IBT: What were the major disruptions faced by Crayon Data due to the onset of COVID-19 in its global business operations? How have you managed these disruptions, and how are you navigating ongoing challenges vis-à-vis the pandemic?
Suresh Shankar: Crayon’s core value proposition for maya.ai is to create personalized lifestyle experiences. Be it in dining, retail or travel, we had it all covered. Until COVID-19 changed the world. Worldwide dining and travel came to a standstill. Brick-and-mortar shopping now feels like a distant past, with all non-essential retail shifting online. The categories that we were established in were rendered irrelevant in the new stay-home landscape. That meant that we needed to quickly find new categories that we could compete and become relevant in.
Priorities of our clients and prospects changed – Business Continuity Planning (BCP) kicked in for them and operations became their top priority. Our clients placed more pressing business continuity issues over lifestyle personalization and came to us with a set of operational problems. The same problems arose with clients across several geographies. These emerging trends prompted us to design a solution to meet the same set of challenges across our clients.
IBT: How is Crayon helping its clients manage the business impact of the pandemic and script a revival through its proprietary solutions in terms of AI and Big Data Analytics?
Suresh Shankar: From industry reports and our clients in the US, Middle East and India, we observed a 20-30% decline in overall spending. With discretionary spends in travel (-90%), lodging (-80%) and apparel (-70%), these industries are the worst hit. Consumer lifestyles have clearly changed. We saw an obvious opportunity to help revive our client’s portfolios and build them back stronger in the post-COVID-19 recovery period. We used maya.ai, our AI platform to predict new trends in consumer tastes even before they happen, and to recommend the right products, services and offers to their customers to cash in on them.
Second, to help with crisis management and BCP operations, we designed a new AI-led data solution for our clients — the COVID BCP dashboard . We developed a web-based, online-form interface, which standardized data flows. This reduced the time to process data and reduced overall complexity. The form-filling interface is easy to customize; fields can be added or removed, which allows us to meet the demands of different banks and enterprises. Standardized input of data also meant that visualization on a dashboard was simpler. Lastly, we built it on scalable architecture, which meets the load of a bank of any size.
This solution was deployed for our client in Myanmar, for over 15,000 employees and close to 500 bank branches. The entire process from development to deployment took less than 72 hours. Since then, we have also onboarded over 76,000 employees from the Retailers Association of India for employee tracking.
IBT: What is your view on how the landscape for AI and Data analytics has changed post-COVID for companies in the realm of marketing?
Suresh Shankar: Before COVID-19, buzzwords were being thrown around in the marketing industry – words like AI, big data and hyper-personalisation. But implementation was always lagging, and “the walk was always the behind the talk”. With the onset of the pandemic, three key mindset changes happened in our clients:
• Increased understanding of the importance of digital transformation
• Decreased resistance to implementing them
• Increased urgency to do things immediately.
I’ve seen an image going around LinkedIn and Twitter asking people who led their company’s digital transformation; was it their 1. CEO 2. CTO or 3. COVID-19? Most companies are now realizing that if they don’t transform themselves in one way or another, they are not going to survive.
To this end, people are recognizing the existing ways things are done – especially in customer management and engagement – no longer flies. Examples of this include credit card offer portals from banks that continue to display irrelevant offers in this climate. We still see banks put out irrelevant offers on their credit card portals such as the ones below:
Travel: 10% cash back on flights
Dining: 20% off at select restaurants
Transportation: 30% off on car bookings
Lodging: 30% off on hotel booking
Movie: 25% off on movie tickets
Spa: 20% discount
*Source: Actual offers from bank websites in APAC and ME
For these credit card providers, processes are not set up to reflect changes in real time. Companies must now constantly stay on top of their games by being relevant at every point in time to their consumers. This is the most important in marketing messages and communications.
IBT: What new opportunities does this open up for Crayon Data? Also, how does it change the medium-term outlook and growth projections of the Big Data and Analytics market?
Suresh Shankar: Clients are struggling with similar problems which can be broadly categorized into:
1) How to build more intelligent, digital customer journeys
2) How to improve employee’s performance and collaboration.
They are both fundamentally driven by the shift to digital in both consumers and employees.
As customers increasingly adopt digital channels over brick-and-mortar ones, banks must ensure that not only do they have an omni-channel strategy, they need to have an intelligent one. That means connecting the customer experience across all digital touchpoints to ensure customers have a seamless, unified journey. And this is difficult for most marketing and CX teams today. Most omni-channel strategies are fragmented and impersonal. This represents a huge opportunity in personalized marketplaces that Crayon plans to explore.
Second, as employees are now working-from-home (WFH) indefinitely, traditional companies are struggling with managing a remote workforce. As shared in my earlier how we launched a new product, maya.ai’s COVID BCP Dashboard, the application of big data and analytics in the employee productivity space is another opportunity to look out for.
IBT: Crises like the present pandemic are particularly hard on MSMEs and startups. What role can AI play in helping them survive the turmoil? What is your observation on the adoption trends of AI in MSMEs and startups pre and post-COVID and how they are leveraging these solutions?
Suresh Shankar: MSMEs and start-ups are generally more focused on day-to-day issues and challenges of either survival or high growth. These are both heightened during COVID-19. While there isn’t a uniform approach that everyone is taking, one trend that underlines their decision is the realization that they have under-invested in data.
Whether MSMEs or start-up, they now realize that their return on data and digital is not optimal. And there is much more potential to utilize this asset – customer data. For example, Crayon now assists a leading cloud kitchen in Singapore to closely analyse their customer data, and provide better, more hyper personalized experiences for their customers.
On the product management side of things, several start-ups, including ours, have decided that this is the right time to advance feature roadmaps in a bolder manner. This is especially so when it comes to AI-led features, either as a move to generate revenue or to optimize cost base.
IBT: What insights can you share on the changes in customer behaviour post-pandemic from your Big Data Analytics solutions?
Suresh Shankar: There three key insights we have uncovered from maya.ai’s analysis of client portfolios and industry reported figures:
1) Decline in overall spends: During COVID-19, consumer spends have dropped by 20%-30%# with discretionary spends taking the toll 70%-90%
2) Growth in selected categories: However, some categories like Grocery, Online Retail, Food Delivery, Subscriptions are still growing
• Groceries (+30%)
• Online Retail (+12%)
• Food Delivery (>100%)
• Subscriptions (+30%)
3) Increase in digital adoption: Also, digital adoption has increased significantly
• 12% increase in number of online transactions across categories
• 28% increase in spends made online
Given these shifts, understanding customer preferences and staying relevant to their needs is the need of the hour.
IBT: What are the key implications of these insights for client industries on how they approach customer engagement post-pandemic?
Suresh Shankar: There are both macro- and micro-level implications on customer engagement in a post-pandemic world. Let me start with a micro-level example that can be illustrated with an example. With worldwide leisure travel at a historical low, consumers are now spending most of their disposable income in their local economies. This emphasizes the importance of being hyper-localized.
maya.ai ran an analysis on past data of card holders in the Middle East, and from there we know that end March and early April, which coincides with spring break in schools, is a period where families go on holidays. The end of Ramadan then brings about a second flurry of travellers, which usually happens in May or June. With unclear global travel rules and regulations, consumers are looking for ways to appease their wanderlust with alternatives. This information tells us there is a large opportunity in the hyper-local staycations market, where consumers spend on local weekend getaways and dining deals.
At the macro trend level, staying relevant to your customers has never been more important. Personalization is now a must-do to survive. Be it adapting to become hyper-localized with AI and big data, or something as simple as adjusting your marketing messages to be more empathetic.
This article was originally published on the TPCI website. You can read the full article here.