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Microsoft India CMO on how tech-powered CX can be the flywheel for disruptive growth

By Hitu Chawla |

May 18, 2022 | 6 min read

New technology is continually enhancing the experiences and possibilities of our world, says Hitu Chawla, chief marketing officer of Microsoft India. Many brands are already on that journey and others are getting there on this road to shaping the future normal.

I recently watched the web series Upload. Set in 2033, it imagines a future in which people – moments before dying – can ‘upload’ their life to continue living a digital afterlife. Their loved ones can meet and interact with them virtually in their afterlife. A lot of the depicted future is kind of like today’s metaverse... on steroids. Think of a robot butler taking care of your household chores, you commuting to work in a driverless talking cab, and drones patrolling traffic, cleaning the city, extinguishing fires – you get the drift.

Experiences and possibilities of the new world

Hitu Chawla, chief marketing officer of Microsoft India, on the future of CX and the tech-enabled world of marketing

It’s an exciting show, not because it’s futuristic tech, but because that future doesn’t feel very far away. Technology that was fictitious some years ago has become commonplace now. We probably won’t bat an eye in a few years when we see robots walking in malls assisting us or drones delivering packages, as these will be the norm.

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New technology is continually enhancing the experiences and possibilities of our world. Some brands are already leading the way with in-store voice assistants, cashier-less stores, on-the-fly designs or digital mannequins that change what they’re wearing based on who you are. Here are some examples.

A shoe store without shoes

Polish footwear brand Eobuwie has no shoes in its shoe store, only tables and tablets. The customers can browse the products virtually and then pick the ones they want to try or buy. The selected shoes from the store’s collection of 110,000 pairs are then brought out on racks behind the cash desks.

This model offers an interesting digital-first experience to the customers, making it convenient for them to browse as many shoes as they like while also getting the actual product to try on before a purchase decision is made. This is a great example of leveraging tech to elevate the customer experience (CX) with a differentiated approach.

Not very far-fetched

Online luxury player Farfetch combines customer data, RFID, ultrasound, hologram, smart mirrors and emotion-scanning to create the ultimate customer journey experience within its ‘Store of the Future.’ The moment you enter the store and log in with a scanner, your customer profile and history are shared with sales assistants who cater to you in a very precise manner, knowing your preferences and online wish-list.

The connected clothing rack records items you pick up and updates them on your app. The store has a holographic display where you can design and order your own shoes. The fitting rooms have interactive mirrors where you can browse for apparel options, and request another size or color. You can even pay without leaving the dressing room then just leave the store, with the products being dispatched to you later.

It’s a brilliant interplay of physical and digital, creating a single seamless customer journey. It is a great example of making phygital more intuitive, and a sign of what will become a preferred way of shopping for customers.

An in-store billboard that tailors ads

You approach a cooler in a retail store and its doors turn into a billboard personalized for you. Based on your age, gender and the weather outside, you see ice-cream, beer or that new flavor of yogurt.

Walgreens Boots Alliance is testing these smart coolers that combine cameras, sensors, digital screens and other tech to gauge customers when they approach the cooler and suggest contextual products to them.

Yes, it’s the online personalized shopping experience brought to a physical store. Sensors track which items customers are checking out or buying and give insights into how on-screen promotions are performing, besides updating the retailer about items going out of stock. The logistical benefits of such interventions are attractive to both businesses and consumers.

And these examples are only preliminary steps shaping the future normal. The journey from good to wow will not just require great products, flawless service and creative marketing. It will take a lot of ‘imagineering,’ as Disney calls it, to differentiate. And a key pillar of that differentiation will include ‘experience architecture’ – a new type of discipline where ‘experience designers’ with their tech toolkit of sensors, computer vision, augmented reality (AR), immersive and spatial computing will immerse customers in fantasy-rich brand experiences.

Hitu Chawla is chief marketing officer of Microsoft India.

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