Analyst firm Forrester recently reported that we have now entered the “Age of the Customer,” where the customer is in control and the only way for brands to differentiate is by delivering an optimal customer experience. Yet with brands exploring what personalisation and behaviour-led targeting entails, many are getting bogged down in a morass of historical customer data.
While analysing a customer’s past behaviour and activity is important, it is only the first step. Only by adding the most current contextual data and enabling real-time targeting parameters can brands deliver a personalised customer experience that best serves the individual needs of each customer.
Personalisation is not a ‘set and forget’ activity; it is an evolutionary, iterative process that demands real-time testing and measurement to create the best, most relevant, personalised customer experience.
So what does ‘getting closer to your customer’ mean in practice? Before brands can begin to implement and see the value of personalisation across their digital channels, they must first agree on the larger business goals.
There is far more to transforming and improving how customers interact with your brand than simply collecting data and compiling detailed reports on customer behaviour. Unless brands can actively and rapidly transform those insights into tangible and worthwhile benefits (better known as ROI and actual sales), all that data is just academic.
So how can a brand get close to customers and provide services and product offers that feel authentic, show value, make them want to click through their site and seamlessly move them through the purchase funnel? How can personalisation help brands reduce the cost of sale, especially cost of acquisition, and increase revenue? While this may be common practice in the offline world, brands should become more adept at exploring and leveraging CRM data if they want to make every single decision made on their websites count.
Static web sites are no longer compelling enough to hold the attention of consumers, who are often connected to multiple devices, have short attention spans and minimal patience for brands that don’t get the customer experience right. Using traditional customer segmentation parameters based upon fixed rules can only present a one-size-fits-all customer experience that just won’t cut it any longer.
True personalisation comes down to understanding the context of a visitor’s behaviour and activity, and must include previous click streams, location, device preference and so much more. Context is both historical and in real-time, enabling brands to tailor the experience to reflect not only previous behaviours but also current and cross-channel activity. In practice, this means using dynamic contextual information to tailor the customer experience in real-time.
For example, is a returning customer visiting the site from a mobile device or desktop/laptop computer? What did the customer buy last time? What types of keywords did they search? What is their complete buying history? What content is the customer looking at right now? And is this customer more likely to browse or buy when on a particular device?
It is important to recognise that personalised customer experiences need to go beyond the content itself. For example, if a telecommunications customer still has six months left on their contract before they are eligible to upgrade, what is the value of showing this customer photos of new phones while online?
Why not, instead, leverage the insights indicating the customer routinely uses international roaming and is browsing portable WiFi devices to present offers that relate to international data plans or WiFi tethering options that would allow the customer to use his/her mobile device as a WiFi hotspot? The content and offer is, therefore, tailored to meet the real-time behaviour and historical relationship of that customer.
Being flexible is also important. Travel brands can tailor the holiday booking process to reflect not only the customer, but also the type of holiday currently being searched for. For example, the same individual may book a week-long holiday in Ibiza for five adults at one visit, while booking a holiday for two adults and children in the U.S. at another time.
Underpinning this targeted content, offers and journey is the ability to not only segment customers based on past and current behaviour, but to also flag the most important attributes of customers within each of those segments and then automatically predict the content that will be the most effective. By continually monitoring results, an optimisation tool should be able to identify the winning experiences for each segment and increase the promotion of that content.
It is this ability to automate the process that is the key to exploiting the real-time context. Attempting to tailor and target content manually across multiple segments throughout a customer lifecycle, in real time, is simply not feasible anymore for any most brands.
Personalisation is clearly a compelling proposition. But it is also challenging. It is, therefore, essential to understand the effectiveness of personalisation strategies. This is a process of continual optimisation to refine and find the optimal customer experience.
Is presenting returning customers with different content, offers and journeys than those served to non- customers successful? And which landing pages or offers resonate best with each individual visitor profile? Does offering different booking experiences depending on the type of holiday make a difference in conversion rates and/or frequency of customer return? If so, what is the value of building on that model to tailor content to customers who return after a period of one week, one month or over six months? How much additional value is being created by tailoring the customer experience?
To continually refine and drive personalisation in this way demands that brands adopt an ongoing culture of testing and learning. Unless brands can scientifically measure each form of customer engagement against desired goals and metrics, there will be no real value long-term to the business’ bottom line. No brand can afford to spend the time, resources and budget (be it small or big) if personalisation fails to demonstrate the reduced business costs or increased value that can be achieved by getting closer to customers.