If you asked passengers on a plane if they booked their tickets online, over half are likely to answer “yes.” And if you asked those who didn't complete their ticket purchase online, over 80 percent are likely to say they abandoned the purchase because they were surprised by the price — either the price changed or their coupon didn't work when they reached checkout.
When the plane lands, many of these passengers are likely to stop at their favorite coffee vendor in the airport and swipe their loyalty card. Every one of them would be asked for their names to go pick up their drink. But didn’t they just swipe their loyalty card? Why were they not greeted with, “Thank you, John, for visiting us again. We will call your name in a minute”? Surely not the best customer experience in the so-called age of personalization!
The reality, however, is that a lot is possible with the rich digital body language of customers that everyone tracks today. For example, let’s say I'm just short of the Elite tier on my airline loyalty program. If I were to see an upgrade option that would cost me more for the next flight, but would give me access to the lounge for the next 12 months, maybe I would take it. And if the airline recognized my food preferences and offered me a discount on the gluten-free diet, maybe I would pre-book! If I showed up at the car rental desk and it upgraded me to my favorite sports car because it sees I'm now an Elite member on its partner airline, wouldn’t that be just great? What about the hotel? It knows I redeem my airline points for my stay. Wouldn’t it be great if it also treated me special during my next trip?
You may note that there are three stark differences between what is and what can be. First, marketers can use the intimate knowledge of customers collected over many different touchpoints — e.g., online browsing behavior, past purchases, loyalty points, etc. Second, they can predict what I shall like based on my past preferences and current context. Third, they can act right at the moment that matters by recognizing me at the counter, on the phone or online.
So, what does it take to make this possible? There are four essential building blocks:
- Customer persona and context awareness: Businesses need to form an intimate view of the customer — i.e., her likes and dislikes. For this, all the data that organizations have from many different sources needs to be brought together to create a so-called ”customer persona.” This forms the foundation, together with appropriate data, that gives the customer’s current context.
- Personalization engine: Advanced analytical techniques make it possible to infer what will be relevant to the customer based on this view of her persona.
- Automated content and offer execution: Many different parts of the business and many different technology systems need to be tied together to deliver the right message and offer to the right customer at the right moment.
- Code of honor: Last but not the least, businesses need to draw the line with regard to how customer data will be used. Which data do they have rights to use and in what context needs to be transparent.
Retailers may have a long way to go to define robust rules around data privacy, security and cultural nuances. Yet convenience and relevance is definitely on the upswing for customers. Businesses that master this will surely win.
Debjyoti Paul is associate vice president for digital business, Mindtree, a digital transformation and technology services company.