dotdigital Talks Data and the Future of Customer Engagement

Natasha Sholl By Natasha Sholl | 23 Apr 2019

We know how important data is. But utilising it effectively, for tangible results, is an element that many online retailers still struggle with.

We sat down with Steve Shaw, Group CTO at dotdigital, to talk about its new engagement platform, data, AI, machine learning and what retailers need to know to succeed in this fast-paced and ever-evolving retail climate.

“We started as a batch-and-blast email marketing platform 20 years ago, and now after all these years we have evolved into an omnichannel platform to do more than just email,” Shaw explains. “dotdigital’s Engagement Cloud is the customer engagement platform aimed at helping dotdigital customers build powerful omnichannel marketing programs where every journey counts.”

The platform harnesses valuable data from customers’ journeys with the brands they shop with – both online and offline and also syncs this data, letting information flow smoothly through the application programming interface (APIs). “This allows businesses to create compelling campaigns driving ROI with best-of-breed ecommerce,” Shaw adds.

“The idea behind Engagement Cloud is to encourage organisations to better understand the future of customer engagement strategies and subsequently be able to establish positive interactions with their customers across each touchpoint. As customer requirements have changed over the years, our ultimate goal as a solution provider is to help businesses understand the future of digital engagements. With Engagement Cloud, they can integrate all the relevant communications and have positive interactions at every touchpoint of their customer’s digital journey, helping them build brand loyalty,” Shaw tells us.

“Moreover, we have Insight data – a very flexible storage mechanism that can store data across all customer interaction points,” adds Shaw. “From purchase history to the very last product order, the data collected allows businesses to hyper-personalise and tailor every single customer communication and interaction. Marketers are empowered to orchestrate the journey on this basis.”

Personalisation and leveraging data in an empowered way is something marketers in businesses of all sizes and industries are desperately trying to achieve. The dotdigital client portfolio ranges from B2Bs to B2Cs and non-profits, with most of them using an engagement tool at one stage or the other. “With our new offerings, we can continue on a journey with them and help them integrate more communication channels, enabling personalisation across all channels,” says Shaw. “The recently launched AI-powered product recommendation and segmentation templates help businesses to pull out cohorts of customers, enabling them to utilise ecommerce data with conversational commerce for the first time.”

Within one year, the percentage of dotdigital customers using automation has gone up from 30 percent to 50 percent, highlighting the widespread adoption of automation into the marketing strategy.

Shaw explains that dotdigital approaches AI differently to other providers. “We infuse AI into all parts of our platform. For example, e-commerce merchants benefit from our data enrichment capabilities. They will typically sync their orders and product catalogue data with us, machine-learning is then used to analyse links, imagery, and meta-data, which then gets consolidated back into the account so that the merchant is left with a richer data set. The output of predictive technologies can only be as good as the input, so we find that these enriched data sets drive much more effective product recommendations, personalised to suit individual customer preferences. It gets really interesting when you leverage AI in these ways, and because AI does the number-crunching, personalisation at scale becomes a reality and our customers see the results.”

So, what’s next when it comes to personalisation? Where are we headed? “I think the next level of personalisation and automation will be where you can effortlessly deliver a seamless and personalised experience over time, and this is where AI can make a big difference,” says Shaw. “With every customer being different, their journey may require slight tweaks. So being able to utilise AI to see the future and tailor journeys will be where data has a significant role to play in the years to come.”

dotdigital has a strong roadmap over the next few years; much of it focusing on data capabilities and being able to capture more engagement data from customers, whether through chat or other channels. “As we move forward, our focus will be that data is highly targeted at personalising messages and making sure that every single engagement is a positive one. We’re a global company, and with huge market opportunities, we’ll continue to cater for all our customers’ requirements,” Shaw tells Power Retail.

“Our new functionalities will enable customers to consume this new technology. I think we always want to be the best at what we do and we will continue on with huge support from our partners, such as Magento, Shopify, Big Commerce, as well as Microsoft Dynamics and CRM,” he adds.

Technology is changing the way customers shop, and opening up new channels for brands to connect and communicate with them. “What really interests me,” Shaw says of future trends, “is the ability to buy one click as you browse. This will have a huge next-level impact on the shopping experience. A lot of e-commerce retailers will go through the process of creating an interactive and user-friendly online store, as well as an equally engaging mobile version. However, they will also need to be able to offer one-click buying in the consumer’s messaging or social channel of choice – this could be Instagram, Whatsapp, WeChat and more.”

Shaw adds omnichannel, AR and CX into his list for trends to watch:

“As the marketing landscape evolved digitally, omnichannel became a buzzword within the industry. However, in the near future, we’ll witness almost every business integrating omnichannel into their strategy, with the aim to funnel customers across their preferable channels to interact and purchase from,” he explains. “Additionally, Augmented Reality (AR) will have a huge impact on the buying experience in a positive way, especially for retailers with physical goods. AR will enable customers to get a closer look at the product, almost as if it’s physically in front of them, offering a better, more engaged and ‘real’ buying experience.”

“Another important factor is Customer experience (CX), which continues to be a key driver of sales and customer loyalty,” he explains. “Physical stores will be looking beyond the brick and mortar to offer a rich digital experience. Ultimately, it’s important to have a well-defined omnichannel marketing strategy that will deliver a seamless customer journey, making shopping more social, responsive, and convenient, offline and online.”

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