Personalization vs Customer Journeys: What Does Your CX Actually Need?
It’s no secret that a winning customer experience (CX) is now the biggest brand differentiator for retailers, and consumer-facing brands as a whole. Brands that deliver a tailored experience that meets the customer’s expectations and provides a level of convenience above and beyond what’s typically expected are the ones that succeed. Amazon.com, Spotify, Apple and others specialize in providing superior and anticipatory experiences.
So what can retailers do to ensure a winning customer experience? A common theme in the market, given so many brands in the midst of digital transformations, is to drive “personalization.” But as with so many technology buzzwords, it’s not necessarily always clear what this exactly means. Personalization is frequently used to refer to everything from using a customer’s name in communications, to learning which of two products is selling best right now, or occasionally to mean full-fledged customer journey strategies.
It's important to clarify what personalization needs to be for brands today, how it fits into a customer experience strategy, and why customer journeys take personalization to another level in terms of benefiting the customer experience.
Personalization’s Role in CX
Personalization, at its most basic level, is simply the practice of using something you know about a customer to make some form of communication unique and powerful for them. We as consumers see it everywhere. Emails from our favorite brands use our first names, e-commerce sites remember our previous orders, ride-sharing services know where we live and work, and music streaming and movie services know what we want to listen to or watch.
Personalization is critical to a positive customer experience because it’s what consumers expect, and — when done right — it can make everything from transactions to customer service calls far more seamless and positive. When you call your bank and they already know your information by the time a service rep picks up the phone, you’ve saved time and also feel like the brand understands you and your unique needs. This results in customer loyalty — an increasingly rare commodity, but one that can increase revenues by 70 percent according to Gartner.
In many ways, businesses have been personalizing experiences for many decades. All it requires is a piece of data to inform an experience. Fifty years ago this was the bank clerk remembering every customer they engaged. More recently, however, “personalization” has been used as a descriptor for tools that deliver anything from a personalized experience. Many packaged “personalization” tools are really trying to learn what are the most popular products of the day, and then automatically offer these products to every customer — a far cry from a personalized experience.
Taking Personalization to the Next Level
Once a brand starts using using data analytics to determine what a consumer might like or need, and predict how best to help that customer find what they seek, then we're talking about something that goes above and beyond current “personalization” tools and into the realm of an overall personalized customer experience. That’s where customer journeys come in to play.
Delivering a best-in-class customer experience means personalization at scale and through time — at every customer touchpoint and building upon past experiences to deliver better future ones. This is the concept and practice of customer journeys, which take personalization to an entirely different level — connecting all interactions with a customer together, ensuring every one is a perfect fit for the customer.
Consider two scenarios. In the first, a consumer goes to purchase something from an online retailer and sees that, upon getting to checkout, the brand had saved his payment information, making the process much faster. This personalized experience saved the consumer time and may have the effect of fostering more brand loyalty. This type of personalization, however, is practically par for the course for online brands today.
In the second scenario, a consumer returns to a website and is immediately presented products that match an interest shown on a previous (although anonymous) visit, which encourages the purchase of an item. After the purchase is complete, the customer receives an offer for a special deal on a related product in return for joining a loyalty program. What follows are communications every time similar items go on sale, or relevant new items are first available. In addition, whenever the customer returns to the website, relevant and intelligent product recommendations are made.
What does this second richer customer experience require? First, a detailed understanding of the typical paths that consumers take to purchase. These journeys are the foundation of a customer journey strategy, and once they’ve been identified they can be reinforced, encouraged or any gaps in them repaired. Second, data collection is an absolute necessity — gathering and linking information on consumers that can be used to improve their experiences and anticipate their needs.
Finally, there needs to be a delivery mechanism for personalized journeys. This typically involves both machine learning and an orchestration engine to ensure journeys are delivered intelligently, in real time, and across all channels.
As we're at the start of a new year, retailers should look to move past the personalization tools of the last 10 years, which are now a basic element of every marketing and brand strategy, and towards a more holistic approach that delivers one-to-one personalized experiences across the entire customer lifecycle. This is how, in an incredibly competitive environment, brands can continue to earn loyalty and grow market share.
Mark Smith is the president of Kitewheel, an omnichannel customer experience, customer journey tool.
Related story: Ways That Retailers Can Bring Personalization to CX