Bots: Next big opportunity for brands to engage with customer

I have been using Google Now since a long time and really like it. It’s become like a personal assistant to me – for taking notes, reminding me of events, or simply finding answers to anything. Although it’s great, it does not solve all the information that I’d be looking for on regular basis. For e.g. “knowing how many subscriptions I have on monthly basis”, or “finding out the best Thai restaurant in downtown Boston”, “for making dinner reservation”, etc – I am forced to open up other apps like my banking, yelp, etc to get the best information or recommendations.

Bots are essentially trying to solve this problem of servicing customer with any information that he wants in a conversational manner vs. opening different apps.

Bot is basically a platform with simple conversational user interface. It connects to a number of data sources via APIs so it can deliver information or services on demand, such as financial news, weather forecasts, breaking news, etc. They  are also called Smart bots, AI Bots, or Chat bots.


With mobile apps hitting the ceiling, many developers and companies are eyeing the “bots” as the next big thing to engage with user and potentially make money down the road.

Tech companies lead Bots revolution

Most of the tech companies are already on bandwagon – Facebook M, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortona and Amazon Alexa. Massive improvements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) by companies like IBM, Facebook, Google have bots a great kick-start. That AI enables computers to process language — and actually converse with humans — in ways they never could before. Few notables that have made headlines in recent past include –

  1. Telegram’s Chat Bot is very famous with over 100 million+ active users. Even though companies like Forbes, and others have set up bot services, Telegram doesn’t do much of advertising. Bit of a surprise to me.
  2. Trim, an AI for your financial life, raises $2.2million for its “Personal Finance Bot””: Imagine texting a bot, “how much am I paying for subscription services right now?” and receiving a list of your Amazon, Netflix, Pandora and Gym accounts with corresponding costs immediately. That’s the kind of bot that this company is developing for banking – pretty cool!
  3. Chatbots obviously lend themselves well to communication platforms, no wonder Slack is popular. There is a Slack bot for practically everything.
  4. Taco Bell’s bot that allows you to order and pay for tacos through an automated chat conversation.

Google has been silent on bots to date. With the amount of data they are sitting on, it’s only a matter of time, Google with come up with something revolutionary!

How do you build bots?

Bots are easy to build in short timeframe. There are plenty of tools and frameworks available for developers. Initially, it could be handwritten rules, followed by machine learning, which requires a massive amount of streaming data and the system learns on its own.

Pandorabots is an open-source web service for building and deploying chatbots.

Bots will have an impact on users and potentially increase productivity

1.Bots will take over our lives: I feel, sooner or later, bots will become integrated into our lives and will take over a lot of mundane activities like reading news upfront when you wake up, checking on your social media platform updates, checking weather, checking school opening delays, traffic updates, paying bills, ordering stuff, scheduling work, etc. Instead of you checking, bots will proactively inform and execute what is important for you, based off habits, behaviour, interests, financial situation, etc. Talk about “no click” era.

2. Less Apps, More Bots: Developers will shift from making apps to writing bots. In the next 2-3 years, I feel we shall see hundreds and thousands of bots literally serving all aspects of human life. With Internet of Things (IoT) innovations, I am excited to see how bots will transform our lives in years to come!

3. Greater Brand recognition for companies: Engaging with user in the context of his/her  current experience. E.g. For instance, if the shopper is waiting for a package to arrive, user can ask bot. If the shopper wants to complain about something, they have an immediate channel to write their complaint and the bot will be trained to respond immediately, or escalate the issue to a human rep. Additionally, chat does not have to be text only, bots can add rich media engaging user in up sell or cross-sell opportunities.

What is the Business viability for Bots?

Although monetary value of bots is still being debated, developers and companies see that as a non-issues for now. Getting users hooked onto bots is the first step, dollars will automatically pour in if the bots adds value.

  1. If you replace humans with bots, then it’s cost savings.
  2. Revenue opportunities could come from subscription fee, commerce offerings, advertising, etc.

Get ready for BOTS REVOLUTION. They are coming!


“Subscription based economy” – Emerging model for business?

You might have seen the news – Unilever acquires Dollar Shave Club for $1B dollars. Who knew this was coming?

All of us are accustomed to Netflix, newspapers and magazine subscriptions, software based subscription models, and a few other subscription based service, but there are plenty of companies getting to subscription business. Enter Subscription Economy – It is here! A few key subscription players are listed below –

  1. P&G starts Online Subscription Service for Tide Pods
  2. Starbucks Coffee subscription for $19/month
  3. Play! by Sephora
  4. Birchbox Beauty for $10/month
  5. GlossyBox Beauty for $21/month
  6. Macy’s beauty based subscription box for $9.99 a month
  7. Graze snacks for $11.99 each
  8. Themed collectibles for Gamers, generally <$20/month
  9. Rent the Runway for $139
  10. Adidas Avenue A delivers a selection of workout clothes and accessories for $150/quarter
  11. Amazon Dash buttons are available for 29 different brands, representing over 500 products.(Amazon Dash for Gum? For the life of me, I cannot figure this out)

In total, 185+ companies and counting …. Subscription to something in the physical world is getting exciting!

How big is the market?

The subscription commerce market has seen rapid growth over the last few years.
Subscription box - interest over time

Visits to top subscription box sites have exploded in just over 2 years. 700,000 monthly visitors to 21.4 million monthly visitors.

HITWISE sub-box-chart1

Why are customers getting onboard?

  1. Convenience – set it and forget it.
  2. Choice by experts E.g. in case of Starbucks, let the experts pick coffee of the month; In case of Rent a Runway, you get to wear expensive gowns for a lot less
  3. Price. It’s easier to shell out $10 per month, rather than going to store and spending $50-$100 or more.
  4. Lastly, Curiosity – it’s an interesting concept, why wouldn’t you want to try

Subscription model benefits companies and customers mutually

1. For Companies / Brands:

  • Eliminate middleman i.e. retailers and participate in “Direct-to-Consumer” play. Helps companies to engage with customer one-on-one
  • Cost efficient
  • It provides recurring revenue model for brands

2. For Customers:

  • Flexibility of not having to own the products with pay as you go model

Subscription Model will eventually disrupt traditional business models

In this age, when brands are heavily focused on customer experiences, subscription based model provide a mechanism to build positive relationship with customers on regular basis rather than sell and forget as in traditional model. Brands can truly personalize and customize the product + up-sell/cross-sell to customer at individual level. A great opportunity for marketers!

I am bullish on the growth of the subscription economy, and believe there are lots of untapped industries that will also jump on the bandwagon. The way we consume food, what we wear, way we watch movies, listen to music, drive cars, take vacation, etc is all changing. Consumer is undergoing a total transformation himself.

What do you think is next for the subscription box industry? How will this change the traditional business model for companies?

Blockchain Use Cases are exploding across non-financial industries

BlockchainFinancial and non-financial industry is buzzing about Blockchain. It is arguably the most disruptive and the most important discoveries of our age.


Blockchain is a shared database or ledger technology for managing and recording transactions with no middle-man (or intermediaries)

Think of Block chain as giant digital spreadsheets shared by everyone in a decentralized network.

Blockchain = Distributed Ledger. The ledger can only be changed when there is a consensus among the group. That makes them more secure, and it means there’s no need for a central authority to approve transactions.

Blockchain is not Bitcoin. It is technology behind Bitcoin.

A few “BLOCKCHAIN USE CASES” across industries

  1. HOTELS: Everyone knows Airbnb, $65 billion dollar startup. But it now has a competitor in Slock, which is eliminating middle-man leveraging blockchain allowing renters to use their smartphones to lock and unlock apartments. Great concept leveraging smart contract (a feature of “Bitcoin 2.0” technologies such as Ethereum), check out here. It’s only a matter of time when hotels chains will replace front-desk with robots and blockchain for all transactions.  The key difference between Airbnb and Slack is that Airbnb has intermediary and Slock does not.
  2. FINANCIAL: P2P payments Circle uses blockchain to send money anywhere, in any currency, without the friction (transfer delays and fees) of traditional clearance options like Western Union. Money could be in bitcoin or debit cards, credit cards like Visa/Mastercard — all this enabling faster, transparent cross-border transactions.
  3. CONSUMER GOODS COMPANY: A common use case for consumer – IBM + Samsung partnership, ADEPT: Detecting problems in washing machine i.e. autonomous maintenance. Checkout Samsung WW9000 washing machine that detects low detergent, automatically contacts the supplier with whom you have a contract, places the order and initiate transfer of payments and delivery. ADEPT (Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry) uses BitTorrent to share files, Ethereum for smart contracts and TeleHash for peer-to-peer messaging.
  4. UTILITY COMPANY: German power company, RWE, changing energy delivery using blockchain. The POC is “car charging” with the charging station acting as a point at which both customer authentication and the processing of payments takes place. Read more.
  5. ARTSAscribe allows artists to claim ownership and issue numbered, limited-edition prints of all kinds of artwork in their digital form using the Blockchain. It even includes a marketplace and assists in buying and selling art through their website, removing the need for escrow.
  6. DIAMONDS: Everledger is using industry’s expensive fraud and theft problem – tracking individual diamonds from mines to consumer. Legality of diamonds is always a big question with proof of ownership locked in paper, and difficult to track. Stolen diamonds are floating in market too. So, Everledger went on to create tamper-proof digital ledger for diamonds. Read more.
  7. MEDICAL: Genecoin –  helps back up your DNA on blockchain. Supposedly, there are medical use case for keeping DNA handy.
  8. CONSUMER, LAW ENFORCEMENT: UProov – helps timestamp your photos and videos and put it on blockchain. In this day and age, is no limit to the situations you can find yourself in needing to prove something that happened around you.
  9. MUSICUjomusic – liberate musicians from being under the thumbs of overbearing music labels and streaming services. Artist creates a song it will be stored on the blockchain with its own unique ID and a blockchain value.

As you can see, the blockchain innovation is not just in financial industry, but all the  more in non-financial industries.

What is the biggest “value prop” for blockchain?

Tamper-proof, speed, transparency, security, low-cost. 

The ability for all kinds of data to be stored and time stamped on it, in a way that no one can delete, censor, nor edit, is far more useful than many can imagine.

Other Distributed Ledger Technologies

Ripple Labs, Chain, Eris


Anything where you need an accurate record, a blockchain can be useful. So, use caseS will continue to evolve and be used across industries. Blockchain, in about 5-10 years, will be as significant (or as common as) as databases are today, for every organization, in my opinion. To learn more, click here.

What do you think? Will this technology sustain? Will Bitcoin take over payments industry in future? Please chime in with your thoughts.

Digital Innovations Labs: A new source of ideas for Financial Firms, esp. Retail Banks

Digital is future and Innovation is key to survival. Many financial firms are beginning to understand that now is the time to invest in Innovation. Firms are setting up digital arms or labs to experiment to generate new ideas, fund innovations, and leverage disruptive technology for advancement.

Why now?

If financial firms don’t invest in Innovation, then tech companies like Apple, Google, Square and others will eat their lunch sooner or later.  Traditional retail giants are more worried about tech players than small startups.

Why separate “Digital Labs”?

Many financial firms are muddled in legacy systems/tech, legacy customer journeys making it difficult for them to be nimble, agile and experiment faster in this age of customer-centricity. Additionally, addressing security, legal and regulatory compliance has been the top priority – which too large degree prevents faster experimentation as every decision needs regulatory approval. Setting up Digital labs provides flexibility and freedom for creative minds to explore freely.

Establishment of Innovations arms or Digital labs helps firms with many things –

  • play with new technologies, fail faster, explore alternative efficient
    ways of doing business
  • instill Design Thinking (human/customer centered design)
  • develop Agile ways of working with 2-4 week release cycle (speed,
    flexibility, adaptability to changing requirements)
  • new product/service creation
  • create customer journeys that map to what’s happening now
  • experiment w/o worrying about legal/regulatory issues all the time
  • help develop startup type culture and thinking
  • create new business models

Instead of boiling the ocean i.e. changing everything at enterprise level, firms
are taking a step approach to identify biggest problems, prove out the
concepts first in Innovation labs before taking it to senior management for broader

Few examples of Innovation labs …

Many firms are focused on solving/innovating in retail banking sector
for retail customers. Iam yet to see labs innovating for Institutional
sector i.e. Mutual Funds, pension plans, hedge funds, etc., which
constitute a huge markets for these firms.

Most of these look like startup digs, check out below –

1. Capital One Labs

  • Experimenting with Mobile Banking
  • MakerBot for modeling things like pay dongles and an Oculus Rift for
    augmenting banking interfaces of the future
  • “Cafe” to engage with customers in friendly way. Feels to me that
    Capital one is emulating Starbucks model to engage customers, but in
    this case Iam quite not sure what the business outcome they want to

2. Fidelity Labs

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Robotics
  • Wearables (experiments with Google Glass)
  • Pervasive video (help Financial Advisors connect with their customers)

Fidelity Labs has strategic partnerships with MIT and the Design Thinking practice at Stanford University.

3. MasterCard Labs

4. Visa Innovation Center

  • Experimenting with Mobile Payments, Digital Wallet
  • Visa Checkout

5. Wells Fargo Digital Innovation Lab

  • Mobile banking. Real-time account alerts. Person-to-person payments.
  • Making an appointment online with a banker.
  • Some of the ideas being tested at Wells Fargo Digital Labs include
    banking with a smart TV or in a connected home and video banking


Iam loving all the experimentation and while critics might say innovation has to be part of core company culture and not separated as innovation labs, I still appreciate the bold moves these firms are taking. A great start – I believe this will eventually form company’s DNA. Great times ahead!

Trends shaping up Wealth and Asset Management firms

asset management firms trendsTechnology companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple have raised the bar on customer expectations leaving other industries scrambling to keep up. Increasing pressure  by FinTech firms is forcing all financial institutions to adopt digital and rethink their business models.

What does the future of financial services look like? The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released a report – How disruptive innovations are reshaping the way financial services are structured, provisioned and consumed.

Here are a few trends that I see shaping up across Wealth/Asset management firms – I believe these are a few simple measures that firms must take first, before embarking on big-picture challenges that WEF outlines in their report.

  1. Greater emphasis on “Data Analysis” to derive Customer Insights: Customer-centricity has been the theme for many financial institution off late. Although firms have taken certain steps, a lot of customer insights is hidden in data gathered across plethora of systems – not just in internal systems, but also across external systems like social media platforms, etc. The key is using data-driven insights to improve the consumer experience, operational efficiencies and build better business models. Getting a 360 degree view of customer will definitely provide firms a competitive advantage.
  2. Welcome “Chief Data Officer”: To uncover customer data, bank must create a new role – Chief Data Officer (CDO), whose primary responsibility will be data governance and operational  management of data like –
    • data governance
    • data analytics
    • understanding the quality and completeness of data that is received and sent across systems
    • security of data
    • privacy controls during data exchanges
    • audit and archival of data to meet regulatory needs
  3. Middle-Office/Back-Office Process Digitization: We have seen a lot of disruption on front-office and customer facing side of things, thereby helping asset managers, sales people, traders with great tools and applications. However, middle-office and back-office functions has largely remained the same. Firms will have to rethink newer ways to engage legal, compliance and research teams in this new digital age. In terms of back-office, creation of real time reports, data visualizations, and providing tools for clients to tinker with their data will be must-haves in few years.
  4. Legacy Technology upgrades: Replacement of mainframe with new systems, API generation for better collaboration and partnerships with other entities, faster development and testing cycles, essentially building systems that will enable real business transformation.
  5. Investments in Blockchain: Nearly every transaction on an exchange, processed by a clearing firm or handled by a broker could be turned upside down by the blockchain, a decentralized network of transaction records. Financial institutions will need to embrace bitcoin and blockchain.
  6. Larger focus on Millennials (people born after 1980, also called Gen-Y): As of today, millennials control $2 trillion in liquid assets (out of est. $70 trillion in wealth). Given the changing demographics, 50% of workforce in US will be millennials by 2020, and financial advisors will be forced to create products and services that engage empowered investors like millennials. (Credit: Millennial Impact report)
  7. Proactive Engagement across Social Media Platforms: Some trends we may foresee could be – all the employees of financial institutions having LinkedIn profile to provide transparency and build trust, all financial advisors blogging on investment strategies, firms taking to platforms like Twitter or YouTube to showcase thought leaderships, rolling out new products on Pinterest or Twitter (vs. what is happening now i.e. in conference to limited group of people) active investment in blogs, discussion forums and polls for customer engagements, etc
  8. Supporting Digitally-Connected-Clients everywhere: Customers are always connected – either on their devices, on TVs, on radios, wearables etc. Firms must come up with innovative ideas to reach customers real-time everywhere to offer new strategies, advise, new products, portfolio reallocation need, etc — all of which could be based of several factors like customers credit score goes higher, interest rate fluctuations, geopolitical changes, regulation impact, etc. (Financial Firms could take a lesson from retail firms here!)

Some of the above measures if done correctly could help firms service their end-customers better, create top line growth and reduce cost. This is not a comprehensive list but just my thoughts that I see shaping up. What do you think? Please chime in with your thoughts.

Asset Management and Robo Advisors

robo-advisorLately, we have been hearing a lot about robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality and few other technologies soon taking over our lives in near future. Although few industries are way ahead in robotics, financial services is catching up.

Wealth and Asset management industry is experiencing “robotic revolution” — in the form of robo-advisors.

Asset Management is a team within a financial firm that is dedicated to managing the assets (cash, investments etc.) of clients. Wealth and Asset management is over $74 trillion dollar industry globally and is well guarded. Firm’s dedicated portfolio managers make fat checks for the well-researched, fact-based advise that they are providing for retail and institutional investors — all at steep cost!

Enter Robo-Advisors …

They are algorithm based financial advisors providing investment advise to investors. They are marketed as a less-expensive alternative to human financial advisors.

Here’s how it works: An investor fills out a questionnaire (risk profile, income, age, etc), and based off certain algorithms robo-advisor recommends certain products with right allocation of asset classes and funds. They are fast, cost-effective and efficient and more importantly puts customer in control.

Who are the key players?

Betterment, Wealthfront, FutureAdvisor, Wisebanyon, Bloom, Motif to name a few. Also, incumbents like BofA, Charles Schwab, Vanguard are also either building in-house capabilities or acquiring niche players to bolster their offerings.

Great Customer Experience is what attracts customers to robo-advisors

If you look at any of players listed above, there is one common trait – BEST IN CLASS USER EXPERIENCE!

# Underpinnings Guiding Principles
1 Great Customer Experience
  • “Minimalist Design”;
  • Intuitive, simple navigation
  • Simple, easy to understand, bold text (no legal jargons)
  • Guided navigation
  • Clear CTA
  • Easy signup
2 Engaging Technology
  • Engaging interactive Visualization tools (sometimes 3D)
  • Comparison tools
  • Real-time support i.e. Online chat and help center
  • Business tools like “retirement calc”, “what-if analysis”, etc
3 Great Content
  • Blogs
  • Transparency in pricing (TRUST factor)
  • Useful materials like whitepapers, POVs
4 Social Media Engagement
  • Good social presence in terms of engagement, applause, conversation, engagement,  across Twitter, Facebook notably, and other platforms
  • SEO friendly

I believe this is just a beginning of a major disruption. With tech advancements, not only would the investments space change dramatically, but we could potentially see robots managing entire financial aspects of life (how we spend, how we invest, etc) and make us all a bit more disciplined.

What do you think?

Fintech Investments – Momentum building up!

Fintech (Finance + Technology) is no longer a buzzword. It is an area that is radically changing how we live as society and how we do business professionally.

Consumer are gradually using Fintech to transfer money, get loans, make payments, get investment advise, make investments, etc., without going through traditional big bank branch, or through and investor/advisor – all at a fraction of cost. And it doesn’t look like that trend is going to stop. That’s why big banks are watching this space and gradually buying into Fintech.

A common complaint against Wall Street is that the average Joe/investor doesn’t have the same research tools as big institutions. Fintech companies are closing that gap.

McKinsey’s research shows that Fintech investments in Retail exceeds other categories, with minimal impact on large institutions as can be seen below. Hence, big banks are not necessarily worried that Fintech will eat their business anytime soon (as of now!).

Mckinsey Panorama - FintechRevenues

Some interesting stats around Fintech space –

Fintech is here, and here to stay …

Fintech continues to evolve and is opening up world of possibilities for consumers. How big institutions leverage these to create competitive advantage remains to be seen.

Fintech is not just about technology, it’s an Innovation!

Where do you start with Digital Transformation?

inspirational-einstein-quotesNowadays, almost every client conversation starts with Digital in some form or the other. The competitive advantages that once gave companies a great leverage —their product lineup, scale, or legacy position—are no longer as secure as they were. Many startups are already disrupting big companies, if not already. Given this digital era with rapid innovation coming from all corners, all businesses must transform, meaning a comprehensive change in strategy, operating model, organization, people, and processes. Transformation is an imperative.

There is so much happening in digital space that every company wants to get onto bandwagon, but are quite not sure where to start.

Let’s align on some definitions first – Companies often confuse “digitization” with “transformation“. Digitization deals with taking existing business/platforms to digital. Transformation is change in existing business model to create new business model.

Digital Transformation is the use of digital technology to radically transform customer experiences, operational process and business models to create value at new frontiers of business world in a strategic way”

Digital Transformation in general is consumer facing, generates top-line growth, enhances brand value for the company. But note that Digital Transformation moves at pace of innovation, market, competition and ever-evolving customers expectations.

Why is this important?

27% of senior executives rate digital transformation as now being “a matter of survival”.

The majority (87%) of companies think that digital transformation is a competitive opportunity.

51% of senior executives believe it critical to implement digital transformation in the next 12 months.

So, what are companies doing to drive digital transformation?

Digital is not about tools, it’s about mind-set, organization culture and education. Companies needs to embrace “digital culture” and obsessively focus on delivering great customer experiences.

Digital Culture means customer-centricity, transparency, research/data driven, co-creation of products/services with customer, collaborate across cross functional units, agile, empowered to take risks, innovation driven, etc.

Transformation will take time but many companies are taking certain steps to put them on right track for exploiting digital down the road. Few noted below –

  1. Appointing Chief Digital Officers, Chief Innovation Officers to understand customers expectations, analyzing data, coming up with creative ways to simplify solutions, etc
  2. Increase in Digital Marketing technology spend in areas of content management/commerce platforms, social media and analytics tracking , creative frameworks and tools, CRM, Personalization, Responsive Web Design (RWD) — all of greatly enhance customer experiences
  3. Investments in disruptive technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile payments, Artificial Intelligence (AI), wearable devices, home automation, cloud computing, data and analytics, 3D printing, bots, robotics, etc
  4. Moving away from traditional waterfall approaches with year-long release cycles to agile, iterative faster release cycles as short as few weeks
  5. Shift in mind-set from “risk-averse” to “risk-taking” with investments in digital skills
  6. Focus on mobile and cloud (Just so you know, Microsoft, after Satya Nadella, CEO, took over changed their strategy to “mobile first, could first“)
  7. Integrating digital and physical strategy. Read mBank case study here – integration of digital and physical banking at it’s best
  8. Establishing presence on social media platforms to engage with customers – Facebook pages, Twitter account, Instagram, Snapchat, weChat, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. See how Starbucks excels at social media.

Key challenges for big companies

Digital Transformation is not easy, especially for big established companies. Let’s look at some of the key challenges that many companies are facing now:

  1. Fragmented business process: Every big company has numerous business process operating under old model. No insights to analytics or customer feedback to determine where to improve. Most business process are functionality driven and not customer-centric.
  2. Legacy Technology: Hundreds, if not thousands of systems; most legacy systems driving core business functions, which are hard to decouple and experiment. Couple this with aging infrastructure, information overload and lack of measurement of KPIs to determine effectiveness and efficiency.
  3. Culture: Digital is moving fast but there is still resistance to culture change. “Risk-taking”, “fail-fast”, “innovate”, “collaboration”  – these are not being embraced fast enough
  4. Lack of unified Marketing and fragmented channels. Adhoc strategies to run campaigns, social media strategies, etc – some of which is reactive in nature too.

So, where you do start?

The answer truly depends on where the companies are on digital maturity scale and also on industry. Leaders must first understand where will digital have most profound impact, then define vision and road map. Many companies have begun to successfully transform their products and operations by taking a structured approach to digital. The key thing is not just strategize endlessly, rather taking action now by launching small-scale initiatives and then building up their digital capabilities through experience. Some ideas –

1. Build delightful customer experiences

  1. Build/Redesign website with simple, yet outstanding customer experience: Before we use or purchase any product/service, we normally visit company’s website. Website is the gateway to company’s service offerings – an avenue to immediately attract potential customers with great content, videos, effective landing pages providing contextual, relevant, personalized content. Equally important, is to have a responsive version of site i.e. site that is optimized to work effectively on tablets, mobile devices. Few key questions you need to consider –
    • How well do you know your customers? Segments?
    • Do you understand customer journeys?
    • How to best service an omni-channel consumer? Some inspirations of great UX sites.
    • Do you have a comprehensive content strategy?
  2. Build a Mobile App: Dedicated app to showcase things that are relevant to customer. Don’t just dump everything from the site onto app, rather include top few customer oriented features.  E.g. if I am in a retail store, retail app should provide relevant information like coupons, new product information, complementary products to what i have already purchased before, discounts, promotions, price comparison, trending items, etc. All of this should be based off customer preferences, past history and behavior.
  3. Build 360 view of customer leveraging CRM, analytics, customer service/operations, website data and such
  4. Define Social Media Strategy: Determine what is the most effective social media platform to serve customers and engage with the customers on daily basis.

2. Streamline operational processes and technology

  1. Automate Business processes: Revisiting existing processes and eliminating unnecessary steps, providing self-service capabilities, automated response to most common customer queries (think bots)
  2. Decouple legacy systems with consumer facing application: IT needs to build out a separate system that can provide flexible, scalable, nimble customer-facing capabilities. Also, consider  –
    • how you can apply new technologies to legacy systems
    • how can I update consumer facing technology systems fast?
    • how to best integrate data across social, content, commerce, customer service, media, etc., to deliver integrated and seamless customer experience

3. Re-define organization culture and thinking

  • Drive Agile Thinking: Enhance digital skills by training people in Agile methodologies, Design Thinking, SPRINT, etc.
  • Co-locate teams: Big companies are notorious in creating walls between business units. Ensure that employees from marketing, business, customer service, product development, analytics, research, strategy, digital channels, and IT are working together in small, multidisciplinary, co-located teams – think open, adhoc spaces (some inspirations here). Empower teams to think out of the box, design, develop, and adapt customer processes and propositions to deliver great product that customers want.
  • Establish Digital Center of Excellence (DCoE): A forum for anyone to discuss ideas, challenge assumptions, and take risks
    • Build DCoE at or close to company headquarters to provide strategic advise, guidance and learnings.

Key Takeaways

Digital transformation requires great leadership and executive sponsorship to drive change. Instead of boiling the ocean, companies need to focus and identify which business units of company are ripe for transformation, and transform them first. Getting an early win will make the road map easier.

Great companies are constantly identifying new ways to redefine the way they work in the new digital era. How is your company driving transformation? How has that improved customer experiences and what changes have you seen in your organization? Please let me know with your comments.

What the heck is Mobile Payment?

Google-WalletMobile Wallet, Mobile Payments, Digital Wallets! Everyone’s talking about these technologies disrupting the payment industry… what are these?

We all know that mobile banking has taken off as most of the banks offer it on multiple platforms. Mobile Payments, however, has not taken off yet due to variety of reasons — Consumers are not asking for it because they don’t see any additional value compared to their physical wallets. Additionally, customers are still learning this new tech, mobile payment companies still have several hurdles to overcome like security, infrastructure, etc.

Big technology companies are betting that consumers will eventually use mobile payment solutions and are spending enormous amounts of money to get consumers to replace their physical wallets with their versions.

Before we deep-dive, let’s align on terminology:

A digital wallet refers to an electronic device that allows an individual to make electronic commerce transactions. This can include purchasing items on-line with a computer or using a smartphone to purchase something at a store. An individual’s bank account can also be linked to the digital wallet. They might also have their driver’s license, health card, loyalty card(s) and other ID documents stored on the phone. The credentials can be passed to a merchant’s terminal wirelessly via near field communication (NFC). Credit: Wikipedia

Mobile Wallet is synonymous with digital wallet.

Mobile payment is transfer of money using mobile phone”.  Basically, instead of paying with cash, debit/credit cards, a consumer can use a mobile phone to pay for a wide range of services and products.

There are over a billion smartphones already in the market and phones are integral part of everyone life. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we embrace the idea of not carrying wallet and instead use mobile phone to run our lives – pay rent, buy train tickets, pay for parking, buy flight tickets, car, lunch, drinks, make reservation at restaurant, whatever.

Mobile Payment Systems

There are multiple ways to initiate mobile payment, a few common ones listed below –

  1. Near Field Communication (NFC): Also, called contactless payments. Customers initiate payments at merchants point of sale terminal using their mobile. Big tech companies – Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and many retailers like Walmart, Macy’s, target adn few others use this technology.

For those of you techies out there, you might be wondering – Hmm, Bluetooth does this, why NFC? You are right, Bluetooth does but NFC uses significantly less power which is very imp considering mobile battery life. Bluetooth have to be paired which is a nightmare. Contactless payments using NFC technology are based on open standards.

2. Mobile Internet Payments: these are routed over internet. Paypal dominates this market.

3. Quick response (QR) code systems: Payment systems based off QR Codes. The user scans a QR code using to complete a payment transaction. E.g. LevelUp

There are several other payment systems like SMS payment (paying via text messages), peer-to-peer payments (funds transfer between persons across borders e.g. Venmo), mobile billing (charge all your purchases to your phone bill), and few others categories.

For most part, the way these systems work is similar. You download an app onto your phone, you can link the service to your bank account or payment card. Pay. It’s that simple!

Use Cases for Mobile Wallets

Mobile wallets have many use cases beyond payments-

  1. Storing users loyalty points and rewards, coupons, special offers, automatically store all digital receipts, communicate with brands, price comparisons, storing train/flight tickets, etc.
  2. Additionally, think about all the things that we normally do while shopping – research a product, read reviews, find stores, check availability, find related videos/images, product information, wish lists
  3. Advertising of products (Brands can advertise via Alipay Wallet via Mobile banner ads now.). Up-sell/cross-sell of affiliate product and services
  4. Storing Drivers license, Healthcare ID cards, other memberships
  5. Ability for users to pay with points
  6. Brand events, invitations, etc and many other use cases
  7. Extension of Mobile Wallet to Wearables. Think Apple Watch, Google Glass, etc.

Mobile Wallet will eventually become powerful marketing platform to engage with customer. “How do you build a better shopping experience for customer? and at the same time build trust?” – this is what companies need to be thinking about. Simplicity, Security and Usability will key drivers of overall customer experience. Consumers will sooner or later expect all of the above services to be in one place.

Forward looking use cases: Internet TV i.e. enabling payment via Wi-Fi enabled internet TV is not far behind. Think about a scenario – you watch an advertisement on TV, there is an option with buy button for you to purchase that product immediately – instant gratification for all you shoppers out there. So, as you can see, there are many use cases that can be extrapolated from mobile payments.

Key players in Mobile payment space

There are different companies and technologies involved in mobile payment space with no clear leader.

  • Technology companies: Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, PayPal, Microsoft Wallet
  • Retail Giants: CurrentC, Amazon, Walmart Pay, Starbucks, Alipay Wallet
  • Start ups: Square, LevelUp, Venmo, OpenTable, Powatech, Paytm (used by over 50million ppl in India), m-Pesa
  • Credit card players: PayPass by Mastercard, Visa checkout

Read more here.

Mobile Wallet is blurring the lines between physical and digital experiences. Could this mobile wallet eventually replace cards and email marketing platform? Time will tell.. but I already see some signs in that direction.

Will this transform the way we shop? Will this disrupt banks and traditional card companies? Will Apple win our heart with simplicity? What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.