Why Preference Centers Are Key to Engaging Today’s Connected Consumers
Consumers accessing brands on their own terms — using the devices and mediums of their choice — have resulted in the era of digitally connected consumers. In this new environment, the role of marketers has changed. They can no longer solely push messages and expect to pull the consumer along their path to purchase. Rather, they're traveling with the consumer, engaging them and learning about their likes and dislikes, needs and interests, along the way.
Preference centers are the foundation of a brand's digitally connected infrastructure. They help companies recognize and engage their customers, and enable consumers to digitally connect with a brand on their terms. Brands need to consider the elements of channel, frequency and content, and let customers choose their own unique combinations of communication with the brand. The CRM concepts of right time, right message and right channel are steeped in analytics to deliver a message sometimes even before the customer knows they want it. You need to start with what the customer tells you, however, and then layer in more data to reach a rich customer profile.
A customer profile online is an account creation that identifies the customer. In an email program, it's an opt-in. In mobile, it could be a SMS enrollment or a mobile app download that requires a login. In a database, it's a customer record. When a common customer profile identifier (e.g., an email address) is tied to web, social media or mobile behavior, the profile becomes a view into the customer that can be used by the brand to deliver relevant customer experiences.
Rich customer profiles comprised of preferences, purchase data, web behavior, third-party data, affinity content and social media, in turn, are the lynchpin to an integrated customer experience across channels and devices. Preference center success hinges on strong data governance policies that allow for personal identity management in a world of connected, in-charge and empowered consumers.
Here are guidelines to preference center success, with examples of how brands use them to engage consumers and provide the best customer experience possible:
- Provide customers with choices. Give consumers the choice of channel (email, direct mail, catalog, social media, phone, mobile), frequency (from cadence to time of day) and content. Content can range from selections of offers or e-newsletters to choosing lifestyle or product categories that are of interest. Preference centers often tie directly to "My Account" features, so retailers typically use profiles that allows shoppers to log in and check out their purchases on the web. Consumer brands let consumers create an account to store registration information for products. Financial brands tie their customer profiles to online banking and bill payment. Across all these verticals, consumers provide information in exchange for convenience and control, and brands gain an opportunity to engage continuously with customers according to clearly specified preferences.
- Remember the customer experience. Many brands today struggle with multiple vendors that offer different opt-in/opt-out pages, which is a disconnect for customers. Using a preference center methodology, it's possible to bring all customer touchpoints into a single "engine" and user interface, providing a consistent and relevant experience.
- Make it simple for consumers. Recognize consumers through login via any device/channel; offer single sign-on or single credentials; offer simple preference center access (email), easy password retrieval and third-party authentication options such as Facebook, Gmail, Microsoft Live, etc. — e.g., a home goods retailer combining its preference engine and integrated communication preferences into its website My Account feature, where users manage their SMS subscription, email and direct mail. Additional options include preferences for family members, allowing the retailer to get a full view into the household or frequent gift recipients by the customer. When such a preference center/My Account is also built in a mobile web version or mobile application, brands can recognize the consumer immediately in those channels and offer the same contextually relevant content.
- Leverage opt-outs. Rather than view an opt-out as the end of an already established relationship, offer options and other channels. This is a key opportunity to engage. Most people access preference centers for opt-out or opt-down reasons; rather than leaving, they may need to change their needs and interests. In some cases, your email provider may offer a simple opt-out page that doesn't address other channels, content or frequency choices. Your customer may just want to receive fewer emails or different product selections. When a customer interacts with you in this moment, put them in charge.
- Measure results. You'll want to determine the return on investment for your preference center. Some of the things to measure include number of opt-out "saves"; additional channels being selected tied to sales; content options tied to sales; and changes in frequency tied to opens and clicks.
There are many things to measure and consider, and all of them will require testing of the user experience, channel options and content selections.
Preference centers empower consumers to receive relevant marketing. To truly leverage the opportunity, brands need to find their unique value proposition for their preference centers. In other words, why should the consumer care and why would they return? Once you have that squared away, you're presented with a unique opportunity to learn from and engage with digitally connected consumers in a relevant and profitable way.
Jeanette Kocsis is the executive vice president of digital engagement for The Agency Inside, a customer engagement agency.