The brave, new digital world of commerce is here to stay—and forward-thinking, growth-focused entrepreneurs must fully embrace it.
That was the unequivocal message taken from the engaging, energetic Black Enterprise TechConneXt panel, “Business Tech: What’s Hot, Next, and New.” With the verve of a talk show host, entrepreneur/journalist Ramon Ray pitched a series of questions to an all-star panel: Dele Oladapo, VP & CIO, Application Business Solutions for Prudential Financial; Laura Teclemariam, product manager of gaming giant Electronic Arts; Jerry Nemorin, CEO of LendStreet, an online lender; and Kirk McDonald, president of PubMatic, a firm that advises publishers on how to leverage digital assets.
The panel’s review of the latest tech trends offer clues on how your business can more effectively identify, engage, and serve customers.
DATA IS POWER
Ray kicked off the session asking panelists “Why do business owners need to understand the power of data analytics?”
To be a true innovator today, McDonald responded, speed is paramount in the application of data. “If you are in a small, medium, or large business and you are not accelerating the processing of all data available to make a better-informed decision, you are going out of business,” he says. “Almost every business of innovation from Uber to Airbnb have found ways to capture a digital data asset, run it through an algorithm, some version of machine learning to actually inform a next decision quicker than a human could. That’s the point of automation.”
For LendStreet, Nemorin said, interpretation of data has been vital in not only making the right lending decision but also gaining insight into consumer preferences and concerns. For instance, the impact of Hurricane Matthew on Florida customers distinguished their particular financial needs from those of other LendStreet customers across the nation. “Now we have an update to know consumers who are in zones where there might be natural disasters,” he says. “We can automatically send them a text. We can automatically call them and say, ‘Hey, we know Matthew is coming. Do you need to extend or skip a month of payment?’
Teclemariam zeroed in on “key engagement indicators.” Gaining “petabytes of information” on the first-person shooter game Battlefield, in which roughly 8.1 billion minutes have been played, she can identify revenue-shifting information such as points of user disengagement for the billion-dollar franchise.
Prudential’s Oladapo says legions of entrepreneurs can benefit from today’s data-driven environment. “As entrepreneurs, if you are in a sector where you are being the open table for workshops, you are actually capturing demographic [and] behavioral information that companies like Prudential need to buy,” he says. “Smaller players that we weren’t technically working with now become the major part of who we have to bring into our ecosystem so we can make business decisions and by the way, that drives a much better customer experience. You are actually becoming the power holder.”
TEST BEFORE YOU LAUNCH
If you are introducing a consumer product and seek to determine its resonance with customers, Teclemariam says, engage in A/B testing, also known as split testing. For example, she has developed experimental testing for certain video game characters. “[I may want] to see if characters that are African American play better than characters who are Asian,” she says, gauging impressions from two consumer groups using data robots and other such tools. “I would A/B test to see in which demographics those characters are more successful. It’s a great way to test your products. You should be doing A/B testing with every single release you have. If not, you are essentially going in blind with your products.”
ENHANCE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE THROUGH AI AND BOTS
These days, Ray maintains, e-commerce is being conducted using artificial intelligence embedded social media channels. He asked panelists how entrepreneurs can capitalize on such developments.
McDonald says social media, chatbots, and other digital tools help create a personal experience between the customer and the brand. “With whatever product or service you make available to them and you need to keep up the high, intimate relationship without ever breaching their trust,” he says. “All of these opportunities to touch that consumer can be enhanced if you use the tools well. Social media and chatbots are some of those tools. They are not in and of themselves a strategy.”
Nemorin agreed. “A chatbot is a powerful tool to start that conversation, to keep that dialogue going and for the consumer not to feel like you are encroaching on [his or her] privacy,” he explains. “Think about the sort of messages [and] moments that you want to touch that customer. You want to have that engagement and you want to have that discussion.”
Teclemariam likens this form of customer outreach to tech-driven behavioral science. “Impulsive buying is still alive as ever. What the social platform provides for us is an opportunity to capture a time when a user is ready to impulse buy. That impulse buy nature in human characteristic and behavioral cognitive reasoning is still at large. [In similar fashion,] there’s a psychosis in gaming that makes me want to play. It’s not an accident that people play video games for hours at a time [and] get hooked on it like crack.”