Collaboration with suppliers is key. Supply chain is the backbone for retail and manufacturing enterprises, and it is witnessing a rapid digital transformation. Retailers must have the right tools in place to share data and collaborate with partners, or else they risk a poor customer experience with issues like order processing delays, items being out of stock or quality concerns. For example, Kroger was able to avoid millions of dollars in missed sales and unhappy customers by leveraging cloud analytics to ensure products were delivered on time to warehouses and ultimately, store shelves. The company was also able to identify key performance indicators, such as warehouse inventory levels, and make them available on a near real-time basis.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jitesh Ghai, Chief Product Officer at Informatica, the leading enterprise cloud data management company serving 85 of the Fortune 100.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m the Chief Product Officer at Informatica, the leading enterprise cloud data management platform enabling large companies like CVS, Kroger and Unilever to transform in the cloud. I’m responsible for our product innovation, engineering, and cloud data management operations, as well as the vision, strategy, and execution around our AI-powered Intelligent Cloud Services platform.
I began my career at Informatica as vice president of product management, defining the overall vision and strategy for operational data integration, big data and IoT use cases. Since joining the company, it’s been exciting to see Informatica gain so much traction and industry recognition — such as being named Microsoft’s Partner of the Year in 2020 and becoming the trusted partner to 85 Fortune 100 companies.
Prior to Informatica, I worked in a variety of leadership roles in engineering, sales, and management at 29West, Solace, and Cisco.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
MIT Technology Review’s podcast, “In Machines We Trust,” which dives into how automation impacts nearly everything in today’s world while touching on important areas of discussion, like ethics and bias.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Informatica is the cloud data management provider to 9,500 organizations, including 85 of the Fortune 100. We’re helping large state and local governments, corporations, nonprofits and public sector agencies manage their most valuable asset: data. That means our technology is behind some of the most important advancements and processes today — state governments use our platform to allocate ventilator supplies during COVID-19 surges, our pharmaceutical customers are using AI to speed up vaccine and treatment research, and businesses worldwide are using data managed with Informatica to come up with the next amazing innovation. While our technology is behind the scenes, knowing that we’re playing an important role in improving healthcare outcomes, putting food on tables, and empowering government transformation is what makes me excited to work here.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
We all need to remember that health is really what is most important — and paying attention to your diet, emotional and physical wellbeing, and exercise is essential even when things at work are busy. Athletes are very rigid about their health as they experience tremendous intensity leading up to and during an event — and then it’s over. For “corporate athletes,” the pressure and intensity are unrelenting. We all need to be proactive about our holistic wellbeing and maintaining work-life balance to meet the continuous pressure to perform.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Retailers like Lululemon, Kroger and Costco have one thing in common: they’re all ahead of the curve when it comes to digital transformation — they are operating and serving customers in the cloud, and they have perfected e-commerce and omnichannel. Their emphasis on the customer experience helps drive loyalty, repeat purchases, and new customer acquisition, and the fact that they have such a strong digital strategy means they likely have a wealth of data that they can leverage as a platform for innovation.
Customer experience (CX) remains the ultimate battleground where if you don’t innovate, you will be disrupted. Customers expect companies to understand who they are and interact with them accordingly. The cloud is a game changer for companies looking to truly transform how they address the perpetual shifts in consumer behavior in real-time.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Differentiating on CX is going to be critical — and data is going to be the IP that enables retailers to best do so.
In 2021, it’s imperative retailers embrace a holistic cloud data strategy to remain relevant. When I say a cloud data strategy, I mean a plan for organizing, cleansing, integrating, protecting and actually using their data in the cloud so they can gain a 360-degree view of customers, suppliers and inventory for strategic decision-making and innovation. Many retailers are collecting vast stores of data on their customers, but are they actually using it? Despite the recent growth of e-commerce, many are using the data they collect in tactical siloes that prevent true CX innovation.
A recent McKinsey study found that in just 90 days during the holiday season, e-commerce gained 10 years-worth of progress. That’s a stunning statistic. Retailers who already had a cloud data strategy in place were able to quickly pivot to digital commerce as people stayed home to avoid spreading the virus. They could easily locate inventory and know whether it was in a warehouse to ship or store for curbside pickup, they had a 360-degree view of production data so they could minimize order processing delays, and they had a complete understanding of their customer, enabling them to better adapt to new pandemic purchasing behaviors.
Retailers who were unprepared may have still been storing customer data on-premises in data centers that employees could not access easily from home, or they had adopted a bunch of point software solutions that addressed one aspect of the customer experience but didn’t have one holistic view. Either way, those without a unified cloud data strategy were unprepared to deal with the complete upending of the industry in just a few short weeks.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One common mistake is not being proactive about data privacy and protection. For many retailers, data governance is something they only think about in terms of complying with legislation. But headlines about data breaches are no way to build trust with customers, and in today’s world, many are increasingly skeptical of brands that want to collect a ton of personal data.
Retailers who are transparent about the data they collect and how it’s used are likely delivering better customer experiences — in fact, they can make it part of the experience by offering individual-level controls.
A robust data governance strategy typically demonstrates that a retailer is collecting data intentionally and has a purpose planned for that data, meaning they are better prepared to perform analytics at scale for decision-making around CX (vs. retailers who collect every possible piece of data and simply store it where it could potentially be mis-used).
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
One recent study found that nearly 1/3rd of consumers would stop doing business with a brand they love after one bad experience. And for me personally, that rings true — if my order is severely delayed or isn’t what I expected, or if I have a frustrating experience with an online chatbot, I’m seriously going to reconsider shopping with that retailer again. If you’re not providing a great experience, you’re putting your business at risk for someone who will.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
It all comes back to data and having that data strategy in place. Many companies simply can’t make it a priority because they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t have a deep understanding of every touchpoint with a customer and how the experience could be improved.
They see digital transformation as an enormous, costly undertaking — which it is, but in 2021, it’s no longer optional. Retailers MUST transform in the cloud, or they’ll become irrelevant. With a holistic cloud strategy, retailers can actually spend less time managing data, and more time focusing on customers.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One company using data to wow a customer is Hyatt. Hyatt uses Informatica’s Customer 360 solution to deliver unforgettable customer experiences that make their guests feel understood and valued — something that’s become even more important during these tough economic times.
For example, the housekeeping staff at a Hyatt in San Francisco noticed a guest was using a blanket to do yoga on the balcony, so they brought her a yoga mat, towels and water. They also updated this guest’s preferences in their Master Data Management system. So now, anytime she checks in at any Hyatt worldwide, there’s yoga equipment in her room waiting for her. Hyatt is, in essence, her home away from home.
One of my colleagues at Informatica recently experienced this five-star treatment firsthand. He checked into a Hyatt in London and was greeted with a book on running, a personal note, and a map of local running routes because his profile contained information from previous Hyatt stays, and the front desk representative was empowered to personalize his experience.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
What’s really key here is that Hyatt is building loyalty with customers, thanks to the power of data. These gestures are highly personalized for individuals, creating an experience they truly won’t forget. It’s likely that they’ll tell their family and friends about the fantastic experience they had, building further brand equity for Hyatt. This is an approach retailers should take note of — how can we go beyond serving personalized ads, to serving personalized experiences that keep customers wanting more.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
A great retail experience is personalized to the customer, convenient and user-friendly, seamless across channels, and offers outstanding customer support. And, of course, you need to have a great product — that’s #1.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- The cloud is critical to omnichannel success. If you are a retailer and you manage dozens of stores that employ hundreds or maybe even thousands of people, and you also have an e-commerce site, where are you focusing your efforts? Likely, the bulk of your time and resources are spent managing all those stores. But in today’s world, where customer behavior has rapidly gone digital, retailers MUST shift their mindset from that of physical stores first to that of omnichannel. And the only way to do this is to operate in a completely cloud first, cloud native environment. For example, Home Depot invested more than 11B dollars in becoming a more digital-centric retailer starting in 2017, but two years later, the CEO said that issues with legacy technology were holding it back from the lift in sales it had anticipated.
- You need a 360-degree view of your customer. Knowing your customer well and delivering an experience that delights them every step of their journey is key to maintaining customer loyalty in the digital age. With a connected 360-degree view, business users can significantly improve sales effectiveness, discover new opportunities, and automate processes to make efficient up-sell and cross-sell decisions. For example, Informatica customer Camping World — a top seller of RVs in North America with over 160 dealerships and retail outlets as well as e-commerce — prioritizes having a single, accurate, real-time view of customer information so they can improve the customer experience. The company posted a 304M dollars profit in 2020, likely in large part due to their ability to rapidly pivot how they served customers during surging demand for outdoor recreation goods during the pandemic.
- Collaboration with suppliers is key. Supply chain is the backbone for retail and manufacturing enterprises, and it is witnessing a rapid digital transformation. Retailers must have the right tools in place to share data and collaborate with partners, or else they risk a poor customer experience with issues like order processing delays, items being out of stock or quality concerns. For example, Kroger was able to avoid millions of dollars in missed sales and unhappy customers by leveraging cloud analytics to ensure products were delivered on time to warehouses and ultimately, store shelves. The company was also able to identify key performance indicators, such as warehouse inventory levels, and make them available on a near real-time basis.
- Data privacy isn’t just for compliance, it’s part of the customer experience. I mentioned this earlier, but privacy programs are no longer just about doing what’s legal — they are now a critical touchpoint with customers. Consumers want highly personalized, engaging experiences from companies who can deliver them while also respecting their privacy expectations.
- Retail is constantly evolving, and so should your customer experience. In recent years, we’ve been witness to the transformation of retail. The in-store experience is no longer just about shopping, it’s become experiential. Mattress seller Casper, which was once strictly e-commerce, opened experiential stores where you can take a nap on their mattresses. Now, with physical stores shuttered, we’re seeing the rise of BOPIS: Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. It’s important to maintain a pulse on what gets customers excited, and always be ready to evolve the customer experience.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!