Creating a Personalized Customer Experience Across Customer Purchase Journeys

September 27, 2017CCG Retail Marketing Blog

Improve customer experiences and conversions with personalized customer interactions.

By Sandra Gudat, President/CEO

The power of personalization in CRM is indisputable, from increased customer engagement to conversions and sales. According to Boston Retail Partners’ 2017 POS Customer Management Survey, more than 70 percent of retailers say personalization is their top priority. Further, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey of VPs and C-level executives, brands using integrated advanced digital technologies and proprietary data are seeing revenue increases of six to 10 percent. The study goes on to predict that personalization could shift revenues by $800 billion over the next five years in the retail, healthcare and financial services industries alone — to those organizations that get it right.

And getting it right is key. According to Nucleus Research’s “The Half Life of Data,” organizations risk losing 54 percent of the value of their data in the first two hours after its creation. This has implications as retail marketers map out customer journeys, making it critical to provide the right offer to the customer in as close to real time as possible as the customer moves toward purchase.

Customer journeys are more complex for omni-channel retailers than ever, spanning across a growing (and evolving) number of channels that may not easily share a single view of the customer. Before you can jump into incorporating personalization into your customers’ journeys it’s crucial to understand the essential components required for effective personalization.

What is effective personalization in CRM?

Personalization is both a noun and a verb, and this is the crux of understanding what is effective personalization in CRM.

Definition: personalization (pur-suh-nl-ahyz), noun

This is the “why” of personalization, which often supports one or both of the following: 1) to improve the customer experience and/or 2) to improve conversion (to increase sales). Good personalization in the first context reduces points of friction along the journey, anticipates and understands customer needs in the moment and just makes things easier. For example, Amazon’s 1-Click ordering function makes purchasing, especially on impulse, fast and painless as customers only have to enter payment and shipping information once and then they are set up for all future transactions.

Personalizing the customer journey requires strategic thinking, planning, discipline and time. Foresight is required to make sure that objectives are identified, the right data is collected to support those objectives and systems are in place to serve personalized messages to the right customer points of contact along their journey.

A 360º view of a customer is an essential foundation for effective personalization of the customer journey and that alone can take time and patience to build. Often, you may come to realize you have not been collecting a data element that could create a more personalized customer experience. In this case, you must have discipline (and be in a culture that supports the “long game”) to begin to collect this data in order to create future opportunities down the road.  In some cases, you may have to build the business case first to support true strategic personalization and personalization priorities.

Developing and Testing Personalization Hypotheses

As part of the ongoing process, A/B testing should be systematically employed to validate or disprove approaches and avoid guessing. Strategic oversight should also be in place to prioritize putting hypotheses in play that seek to serve the largest groups of customers with the most obvious needs first in order to generate the biggest bang for your investment of time and resources. An example of this may be prioritizing a group of 50,000 customers who, based on their past purchases, have a strong cross-sell potential for a mid-range margin product versus 50 customers with a strong cross-sell potential for a high margin product. The goal here is to aim for larger groups with obvious needs who represent more potential impact on the business.

Customer Personalization and the Buyer’s Journey

Both Forrester and McKinsey & Company can be credited with first formulating the concept of the customer journey and certainly Forrester Research has published the most research on the topic over the years. The approach to mapping a customer journey often varies by the nature of your business or your industry. For B2C retailers, a simple template using the stages of awareness, consideration, purchase, post-purchase and advocacy can be a great place to start.

The most important thing about mapping a customer journey is that each one should be from the customer’s perspective. It’s easy to get off track and start including “corporate” journey elements like internal customer service process into your journeys, but resist the temptation!

Mapping Customer Journeys From the Customer’s Perspective

Customer journeys are non-linear and ever-changing — and there can be an infinite number of them. The goal is to map the most common journeys while ensuring that all potential points of personalized customer interaction are represented among your journey collection. Getting started involves getting everyone in your organization on the same page to identify your value proposition and strategic objectives, and how personalization can support them. The next step is to review your current state customer journeys by answering these questions:

  • What are the points of friction?
  • How can you make the journey easier for the customer?
  • Where are there points of opportunity to promote conversion?
  • Where are you currently personalizing and at what level of personalization? You may want to create an overlay to each journey map that describes what is currently being personalized and what level of personalization is available at that point of contact. One approach to help visualize how personalized your current journeys are is to give each point a score from 0 – 5. For example, 0 could represent an anonymous prospect with no known attributes, while 5 could represent a known customer, with known demographics, transactional record, social media activity, etc.
  • Identify new points of personalization that could be easily added to the current state that would help you meet your objectives (for example, data that is or can be available at that point of contact with minor modifications)

Map your future-state journey maps that describe the optimal points of personalization to meet your objectives. Then break this down into a phased plan that details the goals that will be achieved at each phase.

9 Creative Ways to Personalize the Customer Journey

Customers will interact with a brand across multiple touch-points and in the process, provide behavioral cues at each interaction point. This, in turn, can help inform the next interaction point in the journey. Use the research and insights above along with the tactics below to personalize the journey for your customers, and watch conversions and sales climb.

1.

Use your offline loyalty program data to enrich your website experience with your members. For instance, when a customer goes to LL Bean’s website, a chatbot will ask if she would like to log in with her loyalty account. The “loyalty aware” chatbot links the customer’s loyalty and CRM data to personalize the interaction choices, and interactions with the chatbot are also recorded back to the CRM system.

2.

Allow customers who log in (via loyalty membership and/or ecommerce login credentials) to build a list of their favorite product offerings. For instance, when a customer logs into Sephora’s website, she is able to access a list of favorite items called “loves” — which is extremely helpful in the beauty category where remembering that right shade of lipstick is key.

3.

Provide online and in-store access to every purchase the customer has ever made, regardless of channel (online, in-store, app, etc.).  Sephora does this by providing loyalty members with online access to all of their purchases.

4.

Customize landing pages to individual banner ads or emails. Potential customers click on your pay-per-click ads or the link in your email because something resonated with them — right?  Then why are they often sent to a generic landing page or directed to your main home page where suddenly the “scent trail” is lost?  Make sure that your keyword-based PPC ads and the URLs provided in your emails actually link to landing pages that prominently highlight that content. For example, by simply maintaining the scent trail, one luxury travel company increased engagement by 32 percent by creating a landing page with their “spa escapes” offer in the headline after visitors had searched “spa vacations” and clicked on the company’s PPC banner.

5.

Build in “self-selection” data collection points that help personalize the customer experience. Good sales associates naturally do this by asking customers who walked in the store some qualifying questions, like How are you planning to use this product? Likewise, anonymous visitors to your website might be served a pop-up that asks Are you shopping for yourself? Your spouse? Your children? Thinking through short qualifying questions enables you to deliver appropriate content to otherwise anonymous visitors, improving the customer’s journey and increasing conversion.

6.

Build best customer recognition points into your customer journeys. Years ago, Pier 1 Imports sent their top 300 customers letters hand-signed by Pier 1’s CEO.  The letter thanked the customers for their business and told them there was a special gift waiting for them at the store. When customers visited the store inquiring about their gift, the store associate was trained to call up the store manager, who personally introduced herself, profusely thanked the customers, offered the customers their business card and presented a gift. Not only was the customer experience greatly elevated by this special handling procedure, it also afforded the store manager the opportunity to “get a visual” on her very top customers (in case she did not already know them by sight) so she could better serve her customers in the future.

7.

Unify your online and offline customer experience by upping the personalization ante when you re-target customers who only browsed or abandoned their shopping carts. Customers are often retargeted with a banner ad or an email after browsing for products online but not purchasing. Take it a step further by using inventory tracking and geolocation technology to let the customer know via email or push notification where the closest store is located that has the product in their size.

8.

Use path-to-site data to segment anonymous website visitors. Personalization can occur to some degree, even if the customer is almost completely anonymous.  Retailers should analyze consumer activity prior to conversion and identification by factoring in such elements that might include path to site (did the shopper arrive via banner ad, organic search, etc.), device type and geolocation. This data can be analyzed to create anonymous visitor segments, and then they are served content that is most likely to promote conversion.

9.

Look for and remove friction around security points in the customer journey. It goes without saying that customer data privacy and security is a big concern in retail. However, arduous privacy measures can add friction and unnecessary complexity into the customer journey. Asking customers to log in multiple times or re-enter their payment information for each and every transaction is perceived as a pain. If you are able to reduce that pain you greatly enhance the customer experience.

Defining Your Ongoing Customer Journey Personalization Strategy

There’s a new term on the block that is gaining traction — marketing orchestration. Forrester defines it as “an approach to marketing that focuses not on delivering stand-alone campaigns but instead on optimizing a set of related cross-channel interactions, that, when added together, make up an individualized customer experience.” Strategically planning, implementing and refining your ongoing customer journey personalization strategy will take you far down the road to our next buzzword — marketing orchestration.

For the past four decades, CCGs retail marketing team has been helping retailers retain, grow and nurture their customer relationships. We can help you achieve your CRM goals, too, with our full suite of loyalty and retail capabilities and services. Request a free consultation or call us at 800.525.0313 today.

Sandra Gudat is president & CEO of Customer Communications Group (CCG), a full-service customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency that helps Fortune 2000 retailers and financial institutions improve their bottom line by improving their customer relationships, loyalty and retention.