1-800-Flowers Finds Love On IBM Cloud, Talks Bots For Service Center

Arnie Leap, 1-800-Flowers CIO, talks like a CMO. He understands the importance of data to search and display advertising, email, print campaigns, and loyalty programs running on desktops and mobile devices.

Perhaps that why Leap Is spearheading a project to connect more than a dozen disparate back-office systems. On the surface it will give consumers a more personalized experience on each company's branded Web site because the back-end systems will finally communicate providing what industry insiders call a seamless experience. 

1-800-Flowers supports more than a dozen brands, from Harry and David to The Popcorn Factory. Now it's time to tie all together. Within the next 12 months, the company will retire them to standardize on IBM Commerce on Cloud.

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"We will capture the first order in mid-July," Leap said. "Over time I expect to get an hour back in each day from not having to worry about those platforms."

Forrester Research data shows that while 72% of businesses admit that improving customer experience is their top priority, only 63% of marketers prioritize implementing technology investments to help them reach this goal. In a new report, Forrester covers why old-school marketing and technology leadership must evolve, meaning that CIOs and CMOs must work together to connect technology through marketing.

It may seem like an IT thing, but making it work means IT and marketing must collaborate. Only 21% of global marketing decision makers report that marketing and IT are strategic partners in developing tech solutions to serve and retain customers. This number falls to 13% in the U.S., according to Forrester’s Global Business Technographics Marketing Survey, 2015.

For 1-800-Flowers, success means customers will have a more personalized experience on each of the brand's Web sites, but it requires that systems on the back-end communicate with each other to support the loyalty program, cross-market and cross-target through banner and display advertisements depending on the consumer.

Leap said the push began three years ago as mobile grew in importance. "The challenge with mobile means increasing personalization," Leap said. "Millennials look at the interaction with the mobile device based on the last best experience they had, so expectations grow each time they make a purchase."

The loyalty requires data to flow freely between all brands because knowing how consumers interacted with each individual brand in the past becomes key. It also will support custom call centers.

"The next generation will become conversational bots," Leap said.

1-800-flowers plans to leverage cognitive techniques through IBM Watson, which will provide a personalized concierge service for online shoppers.

Working with Watson will give 1-800-flowers' brands access to significant data and analysis, allowing each to drill down to the individual when connecting a loyalty card or number. Marketers, for instance, will have an option to correlate purchases with weather data and then forecast purchases or experiences with weather patterns.

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