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Creating Stronger Personalized Customer Interactions Across Purchase Journeys

Improve customer experiences and conversions with these CRM personalization tips, tactics and examples.

Young lady on computer looking at credit card shopping

Article Highlights

  • Consumers are much more likely to purchase from brands that provide personalized experiences
  • It’s crucial to find the right balance between using data to engage customers versus turning them off
  • A personalized customer journey lets you deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time
  • AI, people-based marketing and predictive analytics can maximize CRM personalization
  • Personalizing the customer journey across touchpoints increases engagement and sales

The power of personalization in CRM is indisputable, from increased customer engagement to conversions and sales. So it’s no coincidence that a recent report from Forrester ranked personalization and advanced analytics tools highest in the list of investments retailers are making this year.1

What’s more, 80% of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences, and 63% of consumers say they’ll stop buying from brands that use poor personalization tactics.2

Yet getting personalization right can be a challenge. Retailers walk a fine line between using all the data they can get and getting so personal that customers are turned off rather than engaged. In short, it comes down to understanding what you should — and shouldn’t — know about your customers. And as retail marketers map out customer journeys, it’s 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.

Below we share ideas to help retailers balance personalized customer interactions and marketing across customer journeys. Essentially, it’s about learning how to be relevant without being too creepy or invasive. We’ll follow that up with more ideas and examples for leveraging data and advanced personalization techniques to increase retail sales.

What is personalization in CRM?

Personalization often supports one or both of the following: 1) to improve the customer experience and/or 2) to improve conversions (to increase sales).

Good personalization can reduce points of friction along the journey, anticipate and understand 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’re set up for all future transactions.

A personalized 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 personalized customer journeys, 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 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.

Personalization in Retail: 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 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.

Personalized Customer Engagement 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 Personalized 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 Develop Customer Journey Personalization

Customers will interact with a brand across multiple touchpoints 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 a national apparel 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 log-in 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 a list of all 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%. They created 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 walk 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 personalized customer journeys. Years ago, Pier 1 Imports sent their top 300 customers letters hand-signed by the company’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.

The customer experience was greatly elevated by this special handling procedure. And it afforded the store manager the opportunity to “get a visual” on her very top customers (in case she didn’t 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 retarget 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. Each segment can then be 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 every transaction is perceived as a pain. If you can reduce that pain, you greatly enhance the customer experience.

Leverage Your Customer Journey Personalization with Advanced CRM Personalization Tactics

Strategically planning, implementing and refining your ongoing customer journey personalization strategy helps set the stage for the next step: leveraging your customer data for more advanced personalization in retail to increase engagement and boost sales.

Nearly 80% of senior marketers around the globe who exceeded revenue goals had a documented customer personalization strategy in place. And we’re not talking about simply adding a customer’s name to an email or direct mail piece. To be truly strategic and maximize revenue-building opportunities, you need to implement more advanced customer personalization solutions.

From AI to dynamic content and more, the retail personalization ideas and examples below will help you get going.

AI in CRM Personalization

Most retailers today have a solid grasp on the science of data collection. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help turn that sea of information into actionable strategies. From the perspective of customization and personalization in CRM, AI is particularly good for creating predictions and recommendations that let you market effectively to individual customers.

For example, Sephora uses AI in its email marketing campaigns to track customer purchase histories and calculate how long it will take for a product to run out.

People-Based Marketing: Focused on Customer Identity and Personalization

The concept of “people-based marketing” helps marketers create robust profiles of individual customers and prospects. It creates a “consistent identity” that travels with a consumer across devices — including from offline to online environments — allowing marketers to gather cross-channel behavioral data. It also shifts data points from probabilistic (Customer A is probably a middle-age female) to deterministic (Customer A is a 40-year-old mother of two who shops Nordstrom from her laptop).

This level of detail allows marketers to make incredibly precise predictions of a specific consumer’s interests and needs. That, of course, should lead to a new level of personalized customer engagement and result in the most relevant marketing messages.

Dynamic Customer Personalization: Retail Examples

AI and the underlying tenets of people-based marketing hinge on collecting data and tying it to a personal identity. Dynamic content and creative use advanced digital and print production tools to leverage that data.

For instance, imagine 10 customers browsing your online shop. Each shows a definite interest in a different apparel item, but doesn’t make a purchase. You could send follow-up emails to each customer, showcasing the specific item that person was browsing. Using dynamic technology, you could change content blocks, images, even colors to make every email personalized to each customer.

Target and easyJet are just two examples of the many organizations delivering customer personalization through dynamic creative. Target developed a direct mail campaign featuring up to 20 variables per piece and sent it to 2 million shoppers. It yielded a 50% lift over a non-personalized campaign.

British airline easyJet created an email campaign for its 20th anniversary that celebrated individual customers’ travel stories. It used 12 modules based around 28 key data points to customize graphics, imagery and copy. Compared to a typical easyJet campaign, this one had open rates that were more than 100% higher, plus 25% higher click-thru rates.

With the right data to direct you, you might even choose to send each message at a different time of day or via a different channel. Maybe one customer gets a direct mail piece featuring the item, another gets the email and a third gets a text message.

Creating a Better Customer Experience Through Personalized Customer Journeys

Hopefully, your overall CRM strategy already includes the customer journey mapping we discussed earlier. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that every customer follows the same journey or moves through that journey at the same pace. Instead, you need to integrate customer identity and personalization tactics to develop journey maps that reflect multiple scenarios.

For instance, is a new loyalty program member a “super user” who quickly racks up purchases and reward points? She may need to receive your welcome email series at a faster pace — or not at all, if she shows signs of fully understanding and using the program right off the bat.

Other customers may not follow a traditional or expected path to purchase. They may use exclusively one device to interact with your brand. Or they may use certain channels for browsing and another for buying.

Understanding where any given customer is on their journey at any given moment in time will also allow you to deliver personalized messaging at the right time. For instance, when a customer is filling out an application for your store card, you can use that behavior to deliver a message relevant to that specific action and moment in time.

More CRM Personalization Strategies and Examples

Here are three more techniques that can help push your personalized customer journey efforts to a more advanced stage, as well as retail personalization examples using these strategies.

Add individualized behavioral and sentiment data to move beyond basic personas. It’s “like moving from standard definition to HD,” says Aaron Aycock, co-founder and CEO of UserIQ.

  • Example: Nike’s Run Club app monitors activity and uses customers’ behavioral preferences to deliver personally tailored content and even connect runners to other like-minded athletes to challenge or cheer on.

Incorporate real-time tracking technology, such as geofencing and iBeacons, to deliver real-time, location-relevant messaging. Macy’s, Starbucks, and Sephora all use GPS technology and company apps to trigger relevant in-app offers when customers are near a store.

  • Example: Online retailer Very tailors messaging and products to customers based on where they’re physically located — down to the weather conditions. Here are two versions of their homepage based on a user’s weather:

Use predictive analytics to identify what customers are most likely to buy from you next, when they’re most likely to shop and much more — all of which can be used to personalize campaign messaging, offers, timing and delivery channels.

  • Example: Retailer ASOS changes its homepage and navigation based on visitor interests by automatically redirecting users to the last page viewed.
Asos Website

Data Best Practices for a Personalized Customer Journey

Data is the backbone of effective CRM personalization. The more data, the better. But, it has to be good data. Here are four tips to make it so:

  • Keep it clean. Top-quality data hygiene practices are an absolute must. Errors and inaccuracies will throw your personalization off and potentially alienate customers instead of engaging them.
  • Tear down the walls. Siloes are a notorious challenge in the retail industry. But for successful CRM personalization, you must be able to capture data through every channel and blend it. Then you need to make the resulting information available to teams at every touchpoint.
  • Collect the right data. Make sure that you’re only collecting the type of data that will improve the customer experience through enhanced customer service or relevant product recommendations. There’s no sense in collecting data you don’t need or won’t use.
  • Tread carefully. There is a fine line between using someone’s personal data to enhance the customer experience — and stepping into stalker territory. Whenever possible, let customers know when you’re collecting their information and how you’ll use it. Then make sure that when you do put personal data into action, you truly provide a benefit to your customers.

Embrace a Personalized Customer Journey Mentality

Finally, to get the most from your customer personalization efforts, they need to be part of your ongoing retail marketing strategy. Don’t isolate them to a one-and-done campaign or a now-and-then action. By leveraging data to make personalized customer interactions part of your retail marketing culture, you stand to reap rewards in the form of increased customer loyalty, engagement and sales.

Are you ready to advance your CRM personalization strategies? CCG’s retail marketing consultants can help bring customer personalization into your customer purchase journeys. From technology to creative, data collection to analytics, strategy to implementation, we offer a complete roster of retail marketing services dedicated to helping you realize maximum ROI. Schedule a free consultation or call us at 303.986.3000.

1 “Report: Personalization and Advanced Analytics Top List of Retail Initiatives for 2021,” Maria Monteros, Retail Dive, published Sept. 8, 2021, https://www.retaildive.com/news/report-personalization-and-advanced-analytics-top-list-of-retail-initiativ/606143/, accessed Sept. 17, 2021

2 “50 Stats Showing the Power of Personalization,” Blake Morgan, Forbes, posted Feb. 18, 2020,
https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/02/18/50-stats-showing-the-power-of-personalization/?sh=7ae408942a94, accessed Sept. 17, 2021

Sandra Gudat

Author Sandra Gudat

Sandra Gudat is CCG’s president & CEO. Considered a pioneer in the field of customer marketing, she has a diverse background in consulting, database marketing, advertising, retail and business management. She is a frequent speaker on customer loyalty marketing and developing customer-centric policies

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