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Technology adoption is a serious challenge in today’s customer loyalty space. Brands have to figure out which technologies will benefit them and which providers they should choose. In addition, brands need to know how the size of their companies should play into their decisions regarding technology.
To gain insight on this issue, Loyalty360 recently spoke with Siddharth Taparia, Senior Vice President and Head of Strategic Ecosystem Marketing for SAP. In his position, Taparia works with brands of all sizes but pays special attention to mid-market companies, as businesses of this size often face special challenges.
He said, “A majority of SAP customers are small and mid-sized customers, when you look at our total customer count. Our over-18,000 partners worldwide, range from the very large—what we call strategic ecosystem partners, the large technology companies like Google Cloud, AWS, and Microsoft—all the way to channel partners, which we have throughout our ecosystem, and my team is responsible for all marketing for both the small and midsize organizations.”
Asked how technology has impacted marketing in the last five years, Taparia said, “I think there are a couple things that are particularly different. In the last 12 months, people did not realize how quickly the voice assistants were moving and how quickly AI and machine-learning were evolving. Of course, a big portion of how voice assistance worked was also based on AI and machine-learning. This has created a new paradigm shift for platforms on which marketing will take place in the future. For instance, there’s an estimate that says by 2020, half of all the search will be done by virtual assistants.”
When you type a search on Google, you get a list of results. When you tell a virtual assistant to search for something, it typically provides only one result. Therefore, Taparia said that he believes that “it is important for companies to be in what is called ‘position zero’ or the answer box, when a voice search is generated.”
Loyalty360 asked Taparia what tools are table stakes for today’s brands. He asserted that the necessary tools are those that enable brands to meet the expectations of contemporary consumers, and, for the foreseeable future, consumers expect personalized engagement when they interact with brands.
“Data analytics are going to play a critical role,” he said. “Companies are going to have to work extra hard to have the ability to understand the data that they have and combine it with often times much larger sets of data that third parties are going to have. They must be able to use it in a way that is ethical, because I think privacy is going to continue to be a concern for customers.”
We asked how smaller brands, those with limited resources, can compete in personalization. He replied, “We work with smaller sized companies a lot, and one of the things that we see is—in what we call the mid-market companies—they seem to be the least represented, when it comes to using things like chatbots in the workplace, but also slower in the adoption of things like AI and machine-learning. Part of it is this inherent fear that using technology is going to create some distance between them and their customers, and they’re typically well-positioned for providing that personal touch.”
Consumers who interact with smaller brands tend to expect the ability to speak with a human person. They associate chatbots and such with large brands. However, Taparia said, “the technology is going to mature very quickly, and my assumption is that even smaller companies are going to be able to experiment in their own unique ways. The combination of the human interaction with customers and consumers and the use of technology like AI and machine-learning is going to be important.”
Small and midsized brands shouldn’t panic because they’re unable to afford the latest in AI. As such, Taparia said, “We as consumers want to interact with smaller companies, because we know we’re going to get quicker attention. We know we’re going to get a more personalized service. Mid-size companies have to preserve that, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t start using the technology in places where they can continue to preserve it but also get much better outcomes for their customers.”
Given Taparia’s expertise, we believe that small and midsized businesses should listen to his advice. They should adopt technology incrementally and make sure to preserve one of their main strengths: human interaction. We expect brands that do so will have greater chances of success.
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