How to Use Data to Become Incredibly Customer Centric

Steve Stone, former CIO of L Brands and Lowes, recently discussed how retailers can use data to serve their customers better and become incredibly customer centric....
How to Use Data to Become Incredibly Customer Centric
Written by Rich Ord
  • Steve Stone, former CIO of L Brands and Lowes, recently discussed how retailers can use data to serve their customers better and become incredibly customer-centric:

    Retail Grew Up Differently

    When you think about retail, retail grew up differently. We started with stores and then we eventually added e-commerce. We were also very much notorious best-of-breed in the way we build our applications. Over time, you’ve got this technical debt where information about the customer and information about the product is stored in many different places.

    When you’re trying to build an integrated seamless frictionless customer experience it’s very hard to do that if your information is disjointed. One of my favorite sayings is if the plumbing isn’t right it doesn’t matter how nice the experience is it just isn’t going to work. This is a huge challenge for retailers and it’s where technology really has to play a role, not only to combine the information but to find ways to add speed and agility to the entire process.

    Data Key to Meaningful Customer Experiences

    I’ve always said data governance isn’t exactly sexy but it’s it’s what really drives the ability to deliver those types of meaningful customer experiences. With the focus now today on the customer experience with the Internet of Things and with all these new technologies coming at us and especially with the advent of AI and machine learning, we now see that data has to be right, the hygiene has to be great. Suddenly, master data has become a vogue term in retail and in consumer products.

    I think the biggest problem a lot of companies find is they’ve got to find a place to start. You’ve got to get that starting point. Picking an experience, an experience that you want for the customer, and then flowing back through, where are all the interaction points of data, where does it originate, and where is it getting corrupt? Cleansing that and building that one experience we’ll start you on your journey.

    Be Customer Centric, Not Product Centric

    After that, it’s really getting into the plumbing and understanding your data and understanding the customer. It’s always amazing when we build these great customer experiences, but they’re built more for us and not for the customer. At L Brands we always put the customer first. Be customer centric, not product-centric. How do we integrate, how do we become customer first in everything that we do?

    We’re really at the point now where the technology exists to do this right. The integration platforms such as MuleSoft are really strong now that allows you to stitch together your applications plus build an extensible layer where applications can change quickly. That experience becomes one where if I’m a customer and I walk into a store and you don’t have the product I want there‚Äôs no problem. The product will still be at my doorstep the next day or hopefully that day.

    Knowing Your Customer

    I’m online and I want this product and I don’t want to have to wait for it to come from your distribution center in Detroit or Wisconsin. I want it and I’m in California and I get it in a couple of hours because the retailers are able to use the inventory in those local stores.

    As a customer, you know me regardless of the channel, whether I came to you via the call center or whether I came to you in a store or online. You know me and that’s to me where retailers have to be. I don’t think that’s differentiating as much anymore, instead, I think that’s becoming the table stakes.

    You can’t compete against the past, you’ve got to compete against what the future is going to be. I see retail changing so much from inventory, from the customer, and even the whole level of personalization that we’re trying to offer to the customer now. The customer is going to be asking for things that we would never have dreamed possible and yet in a few years we’re going to be delivering it.

    The Best Retailers Cater to Their Customers

    Retailers that I really admire are Costco, Lilly Pulitzer, Ulta Beauty, Tractor Supply, they have a really great connection with their customer. They cater to that customer and they’re building out technology capabilities that really allow that customer to operate on their terms, not on the retailer’s terms, and I just think that’s so powerful.

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