Sheryl Kingstone, 451 Research

For Sheryl Kingstone, improving customer experience (CX) and the rise of digital commerce have been central drivers for her career. 

Early on, Kingstone spent time implementing CX software as a marketer at companies including CompuServe, DataMirror and Praxis. Then in 2000, she moved into the analyst world, as research director first at Yankee Group and then at 451 Research which acquired Yankee in 2013. “I’ve really seen an evolution, not a revolution,” she said.

Adopt a Broad Digital Transformation Approach

Which emerging technologies companies should start experimenting with now depends on where they are in the deployment cycle. “If they haven’t done anything around gathering the right data, to jump to machine learning would be irrelevant,” Kingstone said. “If you’ve not done anything on social, you can’t just jump to social commerce.”

What’s needed instead, she explains, is for companies to think more in terms of a wider digital transformation strategy — from the customer data platform to the machine learning to layer on top of it which will then yield contextual insights and which conversational bots can later be added to.

Kingstone will be speaking at CMSWire’s Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit taking place Nov. 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. She will give a session titled, “Capitalize on the Wave of Digital Innovation in Commerce Experiences” on Nov. 15

We spoke with her about the growing importance and value of contextual recommendations in digital commerce, the role of hyper-personalization and how digital assistants may help rather than replace their human counterparts.

The Future of Commerce Is a Blend of Digital and Physical

CMSWire: Many companies are struggling with how to seamlessly blend physical and digital commerce experiences for their customers. Which organizations already do this well today or are poised for success?

Kingstone: A lot of luxury brands are starting to blend their physical and digital stores. They’re putting tablets into the hands of store assistants so they have a whole view of what a customer has purchased. With clienteling apps, brands can potentially guide store associates to provide customers with next best offers.

Think about what’s being piloted in the digital experience journey with digital dressing room technology which blends virtual reality and artificial interactions. A customer shopping for clothes can check out different colors and sizes, which may be out of stock in the store, through a digital mirror and then order them and have them shipped to their home.

When it comes to e-tailing, look at Amazon. While everyone is closing down physical stores, Amazon is buying Whole Foods. The future isn’t one or the other — physical or digital — it’s a blend of both services.

CMSWire: What can different industries learn from each other about blending physical and digital commerce experiences for their customers?

Kingstone: Financial services embraced digital early on. They’ve built out customer onboarding and made it available on mobile devices to engage customers early on in the financial services experience. It’s very cutting edge, using facial recognition, authentication and contextually relevant offers. That’s something that’s very transferable to retail and telcos.

Historically when you had opened a new account with a bank or an insurance company, you’d have to go into a branch and fill out paperwork. While there’s still a lot of upfront work to do, leading banks and insurance companies have shifted to a more mobile-centric experience. They’ve reduced customer onboarding from 20 minutes to three minutes.

CMSWire: When we interviewed you last year in the run-up to DX Summit 2016, you talked about how context-aware process-driven applications are the future. When would you expect these apps to become mainstream technologies?

Kingstone: They’re still in the infancy stage. We have gotten better at combining some data to be contextually relevant and we’ve got better personalization through mobile.

In the short term, within five years, we predict 80 percent of customers’ purchases will be influenced by mobile technology and 60 percent of digital commerce will occur through mobile. Success will come through being contextually relevant.

We’re not yet doing commerce as intelligently as we could, it’s not necessarily contextually relevant, and it’s not based on location as accurately as we could. Hospitality and retail are getting there and casinos are very advanced in what they’re doing. The technology is getting there too. A lot of training of algorithms is still taking place and we’re still gathering the data we need.

CMSWire: What do you see as the primary pros and cons of hyper-personalization strategies for content, commerce and data?

Kingstone: We’ve done some great work moving towards that 1:1 engagement. We have to to continue to focus on how to leverage first-party data and tie it to a lot of third-party data in an ethical approach.

If you do use the right information in the right channel at the right time, you’ll be able to address customers’ needs and engage in more cross-sell and upsell. Today, we can’t accurately pull inventory let alone what someone purchased in the last minute.

Our research shows that 80 percent of businesses are looking towards machine learning to provide automated contextual recommendations to their customers. Whether that is the next best action for the customer or the right offer or the right price point or if it’s do nothing.

CMSWire: How do you see the role of humans changing in digital commerce as more seller interactions with buyers rely on non-human digital assistants?

Kingstone: Digital assistants can help human interactions in two ways — data discovery and in answering customer questions. With data discovery, the universe of what’s known is growing so tremendously that digital assistants can help human interactions by providing the right data.

Self-service bots will replace some but not all human interactions, for instance, answering questions around inventory levels. Digital assistants will try to answer as many customer questions as possible. When the interaction gets too complex or the digital assistant can’t answer the questions, the interaction can immediately be passed off to a human who can then guide it. The best practice is really guided situations for using digital assistants.

CMSWire: In your Twitter profile, you describe yourself as an “avid photographer,” what subjects do you most like to photograph and why?

Kingstone: I love anything that shows the marriage of emotion and experience and I love nature. Whether it’s a beautiful landscape or the way the light reflects across the water or the emotion of a new baby loon, it’s all about looking through the lens of the camera and capturing that viewpoint. It’s a different way to experience the world.

As a photographer, I look at things from many different perspectives. It’s like customer experience, if you only look in one direction, you’ll be missing out on satisfying the needs of all the different customers.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.