The CEO of this $4.3 billion AI-backed analytics firm explains why voice and video is now key to efforts at top businesses like Macy’s, Sephora, and Marriott to build ‘digital twins’ of customers and employees

  • The coronavirus decimated the retail industry’s ability to gather data on their customers, including their purchasing habits.
  • Not having that kind of data can hamper a retailer’s ability to plan out inventory or marketing campaigns. 
  • But as more consumers pivot to digital channels amid the outbreak, video and audio may become the richest stream of information available to help companies better gain insight into their customers. 
  • AI-backed analytics firm Medallia is poised to capitalize on that trend with a string of recent acquisitions. 
  • “People are beginning to wake up to the connective tissue that is customer and employee feedback,” CEO Leslie Stretch told Business Insider. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s hard out there for a retailer. 

The industry was one of the most impacted by the sudden impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic — which forced many stores to close nearly overnight, even as they immediately pivoted to the online shopping models that became their only way to reach customers. 

Some of the most devastating effects of the pandemic on the industry happened behind the scenes, however. The outbreak significantly impacted the ability for retailers to gather data to predict future shopping habits — an important tool that informs which and how many products they should keep in stock. With consumer shopping habits changing so quickly, retailers were left without the information they needed to see if the trends were long-term or just a blip.

And with many stores still closed and in-person shopping still recovering, companies have to rely on historic data to power the artificial intelligence-backed analytics tools that help them make those important decisions around inventory, promotions, and other critical operational and marketing efforts. 

But that older data is quickly becoming useless as a prediction tool, and businesses are scrambling to figure out how to replace it. The answer for the industry may be found in voice, video, and other information gathered from digital channels, according to Medallia CEO Leslie Stretch. 

Digital is “now 100% of their business and they hadn’t implemented effective feedback mechanisms to capture the voice of their customers,” he told Business Insider. “People are beginning to wake up to the connective tissue that is customer and employee feedback.”

With a market cap of roughly $4.3 billion, Medallia helps clients like Macy’s, Sephora, and Marriott by bringing in information from those channels and organizing it to help them gain better insight into their customers. And it doesn’t just focus on retail. Among other applications, Medallia’s offerings can be used to help insurance companies improve customer interactions with its agents by analyzing online chats or voice calls. 

Stretch called feedback data — like social media posts or customer service call logs — the “big, misunderstood gold mine of information” and critical to companies trying to build a “digital twin” of their customers, referring to the concept of distilling an individual consumer’s behavior into a slew of data points that can be analyzed. 

“People are searching for tools, techniques, and technology to create and build out that dynamic, animated picture of the customer so that they can understand the customer in the absence of their traditional methods,” he said. 

That’s where Medallia believes that it is poised to shine. The company uses proprietary AI technology to gather that information from a slew of sources. And with a string of recent acquisitions, it believes that it’s now able to capitalize on the big shift towards digital.

Analyzing video and audio data streams 

Now, Medallia is able to add audio and video to the existing feedback data it already analyzes, creating the opportunity for ” tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions” more touchpoints, according to Stretch — particularly as the pandemic accelerates usage of voice and video channels. 

Say a customer is talking to a customer service agent over the phone. A system from Voci Technologies — which Medallia acquired in April — can immediately translate that to text that can then be analyzed. When that is combined with thousands of other similar calls, companies can begin to extrapolate trends that can be used to inform decision-making. 

Voice data “tends to be richer and it tends to be denser. You get 10-to-15-to-20 times more information on a simple text interaction,” he added. 

And now, as more people flock to online chat services like Zoom, there’s an immense opportunity to analyze those streams to extract information like a customer or employees facial emotion or physical movements. Using technology from LivingLens, a company that Medallia purchased in February, that data can be used to create a more powerful profile of that person.

But it’s use cases go beyond just the consumer landscape. Insurance companies and other firms could use it to remotely analyze or inspect a property in order to build a new policy. Airbnb, for example, is an existing customer of LivingLens

“We’re looking for all kinds of rich data that could inform us about the state of mind, the frame of mind of the consumer, or hone in on the key words, the things that they’re saying, and their expressions too,” said Stretch. 

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