AiThority Interview with Mark Smith, President at Kitewheel
Hi, please tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at Kitewheel?
Hello, thanks for having me. As president at Kitewheel, I’m involved in all aspects of helping our customers deliver better connected, real-time experiences to their customers by managing, analyzing, and orchestrating the journeys those consumers are taking.
Kitewheel is the only cloud-based journey hub designed for innovative businesses and modern consumers – and now the only customer journey technology solution geared toward the mid-market.
How have CX Management trends evolved in the last 2-3 years since the arrival of automation and AI/ML capabilities?
I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, so I’ve seen it evolve significantly as new technologies hit the market. When we first started, we worked with banks that were still archiving data in microfilm and just starting to collect and organize their data electronically – that’s when we first realized that this data could be used to find patterns. From that point on, computers have gotten faster, and datasets have gotten larger, but the idea has stayed the same: we’re leveraging patterns in customer data to understand customer behavior and optimize the business performance to match.
Today, we’ve added AI to our technology to help our clients at an even deeper level and gain real-time insights in an automated way. Automation allows us to scale up our work and make it actionable for any size business. AI can’t work on its own: the magic happens at the intersection of AI, personalized adjustments, human logic, and business insight. In turn, that allows our clients to make informed decisions faster and work smart, not hard, to understand their customers’ behaviors and meet them where they are.
What are the biggest barriers in the adoption of AI/ML techniques for a modern, data driven CX Company?
AI is not a magic button you can use to optimize your business all at once — it needs guidance in terms of clear business objectives, and it needs guardrails in order to comply with regulatory and privacy issues. Businesses that jump into automated CX too quickly may be disillusioned if they don’t have enough data or aren’t refining or guiding the algorithms to personalize the outcomes.
Additionally, AI requires an enormous amount of data from customer testing if it hopes to identify specific patterns and pull accurate insights. AI should play a supporting role and build upon a solid foundation of comprehensive data and an understanding of the brand. When companies rely too heavily on AI, it can result in CX that is robotic, repetitive, and impersonal.
What will Data Science in Marketing Technology look like in the next 2-3 years?
Probably the biggest data science development will be a migration away from siloed analysis of customer data by channel (or product or interaction), to a bird’s-eye analysis and prediction at the Journey level, where data is connected for each individual customer across all their history of interactions. Performing science on this new, connected data will allow businesses to better cater to the needs of their customers, who expect real-time responses that take into account the context of their journey and experience with the brand.
This new, journey-centric data science will cover all aspects of analytics, from reporting and dashboarding, through visualization and data mining discovery, to predictive analytics and AI — all driven by a new generation of connected “journey data.”
Could you tell us more about CX trends in 2020? What inferences can marketers draw from the report?
Our 2020 report, “How to Survive the Latest Retail Apocalypse,” explores key trends in the retail industry and offers recommendations on how brands can make the most of an evolving retail landscape.
2020 was a formative year in every industry for many reasons, and the pandemic shaped the retail industry for good. There are three “trends” in particular that should remain a focal point for marketers:
– The permanent move to online
With the mass closing of brick-and-mortar stores, many consumers have embraced new habits and plan to continue conducting most of their shopping online moving forward. Not only is this move to e-commerce attributed to safety precautions but also to added convenience and renewed interest in trying new brands. In short, the time has long passed for brands to do the bare minimum with their online presence – competition is getting fiercer, and the bar is climbing higher. The same goes for marketing: it’s time to meet consumers online.
– The increased importance of mobile experiences
It’s not enough to just be online: Consumers are increasingly likely to prefer a mobile app experience to one on a traditional browser. That said, an overwhelming majority of consumers say mobile app experiences could be better. By filling this gap, retailers can meet customers where they are and better engage and establish loyalty, while keeping up with the competition.
– Loss of loyalty – and patience for irrelevant content
2020 has truly shown that customer loyalty is up for grabs, and consumers are willing to test and try new brands. This could be a result of increased convenience, broken habits, or just a desire to experiment with products. It doesn’t stop there – consumers are also growing less tolerant of unnecessary communications and have become more likely to unsubscribe from branded communications, especially when irrelevant.
To address this changing mindset, brands should finesse their marketing strategies to create more personalized, engaging experiences without overwhelming the consumer.
Tell us more about behavioral intelligence tools and how businesses are lining up to build CX solutions to drive better sales?
Great question – yes, businesses are clamoring for CX solutions right now. According to Gartner, customer journey mapping and automation was ranked second among brands’ CX priorities in 2020, and inquiries on customer journeys and journey analytics rose more than 40% from 2019. Adding to that, CX has actually surpassed product quality and price as the most important differentiator for customer satisfaction.
However, CX solutions, and customer journey management software in particular, are largely inaccessible to mid-market businesses, despite increased demand, and only 20% of US companies have a “good” or higher CX ranking according to Forrester’s 2020 CX Index.
In order to address this gaping chasm in the market, we launched the Kitewheel Journey as a Service (Jaas) offering earlier this month. This five-tier suite of customer journeys aims to introduce smaller, greener B2C brands to customer journey management. With pre-designed, a-la-carte customer journeys, brands have a lower bar for entry in terms of price, complexity, and scale – a market first.
It makes a difference: this offering has been shown to drive sales up by 10%, increase marketing conversations tenfold, and raise customer service performance by 10+ NPS points.
Why are some companies lagging in CX trends?
Some (fewer and fewer) companies do still neglect customer experience – we all continue to have frustrating experiences with some companies, right? In most cases, that’s due to a flaw in how they measure performance – without including customer satisfaction as a central metric. Or even when they do track customer satisfaction, they do so in siloes – product by product – rather than as an end-to-end experience.
It’s not all about money – brand perception is a valuable metric on its own, and it’s essential for brands to leave a lasting, positive impression in order to avoid losing customers to the competitors as more and more companies perfect their CX.
Your prediction on the future of CX Management in the post-COVID era:
Businesses will continue to become more customer-centric and digital. I have to say, it is remarkable that digital transformation is still something that many companies are talking about and just getting started with, rather than having completed already. The pandemic has made the need for this move even more apparent to businesses as their customers have become disconnected from physical channels and need new ways to be approached and supported.
Businesses are also starting to realize that their search to deliver a great experience can come through the deployment of customer journey technologies. What the customer simply thinks of as living their life and getting things done, the business can understand as the “customer journey.” From there, the brand can deploy tools that help to manage that journey and ensure that the customer’s experience is as amazing as possible.
Your prediction on the “future of CX strategies” for 2021-25:
This change is already underway in future-thinking businesses — they are embracing changes to become truly customer-centric. Specifically, they are moving on away from multi-channel customer management, and even beyond omni-channel marketing, to deliver what Gartner calls “Multi-experiences.”
The idea here is that the brand enables all parts of its business (all channels) to be connected to a central set of intelligence that defines the best response/help/offer/message for every customer and enables the real-time delivery of that response to the customer on any channel that the customer may choose, whether digital or physical. This multi-experience world is the next major phase in customer interaction approaches — following the web, then mobile, now “anything.”
Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to read here:
I would love to hear insights from my friend and CX connoisseur, Joana de Quintanilha. She is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester and on the front lines of understanding customer journeys. With her expertise, she’ll certainly be able to provide more color and insight to this story, including how to get started with customer journey management, when to deploy certain customer journeys, key technologies to boost CX, and everything in between.
Thank you, Mark! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
With over 20 years of global experience in Marketing Applications and Analytical CRM, Mark Smith is a leader in building, growing and managing successful companies. Currently in “innovation mode” as the President of Kitewheel, Mark is focused on helping marketing agencies deliver better consumer engagement through solutions that unify the “logic” layer of today’s customer-facing technology for their large brand clients.
Mark’s journey into customer behavior and experience started early in his career. Shortly after achieving his Ph.D. in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Edinburgh, Mark founded Quadstone – the first data mining company to focus explicitly on the analytics of customer behavior. In the years that followed, Mark moved to Boston to build the US business and oversaw revolutionary analytic progress at clients including T-Mobile, Dell, Merrill Lynch and Fidelity. His leadership role expanded to global sales, marketing and product teams that lead to a series of 3 successful M&A transactions over the last 10 years.
Kitewheel empowers the world’s largest businesses to understand and improve the consumer experience with the leading customer journey management platform. Kitewheel’s innovative Customer Journey Hub orchestrates intelligent customer journeys by unifying decisions across disparate systems, touchpoints, and technologies and provides seamless customer experiences that drive real-time revenue as well as long-term loyalty. Kitewheel serves its global partner and client base from offices in Boston and London.