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Watermark Consulting’s 2014 Customer Experience ROI Study confirms what marketers have always instinctively believed: providing a good customer experience makes sound business sense. Leaders in customer experience outperformed the Standard & Poor 500 Index by 26 percent, while laggards actually posted negative returns of -2.5 percent.
Here’s the issue: Personalisation is one of the most important strategies that companies use to provide a great customer experience, and digitalisation provides new and powerful ways to personalise everything, so is it OK to just pull out all the digital stops and wow the customers?
It may be counter-intuitive but the answer has to be no. As always in life, taking the time for a little thought is still necessary. In fact, digital technology may allow us to do a little too much!
To explain, let me just recap by reminding you what personalisation means in the digital world. It typically comes in two flavours:
- Mass personalisation, which uses a customer’s location, browsing behaviour or demographic information to present personalised offers or information. Nothing is based on the individual per se, but the category into which he or she falls. Thus, on a travel site, business travellers get one type of experience, while family and adventure travellers get others.
- Predictive personalisation, which extrapolates from what a company knows about a person to predict what might interest them. An airline might conclude that an adventure traveller is interested most in saving time and money, while a business traveller is more interested in access to WiFi and a conference area, luxurious airport transfers or priority seating on board.
So far, so good. But technology allows us to go quite a lot further. Using digital marketing platforms to track a visitor’s activities on one’s site, and a CRM platform like Microsoft Dynamics to capture offline and online customer behaviour, one can build up a highly granular single view of the customer: past buying behaviour, current and usual location, interests and much, much more.
Here’s where it’s possible to cross the line, and move from a highly personalised, enjoyable customer experience (and one ultimately profitable for the company) to one that is intrusive and alienating for the customer. In my view, the dividing line is when the technology is used to exceed the customer’s mandate.
An example might be using Facebook to log onto a commercial site, such as booking accommodation. I do it often because it’s convenient—but I would be unpleasantly surprised if the accommodation site started accessing information from Facebook about my interests and friends, and publishing to them that I had booked at X hotel. Or offered them a discounted price to make a booking.
As marketers, we need to keep the “opt in” principle from direct marketing well to the fore when we construct customer experiences. All too often, I feel, we get fixated on what is technically possible without considering the human impact.
In other words, marketing automation technologies are very powerful, but we have to use it wisely or we risk an “own goal”. Rather, we should be using it to get the basics right first—recognising returning customers, not requiring them to resubmit information, rewarding their loyalty appropriately (remember the little girl getting a socket spanner from the tooth fairy in the Absa ad?), and making sure the data we do have is correct. Too many companies are trying to run before they can walk and, in the process, alienate customers.
Personalisation is a powerful tool, but we must never forget it’s not a technical challenge, but a way to build a deeper relationship with a human being.