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Enhancing Retail Customer Experiences In The Age Of The Experience Internet As Web3 revolutionizes the ways in which companies interact with customers, AI and data analytics provide a gateway into the customers' minds.

By Amardeep Devadason

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What brings you back to a store? Is it just the product, the shopping experience, or both?

As businesses look to leverage the benefits of Web3 and immersive storytelling in marketing, companies in the Middle East are making great strides in enhancing customer experience through a hybrid marketing strategy.

Customer experience is the next gateway to fully understanding and appreciating customer behavior patterns. The "Experience Economy," coined by Joe Pine and James Gilmour in 1988, uses experience as an economic output that can meaningfully transform countries. Recently, Saudi Arabia introduced its Quality of Life program, a part of Vision 2030, to explore how the quality of customer experiences enhances the life experience of its population.

Marketing, when seen through the prism of customer experience, can offer companies in the Middle East new avenues and touch points to engage with Gen Z and millennial customers, using immersive technology and a new storytelling paradigm to provide consumers an amalgam of goods and services, interactively presented on an experiential platform. A good example of regional adoption would be the recently concluded FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, where a concerted effort from hotels to shopping malls, transport to tourism brought customer experience to the forefront for maximum interactivity and engagement.

Agility is the hallmark of a growth-focused company, and using machine learning and consumer patterns are the building blocks for a superior customer experience. Emirates was ranked at the top of the UAE Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) brand rankings in 2022, due to a combination of a reliable customer experience, built on a rich legacy of service and customer engagement. The airline scored well for its ability to reach out and meet customer needs, from ticketing via a customer-friendly app, to supporting constantly changing itineraries, and being more customer-centric in a post COVID-19 travel-scape.

Today's consumers are looking for a consistent brand experience prior to swearing in their loyalty to brands. The best way to reach them is through superior loyalty programs that blend in-person and online shopping outings, offer exciting discounts, and deliver bespoke experiences. The loyalty programs market is set to spring from US$5832.7 million in 2021 to $10442.3 million by 2026.

Related: Here's Why Business Leaders Today Need To Have An Agile Mindset

For Rotana, a popular hotel and hospitality brand in the Middle East, its loyalty program adds 21.3% of revenue generated, through members' spending. The brand extends its loyalty programs -Rotana Rewards- not just to those who join the program, but even those who are part of a partner brand loyalty program. This cross brand, symbiotic loyalty program benefits both parties, as seen with the Marriot Bonvoy and Uber partnership in the US, where users of the ride hailing app can garner points on the Marriott app.

Social media is another strong driver of personal shopping choices. For enhancing customer experience, businesses will have to tap into influencer marketing, especially on Instagram and Tik Tok. According to a recent report by YAAP, a media solutions agency, the influencer marketing industry in the Middle East is set to touch $1.3 billion in 2023. Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly getting adopted in 2023, with virtual or computer-generated imagery (CGI) influencers used for wider reach. There is burgeoning demand for mid-tier influencers as well that can deliver the social and environmental footprint of a brand.

As Web3 revolutionizes the ways in which companies interact with customers, AI and data analytics provide a gateway into the customers' minds. Customer service calls earlier meant long wait times and pre-recorded messages, but new age companies are using natural language processing (NLP) to help agents respond to customers' needs. Predictive analytics pinpoint customers that need more attention, and suggest timely interventions. Online surveys backed by AI offer another important metric to tailor customer experiences in real time, whether at a restaurant, shopping mall, or even online.

Such an intentional focus on the customer also leads to personalization- an important way for a brand to connect with its consumers. Whether a simple wish and gift code on a special anniversary, or tailoring bespoke shopping experiences based on purchase patterns, brands are leveraging their apps to make shopping a celebration of the individual. With 3D modeling to show how new wallpaper would look in your study, or a mirror app to check whether a shade of lipstick would suit your skin tone, multi-channel brands are using their shopping data to customize fits, fashion choices, and cosmetic recommendations. This kind of investment in the individual is an important way to keep brands ahead of the competition, and ensure repeat traffic to digital experiences.

Related: Boosting Revenue Through Customer Acquisition And Retention: The How-To

An extension of such personal experiences can be routing to AI powered voice-based surveys using speech recognition. Amazon Connect, a cloud-based speech analytic platform, is a good example of how businesses can use Web3 to better understand and appreciate the consumer. It uses AI to fine tune its voice of customer (VoC) programs across countries and languages. With Amazon Transcribe, each customer call gets transcribed into text augmented by real-time speech recognition. This works in tandem with Amazon Comprehend, which looks over every interaction with a fine AI comb to detect the sentiment of the caller. Using certain keywords and phrases in combination with Amazon Translate, this program can deliver conversations in the agent's preferred language. Using similar machine learning and cloud-based tools, businesses in the Middle East can grow and retain their customer base, while ensuring feedback is heard, calibrated and researched, for customer retention.

While the experience economy isn't new and has been around for decades, the renewed passion around improving customer satisfaction and augmenting customer experience is related to the multifarious possibilities brought on by the latest technologies and high-speed connectivity. However, according to a recent report by McKinsey on digital adoption in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates leads the race with 99% of its consumers connected to the internet, while over 31 million Egyptians lack access to data and broadband connections. To fully utilize the digital world of experiences, and perhaps even outpace the technological journey of the West (a journey that has begun and is moving in quick step), the entire region must improve connectivity.

In conclusion, the best way to enhance customer experience is by leveraging the experience economy, and using a 360-degree approach to marketing, branding, and creating content for the experience internet, while optimizing AI and machine learning, and designing a sustainable omnichannel strategy to back it all up.

Related: You Need Consumer Insights To Ensure The Success Of Your Business. Here Are Five Ways To Find Them.

Amardeep Devadason is the Senior Vice President and Head of Global Brand Solutions at RRD Go Creative.

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