How to deliver on the promise of a better customer experience
Customers expect experiences with your business that address their current needs and interests. They are willing to share their behavioral data - if you are transparent about its use and give stewardship of personal information back to them. So how do you differentiate them and treat them individually?
Customers expect that you are able to interact with them in context: Basically that you remember prior interactions and transactions and use that information to service them better and keep them informed about relevant products, services or offers.
Capturing exactly what prospects and customers needs are, what their interests are is a huge challenge. Customers are motivated by different goals, goals that change dynamically in real time. They come from different locations using different devices. They’re interacting with your business at many different touch points and are at different stages along the customer journey. They only have one thing in common: they are all different.
So how do you differentiate them and treat them individually?
Personalization is the foundation
Different content for different visitors. True one to one experiences with progressive messages and highly individualized nudging down the conversation funnel is the way forward. Marketing designed as personalized conversations that evolve across time and channels is probably the most challenging and most potent of all disciplines in the digital toolbox. It is also one of the most difficult to deliver on as it require a fundamentally different approach to content creation and new tools to capture data across channels, profile and trigger personalized content - everything in real time.
Most vendors in the personalisation space will tell the same story of how easy it is to start working with personalisation (with their platform) - we have worked in this space for two decades and know it is not true. For most companies personalising the customer experience is a journey - a road that has to be travelled and where learnings have to be earned by a multitude of experiments.
Knowhow is limited
Sure - there are easy gains and low hanging fruits to be captured in most businesses - but getting to the core of the personalised customer experience requires hard work, time and dedication. Technology is the enabler - but it is a people thing to actually extract value from the opportunities that the technology creates. And those people are a scarce resource.
All the processing required to track and analyze and predict the visitors behavior in real time is available as cloud based services. But most organizations struggle just getting management buy in and qualified individuals to take ownership of the discipline. Next they struggle building a team and dedicate them the time to learn the tools to build this stuff inhouse. Using platform vendors to implement is a natural shortcut for many, but it never results in the organizational anchoring that is required to succeed long term. And the agencies have never really invested in getting people with in depth understanding of personalization - so beyond a few exceptions, agencies are not going to solve this challenge for your organization.
The real barriers are the usual suspects: management support, people with knowhow, processes, the organizational culture and technical capabilities.
Most corporate culture do not encourage experiments. They may say they do, but in fact they don’t. The simple truth about experiments is that the majority of experiments will fail and it is still rare to experience corporate cultures that truly accept that in order to succeed you have to fail a number of times. The trick is to fail fast, early and cheapest possible.
When you read white papers from the personalisation industry (including ours) you will find that the recommendations seems to be very basic or very fluffy. The reason is that the technology providers themselves are struggling to find the best way for their customers to capitalize their technology to derive the value from the customer experience that we all pursue. As a technology provider we do have experience to share from clients different approaches and results - but it is way too early in the game to have a “best practise” process that works across businesses, cultures and organizations.
One general and unscientific observation is that companies where management understands the need for personalisation, push for results and openly encourage experimentation tends to obtain success faster than companies where the personalisation effort is rooted in a single department of the organisation or even worse a single individual. So if you are the main sponsor behind the personalisation effort in your organisation - our best advice is to take a good look at the management's current understanding of the business impact of personalisation. How it impact current customer interaction and how it create value to the business. If those things are not clear - do not expect the support that you will need to succeed.
We have experienced highly successful personalisation initiatives with extreme ROI that has been terminated - basically because there was no or limited management buyin - so this is probably the most important prerequisite. It certainly is not what technology you use that is the most important for your success as almost all platforms are evolving quickly and most are already far ahead of most organizations current requirements.
Required team capabilities
When you have management sponsorship you in turn have to look at your organization's capabilities. Primarily what human resources do you have to drive the effort. You will need the following functions or roles - not to be confused with employees:
Responsible of building the pipeline of the highest ranking experiences.
Responsible of implementing the experiences in whatever technology you choose.
Responsible of capturing experience results, document cross organizational learnings, management reporting and to continually terminate underperforming experiments.
Nurture a culture of incremental improvement
On a monthly basis implement 1-5 of the identified experiments and remove 1-3 of the underperforming experiments.
Celebrate your failures….and succeed!
Be thorough on reporting the failures as well as the experiments that work. Spend 30 minutes on explaining why you think the result came in as they did - good or bad. This is simply the best investment you can do for your business.
In a year you have implemented somewhere around 12-60 experiments and you have gained vital domain specific knowledge about what works with your business and audience. You also have strong assumptions about why. This is business critical stuff that should be shared with everybody who is working with customer facing communication. So share it and request that other add their assumptions on the results - distribute ownership as far into the fabric of your company or team as human possible. If you run a closed show - you will have full ownership and the project will live and die with you. We cannot count the number of times we have seen companies redo the same mistakes because the prior experiment results was not interpreted, shared or saved when a key stakeholder moved away from the company or just switched job description.
Be transparent and forecasts results
Do quarterly management resumes of the experiments that was implemented - what worked and failed. Use the results to forecast the business impact the experiments has on next quarters leads, pipeline, and revenue. This is the stuff that drives business decisions and budget allocations.
Engage the stakeholders in quarterly updates of the list of Experiments and add new experiment proposals and review prioritization of the list whenever new information and results become available.