Are You Offering a Personalized Journey or a Guided Path

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Have you tried to get a real, live person on the other end of the phone lately? After pressing 20 buttons on the phone’s keypad to navigate through a labyrinth of menu options, you will likely find yourself still on hold. This familiar scenario illustrates how companies are struggling to find the balance between data-driven efficiencies --automated, generalized responses -- and customer expectations for a personalized experience --the actual answer they are looking for from a living, breathing human on the other end of the phone or chat session.

Two Opposing Goals?

These two goals – data-driven efficiencies and delivering personalized experiences – seem to be at odds. By relying more and more on user data (implicit information), and less on actual customer feedback and direction (explicit, contextual data), are companies truly offering a personalized journey? Or are they merely providing a more guided path to the destination they want customers to arrive at?

Personalizing an experience requires information and insights on the characteristics of an individual (such as interests, social category, context, etc.), and then tailoring content to align with the individual users’ characteristics or preferences. In the context of an online experience, for example, the word personalization implies that the content being pushed to users is based on implicit data, such as items purchased or pages viewed. So, how effective is all this implicit data without the context of at least some explicit information about the user? And if some explicit data is needed, how can those tidbits be best garnered and then shared within an organization to maximize its value and minimize the imposition on customers to provide such details?

Let’s consider the technology required to deliver these highly sought-after personalized experiences and how they can be better leveraged to provide a more personalized experience at every interaction.

Connecting the Data Dots

Many of today’s marketing tools are promoted as being able to help companies work more effectively and efficiently to sell more, reduce costs, and, ultimately, be more successful. Whether it is selling hockey skates (B2C) or accounting services (B2B), what business doesn’t want to run more efficiently, increase productivity and make more money?

Technologies that used to be reserved for the big guns -- customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI), marketing automation, social listening -- are now affordable and cloud-based, and scalable enough to help even the smallest of companies reach their customers more efficiently and with more personalized content. Companies actively gather data on tactical details such as which pages were visited, how many links were clicked and what a user “liked.” Equally as important, companies can now analyze activities and interactions, and interpret sentiment, trust and reputation perception.

Companies big and small are leveraging these tools, but so often their teams are doing so in isolation. An organization might have a great CRM tool that its sales team uses, a killer marketing automation platform to fuel online and traditional marketing campaigns and customer communications, and a BI solution that can slice and dice any piece of data thrown at it. But how well connected is all this data, and can it be leveraged by those outside the primary user teams? Can the customer service representative see which campaigns callers have been sent, how many calls to action they have opted into, or what products and services appear to best fit their profile? How about the cashier checking out a loyalty-card member -- is she aware of buying patterns to be able to suggest a complementary product or wish the customer a happy birthday via screen prompts, based on the customer’s profile?

By contextualizing the implicit data by connecting the dots between data points, and syncing them with the explicit information the business has collected, an organization can reign in and leverage all the power that the data it has on hand can provide. Opening up the data for broader consumption by different teams within an organization can drive a truly personalized journey, rather than just a guided experience.

Title image by Mark Pritchard (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license