Q&A: Nicholas Kontopoulos on Managing the Increasingly Complex Customer Journey

“Modern customer experiences span various touchpoints, both online and offline. Ironically, this plethora of channels can lead to a more fragmented and disconnected customer experience.”

A primary focus for retailers today is how to enhance engagement across every touchpoint of the increasingly complex customer journey.

Once largely a linear path, the customer journey has evolved to encompass a range of touchpoints at various stages across both online and in-person environments. This journey is expected to fracture further as retail becomes increasingly tech-driven and experiential.

To learn more about marketers’ pressing challenge of consistently keeping customers at the center of their engagements—from generating interest in products to retaining loyal customers—we recently spoke with Nicholas Kontopoulos, Vice President of Marketing for Asia Pacific & Japan at Twilio.


 

Over the course of our conversation, Nicholas discusses the contemporary customer journey, strategies marketers can use to personalize engagement, innovative approaches some retailers are taking, and more.

As the customer journey becomes increasingly fragmented across touchpoints, how can retailers ensure a seamless and consistent experience?

Customer experience has improved dramatically over the past few decades. Today, retailers have a plethora of touchpoints to engage with customers beyond their brick-and-mortar stores, from websites and social media to brand apps and online marketplaces.

“CDPs are revolutionising how businesses understand and engage with their customers by unifying diverse data points and providing a holistic view of the customer journey across various channels and touchpoints.”

As the retail industry continues to evolve, we’re witnessing the emergence of innovative tools to streamline customer interactions. One such tool that stands out is the customer data platform (CDP). CDPs are revolutionising how businesses understand and engage with their customers by unifying diverse data points and providing a holistic view of the customer journey across various channels and touchpoints.


 

Simply put, a CDP captures data from every customer interaction, whether on the web, mobile, or in-store, consolidating it into a single database. This data is then organised into customer segments and profiles. With a cohesive and comprehensive profile of their customers, retailers can deliver tailored experiences that are seamless and consistent across all channels.

In a tech-driven and experiential retail environment, what strategies can marketers employ to personalize customer engagements while maintaining high standards of data privacy?

According to our 2024 State of Customer Engagement Report, 47% of businesses surveyed in Singapore said that balancing security and customer experience is their most pressing challenge this year. Additionally, six in ten Singapore consumers ranked data protection and transparency in communications as the top considerations for brands looking to earn customer trust.

Building customer trust is fundamental to effective customer engagement, especially when balancing data collection with compliance. Businesses must be transparent in communicating their data policies – informing consumers about where their data is being collected, how it will be used, how long it will be kept, and the benefits they stand to gain from sharing their information.

“When customers trust that a brand is using their data responsibly, they are more likely to volunteer or opt-in to share their information.”

Brands need to empower customers to feel in control of their information. It is essential to provide mechanisms for consumers to exercise their privacy rights, such as the ability to opt-out or adjust privacy settings.

When customers trust that a brand is using their data responsibly, they are more likely to volunteer or opt-in to share their information. Knowing that their data will enhance their interactions with the brand makes them more inclined to disclose that information.

Given that 56% of customers are likely to stop doing business with a brand after a frustrating experience, what are some effective approaches to enhancing customer loyalty and preventing churn?

We see brands increasingly leveraging AI tools to power more intelligent customer interactions across all industries. This shift leads to more innovative, intuitive experiences, translating to greater satisfaction and less customer frustration.

For instance, integrating AI in customer contact centres allows brands to meet and anticipate customer needs in real time. AI-driven self-service can quickly resolve simple queries, providing immediate responses at any time. Traditionally, human agents would handle these interactions, limiting customers to standard operating hours and subjecting them to wait times longer as agents manually searched for resources.

Image by Max Fischer

With AI-powered chatbots, we will see increased efficiency and faster service, ultimately enhancing customer satisfaction, building loyalty, and reducing churn.

The benefits of AI extend beyond what customers directly experience. Behind the scenes, AI empowers internal teams to curate and deliver more personalised customer experiences. For example, Twilio’s CustomerAI Perception Engine uses conversational intelligence to extract valuable data from customer interactions via voice, text, chat, or email.

“With AI-powered chatbots, we will see increased efficiency and faster service, ultimately enhancing customer satisfaction, building loyalty, and reducing churn.”

This data helps brands create highly detailed customer profiles, enabling precise personalisation in future communications. This fosters a sense of affinity with the brand, where every customer feels personally understood and consistently catered to, building long-term brand loyalty.

Based on what you’re seeing, what are some innovative ways that AI is being used by retailers?

AI has revolutionised the retail landscape in remarkable ways. We’re now seeing a shift from broad personalisation to deep individualisation of the customer experience. Advanced algorithms and data analysis provide retailers with a comprehensive understanding of customers’ unique preferences, behaviours, and purchase patterns. This enables them to deliver hyper-personalised offerings, dynamic pricing, and crafting marketing campaigns that genuinely resonate with target audiences.

“When it comes to aftercare service, AI is a game-changer. Customer care agents can use natural language to seamlessly interact with AI tools that sift through customer information.”

AI-powered recommendation engines are increasingly anticipating individual demands, suggesting products perfectly tailored to meet those needs. Simultaneously, chatbots and virtual assistants offer highly personalised real-time assistance, simplifying purchasing and encouraging the discovery of additional products.

When it comes to aftercare service, AI is a game-changer. Customer care agents can use natural language to seamlessly interact with AI tools that sift through customer information. For example, an agent might ask, “How many orders to Singapore have been delayed this week?” to quickly determine whether an issue affects multiple customers or is specific to a single order.

By providing support agents with the necessary resources at their fingertips, AI ensures that human agents can handle customer inquiries more effectively, leading to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

What are the key challenges retailers face when trying to connect disparate parts of the customer journey, and how can these challenges be addressed?

Customer journeys today look very different from ten, or even five, years ago. Modern customer experiences span various touchpoints, both online and offline. Ironically, this plethora of channels can lead to a more fragmented and disconnected customer experience.

As brands engage with customers across platforms – from websites to mobile apps and digital ads – there’s a real risk of siloed data, leading to incomplete customer profiles. This fragmentation hampers a business’s ability to retarget effectively. To tackle this, retailers must establish a single source of truth within their organisation.

“As brands engage with customers across platforms – from websites to mobile apps and digital ads – there’s a real risk of siloed data, leading to incomplete customer profiles.”

By funnelling all data sources into this central hub, businesses can build comprehensive profiles of each customer, capturing behaviours, preferences, and predictive attributes. This approach ensures that all departments – from marketing to sales to customer support – access the same centralised data, enabling seamless and consistent customer service.

Given the vast amounts of data retailers collect, they often need more accurate data. This issue can significantly impair their ability to drive effective business outcomes. To avoid this pitfall, retailers must keep their data clean and compliant. This starts with reducing manual data entry and implementing validation methods to ensure data accuracy.

These fundamental steps ensure that data isn’t just sitting unused or incorrect in a corner but is high quality and can be transformed into meaningful insights that drive business growth.

As customer data becomes more complex and regulations expand, how can marketers securely analyze and leverage data to improve customer experience without compromising privacy?

Consumers are increasingly invested in how their data is used to shape experiences, with a strong expectation for transparency. To meet this demand, marketers need to integrate privacy-first measures at every stage of the customer journey – or risk losing trust and loyalty in the long run.

With the decline of third-party cookies, zero- and first-party data have become crucial for businesses. These data sources provide unparalleled accuracy and relevance by deriving insights directly from customer interactions and voluntarily disclosed information. This approach enables companies to target the right audience based on a precise understanding of their customers while ensuring their privacy is respected.

We see more solutions in this context that help marketers deliver impactful, personalised, and privacy-complaint customer experiences.

One solution is Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), which unify zero- and first-party data across multiple touchpoints into single dashboards or customer profiles. This unified view allows marketers to tailor their campaigns to specific profiles, driving more profound and personalised connections.

Our recent State of Customer Engagement Report revealed that almost half (48 percent) of Singapore respondents would trust brands more if they transparently disclose their use of customer data and AI-powered interactions. Fortunately, many CDPs already integrate data privacy safeguards, such as consent management tools, ensuring organisations adhere to customer data preferences and expectations.

In a world where consumers are increasingly privacy-conscious, these guardrails protect customer data and maintain mutual trust. They are no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but necessary to remain competitive.


Quick Hits:

Book everyone in the industry should read: Leading the Revolution by Gary Hemal

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One album you would take to a deserted island: Artist Black Coffee – Spotify Playlist

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