Consumers these days expect a hyper-personalised Digital Experience, from cosmetics and fashion brands to consumer goods, online marketplaces, and even video streaming services.
Personalisation has become a focal point for user experience design and, when executed smartly, can be a differentiator for a brand’s Customer Experience. Personalised user experiences can build brand loyalty and drive sales, as well as producing extremely insightful data for brands to evaluate and re-imagine their UX design. A smart personalised experience should allow users to complete tasks in a faster, easier, and more enjoyable way.
However, creating a personalised user experience can be complicated. A combination of data, research, and technological knowhow is needed, plus the vision and creativity to create something that engages and delights users. Here are a few things to consider when starting out with personalisation or re-imagining an existing user experience.
Users today are digital-savvy and constantly connected, across a plethora of devices. To succeed in providing a consistently pleasing user experience, businesses have to improve the interactions they offer via every channel. This is the way to provide a more intuitive, sophisticated, and personalised relationship with their customers.
Digital consumers expect real-time responses and transactions with minimal effort, and access to compelling experiences that have been personalised for them specifically, and the only way to generate these interactions is through utilising data. Brands need to create data-driven strategies to target their audience with relevant, timely content to generate conversion and interest. But data is only useful if it is interpreted the right way.
In theory, every brand that sells directly to consumers has the potential to access the same data as their competitors. Where brands can differentiate is by creatively connecting the dots that this data provides. This is how the ‘magic’ is created. It’s a blend of logic, imagination, and brand values, and connecting the dots to find the story.
Quantitative data is a starting point, then it takes a bit of intuition via qualitative data, human behaviour, brainstorming, and creativity to create the magic and lay out the storytelling needed to make the journey happen.
Research firstly helps you understand if your brand actually needs personalisation. If yes, where should it be applied? And how much is enough? User research helps comprehend what matters to your users, what are their limits in terms of over-use, and if what you are doing and creating is relevant to the variety of your brand’s audiences.
Essentially, personalisation is not the silver bullet for every brand, every audience, or every interaction. User research will help divulge where and how it can be applied most effectively.
Test and repeat. This is as critical as the research step and is the only way to understand if your personalisation application is ready to drive sales and brand engagement – by testing. It needs to feel seamless.
Practically, this means it is simple to use on their device of preference, and clear what the objective is. An experience is ruined if users spend a time feeling confused, frustrated, or consider another option. Any type of personalisation will take you a step towards providing a frictionless experience. Hyper-personalisation should be almost unnoticeable.
Despite the fact consumers are becoming more accepting of organisations using data in a positive way, brands still need to be prepared demonstrate to users how they are obtaining and using their data. It’s a two-way street. In exchange for data sharing, brands are exploring innovative ways to deliver personalised, valuable moments across various touchpoints to customers that will make their experiences easier and more fun.
And to develop these experiences, brands need to understand how customers view the brand across all touchpoints. This understanding will allow a platform for brands to connect with their customers on an emotional level consistently across various touchpoints. Because of the explosion of customer interaction points, across channels and devices, the key for brands is to manage the entire journey, not simply individual touchpoints. And the secret is delivering a consistent experience across all channels.
6. Don’t be creepy
Personalisation is about context. It’s effective if brands serve up the right content at the right time for the right person, and creating a contextualised and personalised experience consists of knowing why personalisation is important and how it can help your users. In short, if a user is given a positive, timely, helpful experience, it shouldn’t feel creepy.
Imagine you’re walking past your favourite shoe shop. You get a push-notification that the sneaker you checked out online last week is available in-store at a discount for a limited time only, and available in your size. That’s peak personalisation – and it’s a positive experience.
Now personalisation is more commonplace, users are educated and so more accepting of personalisation. Brands need to be able to gather contextual data and segment users into target areas. Every user is different, and what some people may find uncomfortable, others may think is helpful or fun. For positive personalisation, knowing and segmenting your users is the key.
7. The future
8. Who’s doing it well?
Amazon is an obvious choice; it would be hard to write about personalisation without mentioning Amazon, as its use of personalisation is widespread around their site (recent orders, previously watched videos, recommended items based on previous purchases, etc). Research indicates that Amazon drives 35 percent of its revenues through its personalised product recommendations.
Another example is Thread, which built its brand around personalisation, delivering hyper-personalised recommendations at scale. Thread’s free ‘personal stylist’ takes visitors through a survey to understand body type, colourings, tastes, and budget. The stylist then provides ‘hand-picked’ recommendations, delivered through personalised emails – usually a link to a curated list of items alongside a personal message.
Despite providing ‘hand-picked’ recommendations for over 650,000 customers, Thread actually employs fewer than 10 stylists. Obviously, personalisation algorithms are hard at work behind the scenes. Recommendations are generated via user data analysis, and emails are segmented by location, or what the weather is like, to resonate with customers. A handful of ‘stylists’ are used to face up the front end, making the experience feel super-personal.
There is no such thing as a typical customer journey – shoppers are browsing, buying, and interacting with brands in more ways than ever before.
Meanwhile, with 41 percent of consumers conducting research online but buying in store, it’s clear shoppers are taking advantage of the diversify range of methods to complete their purchase journeys.
Multiple online touchpoints, combined with brick and mortar store visits and offline marketing strategies, result in fragmented data sets across the customer journey, offering an overwhelming number and variety of insights for marketers to comprehend and action. Furthermore, this data may be outdated, contain duplications, or deliver conflicting insights, presenting an obstacle to achieving accurate measurement of campaign success. This is undoubtedly challenging for businesses looking to gain the coveted 360-degree view of consumer behaviour to improve marketing performance.
The huge amount of time and effort needed for businesses to understand the implications of each and every piece of data available to them means they risk losing sight of the experience they are delivering, which can damage the brand. So should gaining a 360-degree customer view be the priority for marketers?
Putting Customer Experience at the forefront
To contribute to business success, marketers must first establish an accurate view of their organisation’s overall objectives, before identifying the challenges preventing them from meeting these aims. While an understanding of how and where consumers interact with a brand is important, it would be a mistake to focus all efforts on untangling every possible data point to create the perfect 360-degree view. Such a task costs significant time and money, and is unlikely to solve a business’s biggest pain points.
The real question is how marketers can use their data to benefit, enhance, and personalise the Customer Experience, and ultimately boost ROI. By identifying the campaigns and creatives appealing to high-value consumers, and where their efforts are most effective, marketers can anticipate customer needs and direct spend to the activity most likely to impact the bottom line. And in an age where 52 percent of consumers are ready to abandon brands if they fail to deliver personalised communications, leveraging customer data to meet individual needs, desires, and preferences is essential to unlock that all important lifetime value and make a lasting impact on business success.
Start small and grow
Naturally, once marketers identify this area of priority, many will aim to gather as much data as possible to achieve the perfect Customer Experience, but spending more time looking at the data than taking action puts them at risk of ‘analysis paralysis’.
To see quick results, marketers need to adopt a strategy that gives a simple and unified understanding of consumer needs; using the readily available data existing within their business. Consolidating this data into a unified customer data platform (CDP) is the first step, allowing organisations to remove duplication and access clear insights across all measurable touchpoints.
Once this solid data foundation is built, techniques such as multi-touch attribution (MTA) allow marketers to gather useful insights from their data to understand which tactics work best. The result is stitched together insight into interactions across multiple channels, empowering marketers to see which are most effective and increase customer understanding.
Marketers can then use predictive analytics to fill any information gaps they have. Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) looks at interaction, incrementality, and the lasting impact of channels to help optimise marketing spend and increase campaign performance. For example, marketers can analyse how offline influences, such as TV ads, are impacting online channels, and take these insights into account when planning and optimising campaign activity across the entire marketing mix.
In an age where customers want and expect personalisation, despite their unpredictable shopping habits, marketers cannot afford to skip on consumer insights. But ensuring action is taken from the start is key to being able to put the customer first and drive results. Using the right tools, marketers can ensure they do not neglect the interests of their customers while they work to achieve the most comprehensive view possible of audience interactions – allowing the creation of the personalised experiences their customers crave, boosting customer loyalty, and ultimately delivering on business objectives and revenue goals.
You’ve invested in market research into your customer base and you’ve developed a catchy strapline to lure them in-store with a brand promise.
You’ve commissioned some beautiful photography for the national campaign and secured high-value ad placements to engage your target customers. Sparked into action by the TV, print ad, and billboard working in harmony, they are triggered to engage with your brand. Your marketing strategy is working beautifully.
That is until they use their mobile phone to engage with the local store.
They key in your brand name to Google. The first thing that pops up is a poor rating for the nearest location. The photography, unlike the glossy billboard ad, is average. The opening hours are incorrect or, even worse, the local store the customer is searching for isn’t open on the day in question or has been closed altogether.
By failing to optimise at the local level, the brand has failed to deliver its promise and your customer starts scrolling for alternatives. This is an all-too-common experience for so many brands. They have invested millions in their branding without investing in the attention to detail required to understand how customers search and shop. In today’s challenging high street conditions. this isn’t just a nice to have, it is essential to get this right for the health of your business.
The key to winning at local is understanding how people access your brand. It’s estimated that 50 percent of us use Google to search for local information. This is of course driven by the astonishing uptake in mobile internet access. According to the most recent ONS figures for 2017, 73 percent of adults accessed the internet ‘on the go’ using a mobile phone or smartphone, more than double the 2011 rate of 36 percent.
However, your phone isn’t only your communication tool, your entertainment, and your source of information, but also your navigational tool and, increasingly, your payment method. Your phone is the digital footprint of your everyday life. Google understands this, and it’s crucial that retailers understand it too. Google, of course, just reflects the nature of how people are searching. Search for ‘parking’ and Google won’t show you what parking means or the history of parking – instead, it will show you information about where you can park in the local area, because this is what you are interested in.
The same applies for any brand. The first thing Google will tell you is where you can locally access this brand with a map and store information. It’s the same for Facebook or indeed any other digital way of interacting with your brand. So how can you optimise your brand for the local experience? There are four questions you need to ask yourself.
1. Can consumers find your locations, and the right information pertinent to their search?
In other words, have you enriched your local data? For a retailer, this would mean correct opening times, good local photography, and relevant product information. This needs to be accurate on the full suite of platforms, from Google to TomTom to Facebook to Apple Maps. This is also where technology can really help.The right technology platform will enable you to do this in real time across all your locations and maintain this level of accuracy. Get this right and our research shows you can expect an ROI of 3:1
2. Is there relevant local information about your products and services based on your location?
This is about pulling out key relevant local information to boost contextual local search. If a gym is the only one in an area with a swimming pool, this will need to be pulled out and flagged to ensure keywords are optimised. Ideally, you should also create unique landing pages to attract people searching for local swimming pools. The same principles apply if you are a retailer offering late-night shopping. These pages will get more visibility and you will be able to maximise the opportunity for people searching for these terms. Take your national content and make it relevant locally.
3. Are you appealing with engaging local experiences?
Once you have your location ready and your content localised, go after your customers with appealing local experiences. A retail client of ours wanted to increase traffic to their pet products area. We created a promo on Britain’s celebrity cats and dogs and made it relevant at a local level with testimonials and local celebrity pets. We then drove them in-store or to ecommerce experiences depending on the priority of the brand in different areas or distance to a local store.
4. Are you personalising the experience for converted customers to generate repeat purchases?
The rich seam of information provided from customers’ sales histories will identify crucial local information. For instance, if they live near a beach and their history shows they have bought beach gear at a certain month in the past, you can suggest other relevant products at the right time of year, whether it’s sunglasses, beach bags or sun cream. The more touchpoints you have with the customer, the better the targeting – and the more relevant the offer. Localised data presents a rich picture of customer behaviour.
The crucial factor in all of this is putting the customer at the heart of your business. Remember that when they search for your business, they expect a business to deliver a local response. This will allow you to connect with your customers whoever, and wherever, they are. If you don’t take these steps in the challenging current conditions you will lose the trust of customers and they will go with rivals who have taken these steps. In a world of high street closures and increasing choice, a locally optimised strategy is the best strategy to survive the turbulence and remain relevant.
The impact of poor Customer Experience is not one easily forgotten.
The reality for retailers today is that for even the most loyal customers, one bad experience is enough to make them abandon their shopping baskets and never hesitate about returning.
Modern customer expectations are undoubtedly at an all-time high. Not only do consumers now have preferred channels, they also expect brands to deliver the best possible service across all channels, at all times. According to research by Walker, expectations have amplified so much that by 2020, Customer Experience is predicted to overtake both price and productas the leading differentiator for brands.
To meet this demand, retailers are ramping up their investments in omnichannel to deliver the exceptional experience customers now require. As technology continues to advance, the value of omnichannel continues to increase and retailers have begun to invest significantly to integrate both front and back end systems.
The era of omnichannel
Gone are the days where physical and digital channels work in silo. The world has evolved into an omnichannel environment, where the boundaries between online and offline have become blurred. At present, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for switched-on brands.
A successful omnichannel experience is made up of individual customer touchpoints, over a variety of channels, that allows users to move from one channel to the next seamlessly, whilst maintaining a continuous thread of communication. Being able to provide this single congruous shopping experience is crucial to keep up with customer expectations and continue to grow the bottom line.
A diligent and well-thought-out approach is key to creating a strong omnichannel experience. Companies are now recognising the central role technology continues to play, and the importance of moving in-line with new disruptive technologies available to help them achieve an effective omnichannel strategy. Over the next few years, global analyst house, Gartner predicts that AI will become a mainstream Customer Experience investment, while 47 percent of businesses will use chatbots for customer care, and 40 percent will deploy virtual assistants.
However, rather than just rushing to implementing the latest and greatest functionalities to disrupt the market out of fear customers will demand it, omnichannel is as much about what to avoid, as it is what to include. Rather than attempting to do too much, too quickly, the key to success lies in always having the core needs of the customer as the driving force behind any change. Failure to do so can compromise Customer Experience, negativity impact brands, and shake up customers’ loyalty.
Using data to enhance Customer Experience
At the heart of strong omnichannel customer engagement is the data that drives it. In today’s competitive environment, the customer insight that brands are able to glean from different touchpoints can make a huge difference in how a company shapes its CX.
The digital environment produces mass amounts of data, and finding new ways to understand customer needs, buying habits, likes, and dislikes can help inform and enhance the personal experience brands deliver, allowing them to develop that much sought-after loyalty between brand and customer.
Data can help dramatically improve the customer journey, but only for brands eager to be led where the data instructs them to go. Those still focused on holding onto legacy structures, or past ideas, products, or services, will not find as much success in Customer Experience enhancements, simply because of their resistance to change with the evolving market.
For those switched-on brands that collect and interpret omnichannel data correctly, they have a more holistic and informative view of their customers and are better equipped to deliver more personalised and targeted offerings, streamlined buying processes and develop new customer services in the future.
Customers at the core of omnichannel
The power that consumers now hold shapes not only the success or failure of a brand, but also shapes how they need to adjust to customer requirements in order to remain relevant. Modern customer journeys aren’t simple and linear, but a series of crossovers between traditional and digital channels that can vary significantly depending on the type of shopper. Understanding this requires in-depth knowledge of what customers truly want by utilising the data readily available to them.
While new and exciting disruptive technologies may seem appealing, to leverage the maximum potential of an omnichannel strategy, brands must focus on getting the basics of CX absolutely right first by always remembering the core needs of the customer. Only then can companies ensure they keep pace with the competition and provide a seamless customer experience necessary to drive consumer loyalty today and over the years to come, as new technologies become more and more prevalent.
To ask Ian a question on how to boost the Customer Experience provided by YOUR business, please email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. The best questions will be featured in future instalments.
Ian also leads the CX Professional Masterclass. Click here for details of upcoming Masterclass dates.
I believe my business is running smoothly, and I have had no complaints so far, but how can I test my touchpoints to identify potential problems before a customer does?
This is a great question!
The only way to determine if your perception of your business is a reflection of reality is to ‘put yourself in your customers shoes’!
Whilst it is perfectly feasible that you are delivering a consistently good experience that is meeting the needs and expectations of customers, it is important to understand that very often, when things are going wrong, customers will not tell you about it! The only time you will realise there is a problem, is when it is too late.
So to ‘test’ the touchpoints in the customer journey, you must experience them for yourself in exactly the same way the customer does. This is an activity/exercise that should be done on a regular basis – and not just by you!
Everyone in your organisation should be experiencing the customer journey on a regular basis and reporting back observations (both positive and negative). Even if you are in a ‘business-to-business’ relationship, it is still vital to see what your customer sees’.
Too many organisations are not genuinely putting themselves in their customers shoes on a continuous basis. Doing so will enable the proactive management of the customer journey.
Forecasts of a downturn in the travel market following the referendum vote to leave the EU in June 2016 have largely been defied.
In 2017, UK residents took 72.8 million trips abroad, up three percent from 2016. The number of UK consumers travelling long-haul has similarly increased by 50 percent. Recent research in the travel market, Starting the Journey: How optimised comms can benefit the travel industry, unveiled an industry that has remained robust despite economic uncertainty.
While demand for travel is increasing, consumer trust is dwindling. With 80 percent of consumers surveyed saying their holiday was nothing like it was advertised, the travel sector needs to address the issue of trust and reassess messaging at large. Focusing on the consumer to better understand their needs and meet their expectations is pivotal.
However, travel brands have greater challenges to tackle: creating a frictionless experience throughout the customer journey, both pre and post-travel; making greater use of the innovative technological tools at their disposal; and balancing tactical and brand communications. These must be at the top of their agenda if they’re to weather the storm.
Optimise comms to meet consumer expectations
Insights from our research show that people are generally happy with travel comms. We surveyed consumers across different life stages: students, home movers, first-time parents, empty nesters, and retirees. The results unveiled inconsistencies in how travel brands communicate with different consumer groups. But with people across all five life stages saying that keeping to their budget is a priority, brands need to ensure cost is not their main differentiator. Offers, discounts, and any comms focusing on financial incentives need to be balanced with brand comms to ensure consumers build an affinity with the brand and ultimately develop an emotional connection to it.
A balance between tactical and brand comms can ensure travel brands can avoid becoming diluted and devolved to relentless price slashing.
As audiences are bound to comprise a range of different groups, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. The more insight you have, the better you can tailor messaging. Our own research unveiled inconsistencies in how brands communicate with different age groups.
For example, 67.2 percent of students surveyed feel unhappy with comms they receive, despite being the most targeted group. Home movers, on the other hand, feel the sector meets their needs, but want travel comes to be entertaining. New parents highlight the need for travel brands to use consumer insights to target their comms more effectively to their audience, while retirees said the holidays they were interested in were not on offer at all.
Tap into tech
Thankfully there are plenty of tools, as well as an abundance of data, available that enable brands to analyse consumer behaviours and identify common motivations and preferences, all of which can help create personas. Personas offer great insight and can assist in creating comms based on the audiences’ varied needs, behaviours and expectations.
Tools such as social listening offer great insights into brand awareness and how consumers feel about your brand, as well as the overall booking experience. Internal CRM systems, meanwhile, provide information on the typical booking cycle and past booking habits. Data from these sources can help brands become savvier in how they target consumers, ensuring the right message reaches them at the right time, something all age groups said they want.
Emphasise CX both pre and post-sale
It isn’t just about timing; the channel through which the message is delivered is just as important. Reaching consumers via a full channel mix is important, but brands need to have a clear idea of every channel’s purpose. In other words, every channel needs to play a part in the overall customer journey. From digital and social media ads, to TV and email advertising, brands need to reassess the entire customer journey, and as consumers now make use of desktops, phones, and tablets on their journey, comms need to be adapted for a multi-screen variant.
Audience splits, thanks to personas, allow for very targeted messaging. Personalisation further allows for hyper-relevant messaging to be deployed. In this vein, comms should be easy to share, to capitalise on consumers’ excitement of posting about researching, planning, and ultimately experiencing their holiday. Everything from video to gif content can serve further boost brand awareness.
As trust is an issue for the sector, each touchpoint across the journey needs to be dealt with transparency, with content personalised for multiple personas to ensure a much more sharable experience. Travel brands ultimately need to increase their understanding of customers’ needs. Reassessing the customer journey end-to-end to provide a frictionless experience should be a priority. Not only will this allow for a more streamlined offering across all channels, it will ensure easier routes to purchase and impact repeat business.
Nobody wants to receive a complaint about their product or service, but the reality is that we can’t please all of our customers all of the time.
The time when customer complaints were hidden is now thankfully long gone. Appearing as a judge at the UK Complaint Handling Awards, which celebrates the innovative ways organisations manage complaints, I saw this first-hand.
Receiving complaints, responding to them effectively, and most importantly, learning from them can be challenging.However, achieving this is critical to the success of any business that is focused on providing the best Customer Experience.
For every customer who complains, there are 26 other unhappy customers who remain silent (source: Lee Resource Inc.).Customers who care enough to tell you about their negative experiences are scarce, but they afford you the opportunity to turn that customer into an advocate and ultimately, retain their business.
Often, complaints are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but it is critical to take a step back and undertake a root cause analysis, otherwise the opportunity to improve is lost.One of the most effective ways to undertake this process is to plot the journey of the complaint, thereby mapping all the touchpoints, both direct and indirect.
While a customer journey map (CJM) is a tool often used by marketeers to plot the customer engagement story, from brand awareness through to (hopefully) a long-term relationship, it is also a great resource for complaint management.
Rather than dealing with the fallout of the complaint on a case-by-case basis, the CJM process enables an organisation to review and map the complaint from beginning to end and identify the root causes. Instead of resolving the complaint from an internal point of reference and making assumptions, the CJM empowers the customer by putting them front and centre.
One of the major strengths of adopting this method is the ability to view the complete journey when putting into place processes to prevent it happening again. The visual artefact highlights potential gaps, inconsistencies, and the volume of touchpoints – all of which have the potential to contribute to the complaint in the first place.
More often than not, the solution does not sit at the complaint ‘fallout’ stage but much earlier in the journey.It may be that expectations were set incorrectly at the outset of the journey, or specific information was not provided in marketing collateral etc.By focusing on the complaint as a stand-alone issue, any process changes may have little or no impact.Only by viewing the complaint as a part of the whole journey can you be confident that changes made will have the greatest impact.
Another advantage of a CJM is the people involved in the mapping activity.Too often complaint management is focused on the team that receives that complaint – but any mapping workshop should include representatives from all parts of the business.This level of collaboration reaffirms the importance that every role plays in an organisation’s Customer Experience, whether directly or indirectly, and it also provides the perfect forum for some ‘outside the box’ brainstorming.I’ve run journey mapping workshops where the ‘lightbulb’ moments have come from unexpected sources, such as software developers, finance teams, and HR.
We know that customer loyalty is one of the key determinants of an organisation’s success.By viewing complaints as learning opportunities and actioning solutions via a customer journey map, you increase the likelihood of turning that customer (and all those that kept quiet) into an advocate.As data from the Jim Moran Institute and Lee Resources showed, 95 percent of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely fashion, and that translates to an improved Customer Experience for your current and future customers.