Is this advertising following me? How do they know what I’m interested in? What led to astonished reactions and inner monologues a few years ago has now become standard practice. Much more: customers even expect companies to know exactly what they like, when and where. Personalized customer experiences have become the measure of things, or rather, of the customer journey.
From the customer journey to the customer experience
The customer journey is the strategic foundation of personalized customer experiences. When developing such a customer journey, the primary goal is to understand and accompany our customers step by step along their customer lifecycle. Key questions are posed, the answers to which inform this strategic paper:
- What stages does a visitor go through before becoming a happy customer?
- What touchpoints are there along this path between customers and companies?
- What needs, questions, pain points and motivational drivers move our customers?
- How and where can we as a company meet these needs?
- How do we get the customer from one phase to the next in a coordinated process?
All of this – and more – is poured into a semi-fictional customer journey for a semi-fictional buyer persona. However, since this basic strategic concept is only “semi” and real customers are not satisfied with half measures, the development of a buyer persona and customer journey can only be the first step towards a fulfilling customer experience in the “Age of the Customer”.
This path from the ideal customer to our real customers can only be achieved through personalization, which in turn is based on real customer data. But, let’s go in order.
What is personalization?
Today, personalization along the customer journey means providing individual experiences and content tailored to the needs, wishes, and habits of our (potential) customers. Accordingly, the personalization of the customer journey is the further development of advertising towards a digital dialog and exchange with the customer. Data plays a central role in this, because collecting, structuring, analyzing, and using information about demographics, interests, and behaviors helps us design campaigns, content, and experiences that really resonate with our target audiences.
Why is personalization important along the customer journey?
The importance of personalization is understood at the latest when you are already greeted at your favorite pub with your established drink request. It’s about being seen and understood – that’s no different in a digitized world. Anyone who likes to spend a lot of time online appreciates it when he or she receives customized recommendations and offers. This can be shoes, but also personalized content as well as an aborted purchase process that is pointed out.
The online world that surrounds us has led to high demands on the customer experience among consumers: It should always be fast, relevant and simple. In other words, we’re used to getting what we want, when and where we want it – and companies that enable us to have these personalized experiences have a clear competitive advantage.
For personalized customer experiences to work, companies and especially marketing departments need to gain a 360° view of their customers. This is the only way to arouse the necessary emotions and build relevance.
What is a 360° customer view and what is it good for?
As the name suggests, a 360° customer view is a comprehensive understanding of the customer. This means that as a company, you always have in mind which touchpoints the customer has used on which channel, at what time, for what purpose, and with what result. In the best case, this image is available in real time with one click, as we described in our article on the Golden Record. A 360° customer view is a holistic and up-to-date view of every customer of a company. This data-driven view enables companies to understand and act on each customer relationship. Such a data- and customer-centric approach offers many advantages for the company:
- Customer needs and trends are identified at an early stage
- Customer loyalty and brand loyalty are strengthened
- forecasts about customer behavior can be made
- there is a reduction in costs as well as higher efficiency in customer acquisition and marketing
- better product development
- Improved customer service
- Increasing revenues through higher conversion rates and more up-selling and cross-selling opportunities
- better customer communication has a positive impact on the brand image in the long term
How do you get a 360° customer view?
The question of how we arrive at a 360° customer view has already been teased out a little above: Only a Golden Record leads us to a valid Golden Profile. To create a 360° customer profile, not only master data but also real-time transaction data must be used. We need: – the master data – descriptive data (demographics, needs, etc.) – customer-related transaction data (orders, payments, click behavior, etc.)
For many small and medium-sized companies, such an aligned “golden customer profile” presents challenges, because a synchronized and unified database across different touchpoints is anything but easy to build. On the way to this goal, marketing automation software can be a useful and helpful solution. There are various providers on the market here, from free open source solutions to expensive complete packages. It is not possible to make a blanket statement about which automation software is the most suitable for which marketing, as this assessment depends on many different factors. It is best to start with an internal analysis of touchpoints, communication channels, and customer data, and derive requirements for the respective company based on this.
Ways and tactics to personalize the customer experience
The control center of any personalized customer journey is most certainly the internal marketing automation software or, if it does not yet exist, the company’s own content management system. Most modern systems today offer at least some kind of rule-based personalization. The lack of such an integrated and easy-to-use option for personalization should be one of the clear exclusion criteria when selecting a platform.
WHAT CAN RULE-BASED PERSONALIZATIONS BE AND WHAT DATA DO THEY APPLY TO?
The simplest data we can use to customize customer experiences is classic environmental data.
- Time and date: A simple “good morning” in the app or a Merry Christmas on the website are already a first step towards personalizing customer experiences, building on publicly available information.
- Location: The appropriate country and language selection or a presetting of shipping options for a specific IP address is also a personalized customer experience.
- Weather: The weather can also be a relevant factor for the customer experience for many a company. One thinks of tourist regions, transport companies, but also in retail the integration of weather data now enables more accurate sales forecasting.
- Mobile or desktop: Playing out content depending on the receiving device is also part of personalization.
In addition to this standard general data, we can also use behavioral and usage data as triggers for personalization of the customer experience, subject to consent. Here are a few examples:
- First or repeat visit: Depending on whether visitors are visiting our website for the first time or a repeat visit, the content shown can be adjusted accordingly.
- Retargeting: The broad and diverse field of retargeting can be wonderfully viewed from the perspective of personalization. Use the potential!
- Click behavior: What click behavior do our newsletter subscribers show, for example? Ever thought about sending different mails depending on click behavior?
- Referrals: Where is the visitor coming from? Is it an ads campaign, an affiliate program, or a social media post? Why don’t you refer to it?
- Matching recommendations: Who does not know? “Customers who bought this product are also interested in …”. What works for technology, clothing and books can also be applied to content.
In addition to these manually set rules of personalization, a young approach is gaining more and more attention: AI-based personalization. The more complex projects become and the more diverse the target groups, the faster marketing reaches its operational end with manual regulations. This is where artificial intelligence can make a promising contribution. Some automation tools have already integrated AI into their solutions, so it’s worth being curious here.
Outstanding customer service as a key customer experience
Away from all the automation and artificial intelligence, there is one point that many a company overlooks in the perfect customer experience, but every (potential) customer follows with eagle eyes – customer service on all channels.
Dealing with questions, input, criticism, and complaints is central to designing personalized customer experiences. How do you deal with customer testimonials and reviews? How long does it take for you to process complaints through the ticketing system?
A 360° customer view, coupled with marketing automation and supported by artificial intelligence are important levers, but not everything, when it comes to personalizing customer experiences. People often forget to feed customer feedback back into the customer journey with empathy. This blind spot has potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the company, but in return is very easy to fix.
In our digital world, the 360° customer view is an important benchmark for companies. But at the same time we have to realize that customer data, even if it is well prepared and synchronized, is only data and not the customer himself. Therefore, an empathetic understanding of the human being behind the data set is and will remain crucial in order to be able to implement a functioning personalization of the customer experience.