How True Alliance is tapping omnichannel data and AI to further marketing and service personalisation

Retail group's digital chief shares the latest tech investments, data projects and customer journey milestones helping it lift experience across the funnel

AI-powered service operations, along with more personalised marketing and digital journeys thanks to an omnichannel customer view, are the latest milestones achieved by True Alliance as it progresses its digital transformation journey ambitions.

Australia-based True Alliance is both a retailer and distributor of iconic fashion and apparel brands including Speedo, The North Face, Ugg, Wrangler, Lacoste, Lee and Coach. In the last couple of months, the business has also debuted three additional global brands in the Australian market supported by direct-to-consumer offerings: Banana Republic, Gap and Ellesse.

True Alliance group head of digital, Ken Kennedy, has been spearheading digital transformation of the business since joining in 2018. He caught up with CMO at the recent Salesforce World Tour in Sydney to detail the latest steps taken to further omnichannel marketing and service capabilities, as well as lessons learned and opportunities realised in the midst of tumultuous pandemic conditions.

Tackling service optimisation

Kennedy knew True Alliance was well-prepared to cope with the rapid acceleration of online shopping brought about as Covid-19 arrived on Australian shores in March 2020. Having successfully overhauled its digital, marketing and data foundations, the business boasted of an integrated core technology stack including upgraded and enhanced instances of Salesforce CRM and Marketing Cloud, plus a solid Commerce Cloud deployment.

Nevertheless, there were gaps. One was True Alliance’s customer service operations. Like many retailers, the service team became even more critical to meeting customer expectations and realising commercial success as shopping pivoted to online channels as the pandemic settled in.

“We knew there was going to be a whole new cohort of customers that weren’t traditional online customers, who are quite expensive to market to and acquire. There was an opportunity to capture these guys,” Kennedy said.

“In many cases, that in-store customer is easier to turn into a brand advocate and repeat purchaser than a traditional online customer – the latter have lower attention spans, they want it yesterday and at the cheapest price, and with the best experience you can give them while they lay on the couch watching Survivor.

“So we were looking at how we talk to this new online customer versus the traditional online customer, and how do get them in and nurture them. That was a big priority for us.”

Kennedy knew having a tech stack in place distributing customer data to the teams and departments that can use it best was paramount.

“Providing customer experience that people like and that ensures they shop with you again and again because they enjoy the experience, is key,” he said. “Customer service is an area we do an amazing job in, but with an influx of customers coming online, resource and the capacity was going to be an issue.”

True Alliance quickly implemented Salesforce Service Cloud. With Marketing, Commerce and Sales Cloud already in play, Service Cloud layered in quite seamlessly. The platform was then used to build dashboards for True Alliance’s service team, giving them instant access to the customer’s ID, pulled in from CRM; a transactional history view, pulled in from Commerce Cloud; marketing communications they might have received and interacted with, pulled in from Marketing Cloud; and case history from a service perspective.

“All that is now served right in front of them. If a customer has queried the same thing 10 times over, we can look and see what a good response was, versus what wasn’t,” Kennedy said.   

“An objective for us was reducing wait time for customers and improving their experience with our customer service team in general, because that team are now more informed. By doing this, we reduced case times by over 1 minute per case against pre-rollout benchmarks.”

Kennedy described it as a monumental leap. With Net Promoter Score (NPS) layered in, True Alliance has also seen significant improvements on previous scores.

“It’s been a real game changer for us… We were developing all these other areas so fast, that was an area that needed to come online,” he added. “So Covid challenged us but also presented us with new opportunity at the same time.

To further take away potential service issues, True Alliance debuted live chat and chatbots within weeks of the Service Cloud deployment. To do this, the team built out conversation and users flows including multiple scenarios, such as a customer asking where or what is in their order, and variations around that. Nuanced approaches also took into account the design, tone and language of each distinct brand.

“We’d already done an analysis and realised seven out of 10 queries to service across all our brands are three key queries: ‘Where is my order?’, ‘how do I return it?” ‘I want to cancel the order just made’,” Kennedy explained. “We launched chatbots on specific pages, such as FAQs, contact us and store location. That allowed us to interact with online shoppers straight away, deal with that query before it hit the customer service team and meant the capacity issue we might have had disappears. That is exactly what we saw in practice.

“Because chatbots are AI-driven using Salesforce Einstein, the more the chatbot is used, the more Einstein already knows what you’re going to type. It’s predicting what you are going to say and has responses ready.”  

Kennedy now has his sights set on the post-purchase experience and flagged conversations with a US company to personalise this part of the customer journey. “If you transact online, and you’ve confirmed a purchase, then want to go back and login into your account, you will no longer see a bulk standard account statement. It’ll instead be an interactive dashboard, where you can see progress bars and journeys and which layers in past purchases,” he said.

True Alliance is also looking to add in recommendations using insights, such as highlighting care package for the shoes a customer previously bought.

“It will enable us to communicate better and prompt on things like whether you want to sign-up to SMS alerts for your purchase and provide a link to quickly do so as we already have their details and can automate it,” Kennedy said.

“When something takes a day longer than expected, people are already wondering where it is. The first thing they’ll do is check an order status on your website. If at that point, we can allay a lot of fears and issues without them having to visit multiple sections or pages, we’re already providing a better customer experience and they’ll come back again and again.

“People don’t mind waiting an extra day or two, but they do mind when you don’t communicate and let them know what’s happening. That’s the area we’re looking to address now. Again, that reduces friction on the customer service team, as the customer doesn’t feel the need to phone, or interact via live chat.”

Furthering marketing and digital personalisation

The other priority for Kennedy and the team has been around personalising marketing and engagement to drive purchase. “It’s about knowing you came from Facebook, or if you came from Google or Bing, and what you searched for so when you land on the website it’s a more seamless experience for you,” he said.

AI is again playing a big part. Today, Einstein now boasts of a direct influence on about 15 per cent of entire sales online for True Alliance thanks to ongoing optimisation of Commerce Cloud. Use cases Kennedy cited included manipulating predictive sorting rules on merchandising and PLPs; using dynamic search rules on product detail pages; and ensuring variations such as misspellings or grammar are taken into account. All this feeds back into True Alliance’s Service Cloud and CRM customer information hub.

The next cab off the rank is deploying Interaction Studio, Salesforce’s real-time personalisation and interaction management solution tied to Marketing Cloud.

“We have got everything we can get out of Einstein right now; it’s a ceiling point for Einstein as a tool, so the next iteration is Interaction Studio, where it becomes an organic thing and is not bound by a set of rules, which Einstein very much is,” Kennedy said.

During the pandemic, True Alliance also worked with external martech companies to optimise customer journeys based on behavioural science. The aim was to again tailor how its brands interact with customers as they progress through the funnel, including the type of messaging best suited to different cohorts.

“We also looked at the USPs we talk about. It was a shift in the time and expertise we applied to certain channels we normally wouldn’t have done, because they needed it,” Kennedy said.

Another significant milestone achieved during the pandemic that’s driving True Alliance’s personalisation forward is merging retail store data with online data. Historically, the team didn’t connect the dots between a customer buying inside one of its stores then a month later buying online.

“From a CRM point of view, your customer lifetime value, average basket size and number and type of products you bought was skewed as a result,” Kennedy said. “So when we started tailoring communications and triggering journeys, whether that be email or through social channels, we could essentially be marketing to you incorrectly.”

Thanks to the unified omnichannel view of customers, launched at the end of 2021, True Alliance can understand the history across brands, going back five years. This is changing its view on customers and their lifetime value.

“If you’re bought online all the time but return half of it in-store, your value to us is different. What’s more, we can now see you always return these types of products, but never return the others, so perhaps we need to educate you more on those former type of products,” Kennedy said. “That dictates our trigger journeys we have across marketing.

“For example, with our customers for both Coach and Kate Spade, we’re planning out an entire journey knowing what we now know about an omnichannel customer. That’s very different to what it was before.”

And it’s already raised surprising insights into customer behaviour.

“There are people we consider to be not VIPs – regular customers with a bulk standard once or twice a year purchase rate. But when we have linked the two data sources together, we’ve seen that these customers actually spend $5000+ with us in a year and buy other products we’re hoping people will buy,” Kennedy said by way of example. “It’s telling us this person is probably a brand advocate and we should be classing them as a gold-class customer.”

Such insights are also informing how True Alliance consider its customer loyalty program approach moving forward. The business is in the process of launching a loyalty offer for Lacoste, part of a global shift towards loyalty for the brand. It’s then planning a wider loyalty program project kick-off in July.

“But we’re not going in with an all-in loyalty program. Instead we’re building out a multi-tier program, the basis of which is to get an understanding of how we roll it out in a more omnichannel way,” Kennedy said. “Primarily, it’ll be online but also will be applicable in retail stores. What we’ll do is take the learnings from that to then see how best to replicate loyalty across brands in a full-scale manner.”

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