Editor’s note: This is a chapter from the ebook, Unlock the Value of CX. You can download the entire book here.
Last summer my husband and I took our three girls to Walt Disney World. We visited along with approximately 48 million other people last year. While during some rare moments it felt like every one of those 48 million visitors had to be in the park with us that day—on most days it was pure magic. Why? Because Disney is exceptional at taking an experience scaled for millions of people and personalizing that to the needs of each unique visitor. Between the personalized trip planning booklets containing attractions ideal for my kids, to the planning app and MagicBand wearable technology that allowed us to preselect our own ride and dining options to minimize wait times, Disney worked at every stage of our trip to make an experience that accommodates over 48 million people relevant, convenient, and magical.
The Case for Personalization in Today’s World
Recently Forrester shared its top 10 critical success factors for winning in the age of the customer. Customer personalization led the list. Forrester shared that,
“Customers expect to be treated as individuals in their moment of need. They expect that each encounter will be informed and enriched by current and accurate information about their accounts, history, and preferences. They will reward companies that can anticipate their personal needs and wants—and punish those that clumsily have to relearn basic customer details at each encounter.”
You might be saying to yourself that personalization is a concept we’ve been talking about for years. In the marketing world, the concept of moving from mass communications to 1-to-1 marketing has been talked about since the 1990’s. So what is different now? The simple answer is Technology.
Technology’s Role: The Convergence of IoT and AI
The technology underpinnings to bring true personalization to the marketplace have come of age. We have reached the intersection of the Internet of Things (IoT)—which provides us with connectivity and the exchange of data between connected objects—and Artificial Intelligence (AI) which allows for the simulation of human intelligence with a computer that learns through data. The confluence of these technologies is changing the game.
Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa may be the darling of this technology convergence. When Alexa launched in 2014 as part of the Amazon Echo, her abilities were rather limited. Over time, Amazon has strategically chosen to make it easy for third-party developers and device makers to integrate with Alexa—positioning the AI technology as “THE” home hub of the future. As of November 2016, the Alexa Appstore had over 5,000 skills available for users to download and the number of products with Alexa built in is exploding. The future of the connected home is here. Technologies such as Alexa put the customer at the center of their world—which is what we as consumers expect from the products we use and the companies we do business with. No doubt we are just beginning to see the value of the IoT and AI convergence.
Purpose Driven Personalization: Help Customers Accomplish Meaningful Goals
Knowing the time is now to move beyond personalization as a buzzword du jour to action, it helps to understand the customer’s expectations for personal experiences. The true value of tailored customer experiences comes when companies don’t just drop in the customer’s name here and there, but use it to help customers more effectively accomplish their goals. Let’s explore three of the most common:
Deliver the right product or service content at the right time in the customer journey: Customers expect the companies they do business with to use the information that they have acquired throughout the relationship to provide content that offers incremental value to their experiences. Netflix’s recommendation engine is a clear winner in this area. Netflix leverages customer watch data and combines the best of AI to predict what customers might want to see next. Netflix executives estimate that its AI assisted recommendation system saves the company $1 billion per year. This tailoring of information adds a level of relevancy and value to customers during the browsing process.
Provide convenience that makes customer’s lives easier: According to recent Forrester research, seventy-three percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service. At its most basic level, this means customers insist companies provide seamless handoffs across channels and systems so that they don’t have to repeat details with each person they interact with. But in today’s world of next generation technology, it also means offering more impactful convenience and time savings options than were possible before. Consider the explosive growth in recent years of Stitch Fix. Stich Fix provides personal styling at an affordable price by delivering five highly curated pieces of clothing to its clients’ homes monthly. The company combines the latest in data science, and the human touch of seasoned stylists to make personalization scalable. In an age where retailers such as Amazon are offering prolific numbers of product choices, nearing 400 million as of Jan 2017,many customers crave the convenience and simplicity of a service that can whittle down the overwhelming number of options—and hit a fashion win without investing hours at the mall. In today’s fast paced world, companies that make experiences simple and painless will be rewarded.
Interact with customers via the communication channels they want to use: How we communicate with each other and the brands we do business with has fundamentally shifted. We are a mobile society with 39 percent of millennials admitting they interact more with their smartphone than they do with important people in their lives.vii These shifts in communication preferences need to be reflected in the way companies communicate with their customers. Fifty-nine percent of global consumers are frustrated when they can’t access the information they want in their channel of choice.Unfortunately, these communication preferences vary from customer to customer. Companies need to be willing to serve them all to truly create relevant experiences for customers. One of the more recent additions to the communication arsenal is rise of messenger services. MasterCard has recently responded to this trend with the launch of a Facebook Messenger Bot which allows cardholders to conduct transactions, manage their finances, and shop online using various messaging platforms. MasterCard is using emerging AI chat box technology which give customers the ability to ask questions related to their account via Facebook Messenger. Communicating with customers via their preferred approach will be paramount to building and maintaining strong ongoing relationships.
Bring Personalization to the CX Process
Given these rising expectations for customer centricity and personalization across the digital world that we live in today, the challenge for CX Practitioners is to ensure we are bringing this same level of personalization to the CX process. While technology will continue to evolve, let me offer up a few ways that we can bring personalization to the CX process today— through both traditional best practices and newer emerging techniques:
1. Show customers that you know and value them throughout the CX survey process by using the information you already have. It sounds basic, but often the goal is to get a survey out quickly and the basics are overlooked. Take the time to aggregate existing systems and known customer information into a single customer portfolio. Use this information first to ensure questions aren’t asked about known customer details—such as demographics or transaction history, but also use the information to make the survey more responsive to the unique situation of the customer. For example, if the survey is transactional in nature, include relevant details about the transaction such as the channel, location or date, and center additional questions on those transactional details.
2. Give customers an opportunity to tell their personal story through an interactive, two-way conversation. Use the power of Natural Language Processing (NLP) both to drive the conversation and analyze it. Let customers share their feedback through a conversational customer dialogue—not just 10-point rating questions. In the past decade, NLP in the form of text analytics has been used to help analyze and garner insights from unstructured open ended questions. As we look to the future, the next generation of customer conversations will use NLP in the form of chatbots to help mimic the feel of a real conversation. Imagine a survey where you are asked about your experiences through a responsive, interactive dialogue that is tailored to your experience and where your answers will actually change the direction of the conversation. Not only will this provide customers with a more engaging opportunity to share the feedback they want to share, but it will provide companies richer customer feedback they can use to make meaningful improvements to the customer experience.
3. Keep up with emerging customer communication modes and preferences for CX feedback. As customer communication preferences go mobile and more of the customer base becomes digital natives, provide opportunities for customers to respond via the channels that are preferable for them. At a minimum, CX surveys need to be fully optimized for the mobile experience. But knowing that many of today’s customers won’t engage via the modes of yesterday—consider that the CX arsenal of the future will need to include not only online and SMS, but also messenger app options such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and WhatsApp.
4. Leverage geolocation technology to gather CX feedback and enrich the customer experience through location based surveys close to the point-of-sale. In the post Pokémon Go era, mainstream customers are becoming more comfortable sharing their location data. The opportunity is to bring the benefits of geolocation to the CX process. We know that customers provide higher quality feedback about their experience when asked closer to the point of experience. Using GPS or beacon technology to identify customers at the point of experience, we can gather feedback in the moment when recall is at its peak. The other benefit of location-based surveys using mobile phones is that new forms of media can be captured in the survey – photos, videos, the GPS coordinates can be captured—all adding more texture to the experience.
Each of these ideas offer a place to start demonstrating to customers through the CX process that we understand their personal desires to value their time, communicate on their terms, listen to them in a conversational way, and engage with them when the time is right. These are just a small subset of the ways we as CX practitioners can begin to leverage the explosion of technology options to respond to the customer’s desire for personal, relevant experiences with the brands they do business with. While the future of technology will continue to evolve, the one thing we know for certain is that to meet the needs of customers today and in the future—extreme personalization will be a table stake.