple is buying a printer for their college-age daughter, who shares an apartment with three other students. They need a printer that can be networked so all four girls can print their assignments and research papers.
  3. A party host would like to purchase several cases of wine that complement the menu, but are not overwhelmingly expensive.
  4. A couple is browsing the latest assortment of home security devices, trying to make sense of what will work with their current network configuration.

Savvy retailers debate how to solve the problem of providing highly paid experts to be immediately available to consumers, without footing the bill for an employee who may be idle part of the time. Additionally, it may be necessary to provide a level of privacy while engaging the expert. The retailer’s quandary is how to attractively offer this service in a way to increase basket and justify this use of valuable selling space.

Forward-looking retailers recognize that this capability is part of providing a truly integrated omnichannel experience. Shoppers are no longer either in the store or online… they are both, and sometimes at the same time. Thanks to our mobile devices, consumers can research, compare prices, and shop with our mobile devices in the aisle. According to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, retailers need to adopt a “digical” strategy – a term coined by Bain & Company’s Darrell Rigby and Suzanne Tager – meaning the seamless integration of digital with physical retail. (For more, check out the article, “The Future of Retail Will Be Won or Lost in ‘Digical.’”)

In any channel in this digical world, retailers will lose revenue if they are unable to differentiate themselves by providing excellent value, combined with the appropriate amount of customer service. And here is where the virtualized experience can drive a new level of engagement for the brick-and-mortar store. Via video collaboration on a consumer’s mobile device, a kiosk display, online, or an associate’s tablet, shoppers looking for advice can easily connect with your centralized or outsourced pool of experts for immediate assistance. Let’s go back to the scenarios above:

  1. A QR code is posted on a sign that reads: “Photograph this sign with your mobile device and you can speak to one of our pharmacists on call 24×7.” The pharmacy service immediately calls the mother’s mobile phone number to discuss which medication will be safe for her ADD son.
  2. An associate in the printer aisle approaches the couple and boots up an expert session on his tablet to discuss feeds, speeds, and price points. This helps the family determine which printer will best fit their daughter’s needs.
  3. The party host approaches a kiosk to engage a wine expert. He enters the date and time of the party so that weather can be taken into account, the centerpiece menu items, and his desired price range. He then engages with a virtual expert who provides options as well as a special discount based on the number of cases. Additionally, he is offered a 50% discount on disposable wine goblets.
  4. As the couple browses an array of home security options, the retailer pushes a promotion to their mobile device: “If you would like a complementary home security assessment, follow this link to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.” This in-home expert then cross-sells and upsells products from a tablet in the home, and schedules an in-store meeting when products arrive to discuss installation.

When used in conjunction with brick and mortar, virtual in-store and online expertise complement the natural selling journey with consumers to fill an important gap in the omnichannel experience. Click here to learn more about Cisco’s thinking in this area, or contact me at

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Content: Are you Taking the Right Journey?

We all know about the importance of knowing your customer needs, and focusing on the digital journey. But all too often, we overlook the content that customer experiences — and how well it pays off the journey. A few months ago at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association  conference, I shared five steps to tune the customer  journey and the content needed to support it. Here are some lessons learned (and what you can do to get started).

1.  Build out customer personas.

The first step is to bring your customer targets to life. Who are your customers and what do they care about? What are their key go-to sources for web, mobile and social?  The key is to understand the roles these target buyers play and the interplay within the purchase process. At Cisco, we started with three target personas for our Data Center buyers and did a deep dive into careabouts for CEO, BDM and Technical Influencer roles. Read More »

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What Advocacy and My Yoga Pants Have in Common

I have been getting a lot of questions about advocacy so I want to take a few minutes to share my thoughts. I often hear people use the terms “influencers” and “advocates” interchangeably. While there are similarities between these two groups, in my opinion they’re not necessarily one and the same. You may have a different viewpoint on this, and that’s fine. What I’ve discovered is people define these terms differently which results in mixing these 2 groups. Taking some liberties with Ant’s Eye View’s (AEV) definitions of advocates and influencers, this is how I would like to describe them:

An influencer is someone who actively shares their opinions and expertise through their (large) personal and professional networks. An influencer is someone that can cause an effect without apparent exertion or force. Most common examples include analysts and media.

An advocate is someone who proactively defends, promotes and participates in the public conversation for a particular brand, product, service or cause. An advocate is someone that has positive affinity toward and stands behind a brand, product or cause. Most common examples include your most passionate customers and general brand aficionados.

In my mind, advocacy implies Read More »

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Realizing the Benefits of Internet of Everything for Customer Experience: Part 1 #IoE

We’re entering the age of the Internet of Everything (IoE), which is about connecting the Internet to the physical world (people, process, data, and things). We’re early in the process, with approximately 10 billion devices already connected. By 2020, Cisco projects that this number will reach 50 billion “things.” One of the key areas of impact identified in the Cisco Internet of Everything Economy report, “Embracing the Internet of Everything To Capture Your Share of $14.4 Trillion,” is customer experience. The report estimates that IoE-driven customer experience advances — based on increasing customer lifetime value and growing market share by adding more customers — will drive $3.7 trillion of the estimated $14.4 trillion of IoE Value at Stake globally over the next decade.
IoE is enabling organizations to engage with their customers in whole new ways and to create new business models. IoE is all about making new connections possible: interactions among people, and between people and devices. It’s also about the ability of devices to communicate with each other, with applications, and with digital services, and then empowering those technologies to take action based on these communications.

When more of the world is connected, expect the delivery of your customer experience to shift beyond the boundaries of your current web and mobile sites, and past the walls of your offices and stores. New technologies connected to the Internet — including things like Google Glasses, IP-enabled lightbulbs, new gesture technologies, and sensors — will form the foundation of IoE. However, it is the data stream produced by all of these new connections that will have the greatest impact on your relationship with your customers.

With IoE, you will be better able to build customer loyalty and delight — creating emotional brand connections, personalizing the experience, and targeting offerings based on the data generated by IoE. Just think about what the IoE-powered future might look like across your customer journey.

  • Transform the process of building awareness and encouraging purchases,by bringing together data from various sources, including sensors that pick up signals to help anticipate customer needs. Target these customers in real time based on history, location, and activity.
    • Apps move from performing cross-brand product comparisons to enabling customers to determine where to find items based on criteria they set, including best price, product ratings, and the most convenient retail location to shop (automatically taking traffic and wait times into consideration).
    • Connected vending machines, digital signage, and other surfaces will recognize customers and deliver customized content at the point of need.
    • Items will be ordered on — and delivered to — a customer’s mobile phone, wherever it is located.
  • Post-sale, connect with the personal side of customers’ lives to help them achieve their goals. This will enable you to add post-sale value to create new revenue streams and drive new insights for innovation. Look for ways to be proactive, anticipate and prevent issues before they happen, or make suggestions that will improve a customer’s life.
    • Mobile devices or sensors react to the environment and are set to receive personalized messages placed by you or your customers’ social circles.
    • Sensors on clothing monitor customers’ health, enabling them to analyze and collect information about themselves, optimize their personal behaviors, and alert caregivers when there is an issue.
    • Connected cars move beyond monitoring an automobile’s performance to collecting data about customers’ driving habits, providing instant insurance quotes, and communicating with things along a route

These capabilities can be offered as services, and the great thing is they can be updated and improved over time. Companies like Nike are already way ahead with products like Nike Fuel. Nike has secured a role in my life around my fitness goals, and given all the history it has collected about me, I am not likely to switch to a competitor anytime soon.

If you want to be in a position to tap in to the potential of IoE, it’s time to get thinking about the role your brand will play in this new world. One of the first steps in designing your customer experience is good information about the needs and trends of your customers. Cisco is helping through primary research such as the Connected Customer Experience Report for Health Care, with more industries to come.  Please also follow us on the new Cisco Customer Experience Facebook page and Twitter for updated information.

In Part 2 of this blog series, I’ll provide specific details on how to get started in realizing the benefits of IoE for improving customer experience. In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts on how IoE will redefine customer experience as we know it.

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YouTube and the Customer Journey

Cisco's Social Media Gadget

Cisco’s Social Channel Feeds allow encourage visitors to continue their social journeys from YouTube.

YouTube video plays several key roles in the Customer Journey. The video platform offers customers a way to engage through comments and sharing content with one another and plays a supporting (sometimes starring) role in other social media campaigns by serving up videos for Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

While it is more obvious that these other Social Media Platforms steer the customer journey towards YouTube videos, it is also interesting to note where and how the customer journey continues on from online video. Video can and does assist in the continuation of the customer journey towards these other social media platforms. The trick is optimizing YouTube to tap the full potential online video has in supporting and continuing the customer journey:

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