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CONFERENCE: African Customer Experience Introduced to First-of-its-Kind Technology


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DUE TO rapidly evolving technologies, changing demographics, consumer preferences, and growing access to the Internet, the customer experience landscape is becoming a highly competitive space, making it increasingly difficult for brands to keep up.

Now in its 6th year, the annual CEM Africa Summit (Africa’s largest CEM event) is taking place on the 16th and 17th August at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town. Sven Schoof, Head of Customer Experience at Spree is speaking at this year’s event. In an interview with Kinetic Events, Sven shares how Spree is leading the way for CX in South Africa and how important it is for brands to keep innovating to remain relevant.

​Leaders in customer experience

Schoof has worked in small start-ups, medium-sized companies, and global corporates in the Internet, telecommunications, and advertising sectors. Currently, Schoof is completely immersed in ecommerce, leading the Customer Experience Team at Spree.

What do you think of the current state of the customer experience industry in South Africa?

“We see a continuous evolution and a few lighthouse examples of offering great customer experiences in South Africa. At the same time, there is much room for improvement. Even though awareness around great customer experiences and the need to invest in customer-centricity is growing, too many companies still offer poor customer experiences.”

Why do you think it is important to keep innovating and growing in this industry?

“In this digitally enhanced, always on and increasingly transparent world, brands that are not embracing customer centricity are likely to face an increasing amount of issues. If your company is not innovating and attempting to find ways to delight your customers, you can be assured that your competitors are. Ultimately, fostering long-term loyalty of your customer base is always highly profitable.”

From a retail perspective what is most important for customer experience?

“From a retail perspective, it is primarily all about having a well-designed, high performance, mobile-first online offering, showcasing relevant products at the right price points. And, as for any other business, offering a delightful customer experience needs to permeate every layer of the business, from the technology to the user interface, from the customer service to the courier handing over the parcel.”

How has Spree used technological innovation to transform its customer experience?

“Spree recently launched a highly innovative image search and similar style feature in the shopping app. Within the existing search functionality, the Spree app now offers a feature, which allows shoppers to take a photo or upload an image, which will return visually similar items in seconds. Finding similar styles while browsing is now also easier: shoppers can tap and hold any product image in a category, search results or product view and the feature will highlight items that are visually similar.”
“Spree is the first online fashion retailer in Africa to offer this AI-driven technology and launched the feature in the iOS app first, thereby showcasing Spree’s mobile app first approach.”

Why was it necessary for Spree to invest in this new technology?

“Within the past 1-2 years, Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Amazon have all released image based search or recommendations features. This clearly global trend uses today’s technological advances in AI to make life easier and more intuitive for customers – especially when using mobile devices, another global trend. As a mobile-first company that continuously tries to delight our customers, investing in this new technology made absolute sense to Spree.”

How does the technology work?

“The visual search technology uses images uploaded by users as search queries instead of keywords. It then returns visually similar images by analysing the pixels inside the image instead of the image metadata (size, resolution, etc.) The order of the displayed images is based on the parameters “colour”, “pattern” and “style silhouette”, all of which have different weightings.”

Have you seen positive results from the new technology as yet? If yes please share some?

“Absolutely! The Similar Styles feature is gaining traction fast, as it is very easy and intuitive to use by merely tapping and holding on a product image. The increase in engagement is the most positive feedback we have, but it is still early days and we are very excited to see how our customers will be using our image search features in the near future.”

What are your learnings/insights from the process?

“We anticipated high engagement for the Similar Styles feature and slightly less for the Image Search feature, as this requires more interaction. This has so far proven to be spot on, but again, it is early days and we are still learning. Regarding the Image Search we are pleased to see that the image quality used by our customers has been improving and that they are moving towards using social media images to find matching Spree products.”

Where to next for customer experience in South Africa?

“This is of course hard to predict, but I can safely say that in my view, companies will continue to focus on getting the mobile customer experience right, as well as viewing customer-centricity as a holistic approach that requires the entire company to buy in to make it successful.”

What other brands do you think are leading the way for customer experience in South Africa?

“The online home and kitchen retailer, Yuppiechef stands out as a leader in creating delightful customer experiences and thereby gaining customer loyalty.”

How can we inspire growth and innovation in the South African customer experience industry?

“By leading by example. Singular companies that shine by innovating within the customer experience sphere will automatically drive others to follow suit.

Kinetic is an international conference and exhibition company established as a key strategic information provider to the IT and Telecoms sector. Our mission is to equip senior management executives with knowledge, market intelligence and viable commercial opportunities.

The CEM Africa Summit brings you the latest developments in a rapidly evolving industry with a topical agenda that focuses on improving your organisation’s CX initiatives to result in increased customer acquisition, customer loyalty, and revenue.

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