Helping clients meet their business challenges begins with an in-depth understanding of the industries in which they work. That’s why KPMG LLP established its industry-driven structure. In fact, KPMG LLP was the first of the Big Four firms to organize itself along the same industry lines as clients.

How We Work

We bring together passionate problem-solvers, innovative technologies, and full-service capabilities to create opportunity with every insight.

Learn more

Careers & Culture

What is culture? Culture is how we do things around here. It is the combination of a predominant mindset, actions (both big and small) that we all commit to every day, and the underlying processes, programs and systems supporting how work gets done.

Learn more

Leveraging technology to curate the customer experience

03.31.2023 | Duration: 24:48

Podcast | KPMG and Microsoft discuss consumer and retail changes, trends, and opportunities.

Listen now
Backward 10s Play Pause Forward 10s

Podcast overview

In this podcast, leaders from KPMG and Microsoft examine the state of physical retail, and the many challenges retailers face, from consumer expectations and cost pressures to dealing with competition. They will also outline how retailers can embrace new AI technology for a more timely and efficient customer experience.


Julia Hare: Hello and welcome to your episode of the RETHINK Retail podcast. I'm your host, Julia Hare, and today you'll be hearing from Paula Panarra, Global Business Application Sales Lead for retail and consumer goods at Microsoft. And Chris Alagna, Advisory Principal at KPMG. Welcome to the show, Chris and Paula.

Chris Alagna: Thanks Julia.

Paula Panarra: Thank you.

Julia Hare: So you guys are both retail pundits. You follow the space closely in your careers and we've seen massive changes. I don't have to go into them, but the recent years have been really tough, but also huge opportunities for retailers. I want to pass this to Chris first. Can we jump right in and ask about your take on the state of physical retail?

Chris Alagna: Sure. And this is actually something we are experiencing a lot with our customers, in that they are looking for solutions because customers are going back into the stores, but those customers are going back with a lot of post pandemic changes in the way that they're buying and expectations. An example there would be expectations around returns. So you've got a lot of logistical challenges there that retailers are dealing with. You've got changing competitive landscapes, you've got cost pressures created by today's market. So retailers are looking for ways to spend money on solutions to deal with that competition, have curated customer experiences, personalized ways that they can attract, retain, and expand customer relationships, but also looking for ways that they could potentially reduce costs on the back end to deal with some of those pressures right now that are being put on them. So it's a very complex time for retailers as they are looking to spend money and also reduce costs in various areas of their business. So a very dynamic time for retailers

Julia Hare: Dynamic indeed. And I'll pass it to you Paula, what are you seeing? What's top of mind? I know Chris mentioned logistics and returns. What are you keeping an eye on?

Paula Panarra: No, absolutely. I think that the focus is back on the physical store after a period of time where the focus was definitely more on the digital and online experience. And what we see is definitely retailers investing in creating more engaging and interactive experiences in the store. And so using also technology to enable some of those experiences, some virtual reality, augmented reality, but also more and more automations coming into the store. Because as all starts with the customer experience, the expectations are different. We expect to be able to buy online, pick up in the store or the other way around, buy in the store and get the delivery at home. So all these real time information is also key and that is one of the aspects that we've seen a lot of focus on, the back office and front office operation in the store to be able to answer to these new behaviors in real time.

Julia Hare: Mm-hmm. And Paula, you mentioned both front and back office operations as it relates to automation. Are you seeing more in one area or the other, or how would you say retailers in general are approaching that?

Paula Panarra: Well, I think we see in both aspects honestly, more and more the robotics, IOT, sensories. I mean, all these type of automations becoming a reality all the way in the warehouse and in the way to serve the store, but more and more into autonomous store type of experiments that several brands are doing these days to expedite the front of office operation as well.

Julia Hare: Mm-hmm. And it's funny in a sense because there were a lot of naysayers pre-pandemic about the adoption of buy online, pickup in store and things of that nature. And I think we also see the same sentiment when it comes to automated stores or cashier-less stores. Do you think that will be the future or how do you envision stores five years from now being different than they are today?

Paula Panarra: Well, I believe we'll see a mix of the two experiences. And in fact, you might even see in the same store the two types of experiences tailored for the different shoppers. We have a European retailer that just implemented the opposite experience, which is the low cash experience that you choose because what you want is to engage further in your cashier experience. While on the other side, we've been helping several startups to bring into market autonomous stores as the best possible experience to the shopper. So in my view, the future will be what the shopper and the retailer really want from an experienced perspective that keeps on one side the best personalized experience, but on the other, an efficient operation because that's also what retailers are looking for.

Julia Hare: Yep, very good. And I'll jump to Chris on this next question. With all of the digital changes you and Paula have just mentioned, what is a way that leaders can look at the environment in their specific operations in a way that supports the longer term growth?

Chris Alagna: I would say it goes back a little bit to what you guys were talking about on automation. We are getting a lot of questions from retailers around how to deal with all the data in a very productive way that they can monetize what they have. And even just with what's coming out with GPT in the way that consumers can now search for products. And there's a lot of questions at how to monetize data for retailers and use it in a way that could create these customer experiences but also help throughout their front, middle, and back office. So I would say we're working with a large retailer right now on implementing store devices, but where they can create a personalized shopping experience, each store associate, for the consumers that walk in. But that's all being driven by data. It's being driven by their multichannel shopping patterns, it's being driven by the demographics of the neighborhood, it's being driven by what's going on right now. So they're really trying to leverage data as a way to curate an experience.

Ultimately, the use case that we're working on is can we get down to a finite level of products and then enable that store associate to have empowerment on discounting to not let that consumer walk out of the store without purchasing something, right? So it's thinking of a use case from that person walking into the store, all the way through to them not putting the likelihood of success of a purchase in the hands of them. And that's all fueled by data and the ability to surface it in real time. So I would say that blends very much along with the lines of the automation that Paula was talking about, but fueling that through how that data is surfaced to the right people when they need it so it can produce the results for the retailers.

Julia Hare: And Chris, that's an incredible lift to get to that point. And I know retailers and all of the tech vendors in the space have been working on solutions like this for years with the personalization level, down to the customer and the localization elements that you mentioned with the geography. Do you think we're almost there where it's really smooth? Does it go beyond... I think luxury is a category that was most interested in that type of service, the one-on-one clientelling. Is it going to go beyond that? I mean, should we expect that in big box?

Chris Alagna: I think so. We're getting there. I mean, you're spot on with it's a bit easier in the luxury because the sample size is that much smaller. But this one large retailer, it's a large retailer that we're working with on these use cases. So I mean, it's to the point where I think we will see it very shortly where you will find store associates and big box retailers with devices being able to talk to consumers, when largely right now they walk around and they don't have that level of data to their customers. So I'd say we are on the cusp of seeing it in big box retailers fairly quickly.

Julia Hare: Amazing. And Paula, I see you nodding your head. Let's hear from you. What are your thoughts on that topic?

Paula Panarra: No, I fully agree with Chris. I think so far it has been about how to use data to really create that seamless personalized experience. Now it goes into how do you empower your employees as a retailer to really turn that into a reality across any category. And that's really what goes after the expectation that we have also as a shopper, that being a lot more informed from everything that we can get in our online experience. When we then land into a store, we expect a trusted advisor to really take us through in a personalized experience to the last mile. And to do that there is absolutely a need to empower the front line worker like never before with those data and that added value conversation that can really transform them into my trusted advisor and build on the loyalty and on my experience. So not only I'm buying, but I'm buying the best deal.

So as Chris was mentioning, am I able to even empower the employee to go all the way to offer me a personalized promotion, discount service, whatever, that really builds on my loyalty at the end and brings my share of wallet to this particular retailer. So it's combining really what the data is telling me about the customer with what my employee can really do to build that experience to a totally different level that probably in the past we saw in luxury, but we are seeing more and more becoming a reality in any type of retailer as a desire from the shopper.

Julia Hare: Mm-hmm. It's definitely a desire from the shopper. I think that anyone who says consumers are going to be creeped out is wrong. We'll adapt just as we have to everything else that is leveraged by our data. But that said, frontline workers, there's labor shortages, there's so many tasks. I was speaking with a frontline worker the other day of a big box store, I won't name it, but they were saying the amount of checklist items on their list every day in addition to all of the personal attention and care you're supposed to give to your customers is almost overwhelming and unmanageable. So can you speak to that a little?

Paula Panarra: Yes, absolutely Julia, I think you are going to a great point where people and talent need to become a core concern for leaders in retail as well, to the point of empowering them to do these added value service, but at the same time remove a lot of manual tasks, non-added value procedures that they need to go through every single day. And in many cases, still on paper type of work. That is absolutely what technology can solve for everyone in the store operation, from the store manager aspect, to the back office, all the way to the frontline worker. And that, from all the surveys we did, will be a critical point to retain talent in retailer from an employee engagement perspective. So that is definitely one of the areas that I think leaders need to put more and more attention, not only on what technology can enable in the store, but how technology becomes a culture transformation for their own organization and for their own employees.

Julia Hare: Yes. And Paula, you mentioned a survey. For our listeners, was that survey to the retail executives or was that to the frontline staff? Who was it?

Paula Panarra: So it was to the frontline staff on what were the elements that today were making them less satisfied with their employer or even making a resignation happen. And definitely the technology and the tools they were provided to do their day-to-day work was one of the top aspects that came as an answer.

Julia Hare: Interesting. And Chris, I'll pass it to you on this topic. Any comments to add or any thoughts on what Paula is saying, that the tech should be removing a lot of those manual tasks that frontline workers are mentioning?

Chris Alagna: It should, and I think this is where, when I had mentioned previous in my comment, where retailers are looking at investing money in all the great stuff we talked about, data and empowering the interaction with customers. This is where they're looking at taking cost out of the business because there is a lot of repetitive manual tasks that can be automated through technology that can be either centralized, can be somehow automated in a way that it's not so localized in each individual store. We can take those out, handle those more in batch, regional or centralized processing, and enable retailers to cut down on that level of investment from their business and fuel it into all the fun stuff we just talked about, which is data, acquiring customers, these personal experiences.

So I do think this is that kind of line of where we invest money and I think a lot of retailers shy away from those investments because they're not the ones that directly point to revenue. But I think what we're seeing now is as you look across your business and if you look holistically, these are the areas where if you can make some initial investment in technology, the return down the road frees up a lot of capital for you to make the more frontline investments that we talked about. So I would say we're starting to see retailers now who in the past were like, "You know what? No, things are fine," are realizing that they have to take that cost out of the business through automation and through a lot of the new developments in AI that have come out, specifically around the GPT type of enablement for consumers. So yeah, it's actually really fascinating to see that start to now get pushed out a little bit more.

Julia Hare: Yes. And Chris, I don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole, but I heard you say GPT twice in our conversation. I am personally a little bit obsessed and fascinated, as I'm sure Paula is and everyone listening. So real quick, what do you guys see GPT's application in retail being, like what's a use case that you've been noodling on?

Chris Alagna: Go ahead, Paula.

Paula Panarra: I can start?

Chris Alagna: Yeah.

Paula Panarra: Definitely we are very excited with all the possibilities that this new era of AIs is bringing to all of us in the way we work, honestly. The one step that really makes a difference is the ability to engage with technology in your natural language. That's really what is becoming such a differentiator, and the ability to use these language models to support the day-to-day work of anyone in any profession. So if you think about the possibilities that that create on a frontline worker or on customer service for example, where we know that the customer satisfaction is so critical for your next engagement, though is usually one area where the pressure on volume and fast response is always there. So what these technologies can really bring in is these assistance support that makes a much better answer, a much better engagement from the agent, but also from the consumer. And increasing the satisfaction is at the same time increasing the productivity. So we are solving for a better way of working for the one delivering the service, but also for the ones receiving it.

And this is one scenario that you can imagine across so many scenarios and ways of working within a retailer or any other industry because it's really about supporting your work through natural language, but keeping you the authority to use it or not. Which I think at least for us at Microsoft has been the core way of adopting this co-pilot. And we call it co-pilot for a reason because the human is still the pilot, but you have a tremendous help with a co-pilot, you can take the hints and the tips and use them as you go and pilot on the work you are doing. So it's a very exciting time, I think, across professions.

Chris Alagna: Yeah, I would say from where we're getting asked right now by a lot of our customers with the point of view around this topic is really in customer service from a retail perspective. So it's how do I really create a more immediate... So a lot of this is with the chatbots out there. And we talk about, how do retailers get more efficient, it's creating a chatbot that then can create a speedier and more specific response to the customers. Because what we find and what retailers are looking for is, I mean, how often do we go out there and we get a chatbot or some sort of online helper, we go through the prompts and we quickly get to a customer service associate on the other end. What this is going to do is, I mean, there's some phenomenal numbers of how that is going to be where regenerative AI and GPT can basically solve a customer's problem without getting to a physical call center. We're talking increasing by 60%, 70%.

So there's a lot of promise there around how that can help create speedier responses to customers, allow the technology to create and solve those problems that typically would then have to get passed to a physical human in a call center. And just the speed to bring those technologies to market is another promise because before you'd have to go through and set up and program these chatbots. Now you pretty much just have to point a chatbot to a data source and the AI engine kind of figures it out in a very crude, technical way of figuring out programming.

But I mean, that's really the opportunity that we're seeing people that want to take advantage of it right now. And the other side would be really around realtime content creation for customers. It's the ability to create better product descriptions, better product categories in real time for customers. So I mean, that's kind of where we're seeing people come to us say, "Hey, do you have a point of view on how to leverage this technology to do these types of things?"

Julia Hare: Super interesting. So not only on the customer service side, but a little bit on the marketing side with the-

Chris Alagna: Yeah, content creation in real time. Yeah.

Paula Panarra: And think about the sales process as well. So we have many retailers with the B2B selling operations. The same happens because you can have very quickly all the knowledge of the customer, but also all the knowledge available to you to make a better proposal, a faster proposal, a better answer to the customer with teams, other members of the team inputs to enrich the content that you are getting, and ultimately to enrich the win rate and to be more successful in the way you are engaging with the customer. So it's really broad because it's about putting knowledge to co-assist any worker that can use it very fast and using natural language. Very exciting.

Julia Hare: It is exciting and the amount of possibilities seem endless. It's both scary and exciting for a lot of people. Are there other pieces of technology that you think will go hand in hand with GPT or any other thing you're looking at for this year, the immediate future that you're excited about?

Paula Panarra: Well, I think that all the technologies that really go after these process automation as well as real time data ingestion will also be very important in these times. If you think about supply chain resilience for example, all that we can do to really bring in better insights, more insights, more data to predict, but then also to in real time be able to surface or fix potential gaps, disruptions, or offerings. This is all about technology that on one side is capturing the data, but is then putting the data into action on the operation front. I think these are definitely, again, data models and technologies that we will see having a very strong impact in the next year.

Julia Hare: Absolutely. And just real quick, Chris, I'll ask you first and then Paula, you can respond. If retailers, especially I'm talking the large big box retailers, if they have not yet implemented GPT or similar technology, are they behind?

Chris Alagna: Absolutely. I think they are behind. I think it's something that everybody needs to be developing a point of view on because our perspective is, it's not if, it's how you use it and how you enable your team with it. So I would say if they're not thinking about it, they need to be thinking about it. Though I would say that we do talk to a lot of the big box retailers, they are thinking about it. I think everybody's in a stage right now where they're trying to do what you just said. How do I really leverage this technology to get the most value out of it and use it in the right way?

So I would say we get a lot as an advisory firm, we get a lot of people looking for points of view. I could say, this topic of regenerative AI and GPT went from zero to a hundred as far as how much interest we have as far as people coming in saying, "Hey, could you give us a perspective on how to use this technology in our business?" So we are very busy when it comes to that, but it's fun because where we are today and where we'll be in two years will be such a jump and we're going to look back and say how this technology really, I think, changed a lot of what we do, not only in retail but just in general. So a very exciting time.

Julia Hare: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Paula?

Paula Panarra: I think that the way this technology is tangible and became tangible to every single person, from the kids in the school all the way to senior people, that because of being interaction with the natural language with technology, it's so easy to understand the power, that that's why everyone is already understanding that this is here. It'll start to be used very fast and the value you can take when you adopt it correctly in your organization is immense in the moment we are living. So definitely a lot of interest from many customers across industries on this technology.

Julia Hare: Absolutely. And Paula, you just said if they adopt it correctly, big if, and I know Chris touched on that too, and I was speaking with someone who manages a very large brand portfolio and that was their point. There's a lot of policy that we're going to see a little bit of catch up work that needs to be done because these are what seem like small changes, but the ripple effect down an organization could be huge. And I think that's where people can really look to you guys for support and guidance. Absolutely. Well, Paula and Chris-

Paula Panarra: Totally.

Chris Alagna: I mean, even-

Julia Hare: Oh, go ahead Chris. Sorry.

Chris Alagna: No, I was just going to say, I mean, just to tangent off, I mean even us as a professional services firm, we're looking at it on how to reinvent service delivery for customers. So we're looking at leveraging GPT as a way that we empower our frontline workers, which is our consultants that go out and service clients every day, and we're looking at ways. So we are, as much as we are advising customers, we're also leveraging it in our own professional service delivery. It's just to your point, Paula, as how it's going to be integrated into all of our lives, our families, what we do, how we do it. We are just encouraging people to take advantage of it. And to your point, so we can all come and have a perspective on how to leverage it in a way that's positive for us and brings value not only to business, but just kind of society overall.

Paula Panarra: Yeah. It's really about the responsible use of these technologies.

Julia Hare: Mm-hmm. Got to walk the walk, and sometimes easier said than done with something that's in a lot of ways groundbreaking with the access that's available. So Chris, Paula, it was amazing to have you on the show and hear your insights. I hope to have you back on soon and thanks for joining.

Chris Alagna: Thank you so much.

Paula Panarra: Thank you.

Chris Alagna: It was a great, great discussion, and appreciate it. Thank you.

Paula Panarra: Thank you. Thank you.

Julia Hare: Perfect.


  • Chris Alagna - Advisory Principal, KPMG US
  • Paula Panarra - Global Business Application Sales Lead for retail & consumer goods, Microsoft
YouTube thumbnail image

Interview | Improving the Customer Experience with Technology

KPMG professionals discuss improving customer experience with technology in a booth Interview at the NRF Conference 2023


Chris Alagna: The reason why we're at NRF this year is we're just glad to be a part of the retail community, get back out in front of people, listen about what's going on with retailers, and hear from our clients’ what problems they're dealing with and how we can best solve it.

Bo Rodric: Well, it's actually my first time at NRF, so just the energy that's here, the relationships and partnerships and the people that I've met so far, it's just really, inspiring. The people are getting back out and getting back in front of their customers and, and their business.

Chris Alagna: Some of the discussion points are, we're really seeing customers trying to put technology and solutions back into the stores. People are coming back into stores, store associates need a lot more help in turning, getting a really personal customer experience for the clients that they're trying to serve. So, it's really about how do we get a personalized experience, technology and that data into the hands of store associates so they can serve their customers.

Bo Rodric: One of the big trends that I've heard is really around loss prevention. And a lot of the retailers right now that are in the omnichannel, they're selling in the store and online, are starting to see some differences in loss and in store what they're calling return fraud. So, there was a lot of discussion about that earlier in, the summer of the sessions that we're really interested in helping our customers overcome.

Chris Alagna: Another trend that we're seeing is, really kind of the post covid rebound [00:01:30] of the supply chain challenges. So, before we see customers, they really had to get a lot of products in the store. Now we're seeing customers have to deal with that product and best decide how to best serve their customers while, dealing with changing patterns of buyers. So, what we're seeing is customers needing to get a lot more agile in real time with their supply chain challenges, both in the fulfillment center and restocking the stores. And those are things that we're working with Microsoft in order to bring solutions to our customers to deal with those in real time.

Meet our podcast host

Image of Christopher Alagna
Christopher Alagna
Principal, Advisory, Platforms, KPMG US

Thank you!

Thank you for contacting KPMG. We will respond to you as soon as possible.

Contact KPMG

Use this form to submit general inquiries to KPMG. We will respond to you as soon as possible.

By submitting, you agree that KPMG LLP may process any personal information you provide pursuant to KPMG LLP's Privacy Statement.

An error occurred. Please contact customer support.

Job seekers

Visit our careers section or search our jobs database.

Submit RFP

Use the RFP submission form to detail the services KPMG can help assist you with.

Office locations

International hotline

You can confidentially report concerns to the KPMG International hotline

Press contacts

Do you need to speak with our Press Office? Here's how to get in touch.