Is sight the most underused of our senses? And what that may mean to SMEs

What a contrary headline there is on this article. Surely sight is humanity’s pre-eminent sense? Even those who have it, but fail to use their common sense, are called blind. Or we call ourselves such when we realise we have been wilfully stupid, such is the power of this sense over all our others – and over the way we think.

But in business, not everything is measured by sight. We all too easily rely on what we’re told. We’re told stories by colleagues, partners, by delivery people and by customers. But one person’s view isn’t always communicated in the way that they intend. And sometimes they haven’t seen what they think they’ve seen. It’s nobody’s fault, but in life, we could be forgiven for thinking that everything is a party game of ‘whispers’, that not everyone shares our vision.

This is why one of the most exciting technologies moving from science fiction to fact in 2017 is that of the suite comprising the Internet of Things (IoT), and digital video technologies allied to analytics and artificial intelligence. IoT is introducing itself into every industry and revolutionising the lives of consumers and businesses alike. With the right processing, the data recorded from these sources becomes something to learn from.

Not just for big enterprises – SMEs can be smarter and more nimble

Pioneered in retail stores, smart technologies are currently tracking goods and customer traffic, behaviour and sentiment in store. In fact, the power of IoT is beginning to be utilised everywhere. This technology is available for homes and workplaces and is already becoming embedded into the shops that we buy from and the factories that make our goods, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The use of this technology can be both a massive boost for businesses and a benefit to their customers. A study in America showed that seven out of ten shoppers were more likely to purchase items in-store over online purchasing if they were given self-help technologies, including help desks and interactive displays. Within the same study, eight out of ten shoppers said that they would feel a greater tendency to buy if they were given a self-help option to find a particular product.

It’s no surprise that retailers have taken the lead in IoT, digital video and related IP networked intelligent solutions. Stores and depots have always had to take a much more comprehensive approach to security, where video has previously been the pre-eminent security intelligence tool.

With an array of cameras, they’ve looked for ways in which their investment can benefit other areas of their business, in addition to loss prevention. This was hard to deliver in the age of analogue video, because no business could afford to get the intelligence form the tape in a timely fashion, which would mean pouring for hours over a screen, making notes and skipping back and forth between fixed views to track points of interest.

Fast forward to digital, IP networked technology, and now video intelligence is being used to not only help reduce shrink, but to deliver real-time business intelligence that can help retailers improve operations – and increase their bottom line. It takes a whole new way to think about seeing, and vision, though.

The two most common types of video analytics being used by retailers today include people counting and customer traffic pattern analysis. People-counting platforms enable retailers to calculate their customer conversion rate, which helps management make more informed decisions about promotions, marketing, store design, and customer service protocol. Meanwhile, understanding customer traffic patterns allows store managers and the marketing department to determine how long people dwell near certain sales displays, how long they will wait in queues, and how they navigate spaces and interact with merchandise and displays. All this intelligence goes to improve merchandising and store design and make a better customer experience.

Personal service 2.0

That’s because creating a high level of customer loyalty is an important differentiator for today’s brick-and-mortar stores, which are increasingly challenged to compete with the convenience and pricing of online competitors. Online stores are entirely digital, and so they are able to track movements, see what the customer looks at, how long the dwell is and more – as this is built into the very fabric of digital.

There are also numerous customer service applications for video analytics. For example, if lines begin to build at checkout or return counters, the system can alert managers to add another cashier. Video analytics also can be used to determine where a customer may need shopping assistance, such as finding a particular item or reaching a high shelf. Without having some way to alert store managers about areas that may be understaffed, customers could become impatient and walk away, which results in a loss of sales.

What the SME can learn from this is that any area where customer service and support in a physical location can be improved, or even transformed using digital video technologies and analytics. For a small business, this could mean helping employees work faster and more productively – allowing them to focus on the key elements of their role, and even enjoy their work more.

Customer intelligence plus self-service machines could transform the way a small business uses its space, staff and agility to run rings around larger companies. The opportunity costs are the same. The way insights are acted on might be very different! The future may belong to very networked, smart-tech using SMEs, able to be personal, responsive and impactful with freedoms a larger firm can’t match…

Scott Brothers is Executive Vice President of Corporate Development at Oncam