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PHOTO: Thor Alvis

Late last year, Gartner came out with a somewhat surprising prediction. Analysts said that within the next five years, a full 80% of marketers will drop their personalization efforts. After years of buzz hyping personalization as the key to building meaningful connections with customers, the fact that four out of five marketers will ditch the practice speaks volumes about the mileage brands are getting out of such efforts.  

Lack of demonstrable ROI, Gartner reports, is one factor driving this change, along with data management problems, including problems with data collection, integration and protection. Together these issues have fueled a growing sense of disillusionment around much-hyped personalization initiatives. 

Personalization isn't inherently flawed or ineffective as a general practice. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, when executed correctly. We’ve seen over and over again that contextually appropriate personalized experiences can be successful. And we are hardly alone. Accenture found that a full 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember and provide relevant offers and recommendations. In other words, personalization, done right, can lead to exactly the kinds of outcomes marketers want.

That being said, it’s easy to get personalization wrong. One way companies get it wrong involves misalignment between customer expectations and execution. In some cases, companies make experiences too personal, and end up creeping out the customer (the age-old example here is when Target began sending coupons for baby items to a teen girl before her family knew she was pregnant). In others, companies don’t personalize experiences when they easily could, by forcing return customers to re-enter payment data, for example. 

Another way companies get personalization wrong is through mismanagement of the customer journey. Such mismanagement arises when the company thinks of the customer journey as the optimal path they would like to see their customers take. This leads them to try and force or manipulate the customer down a particular path. Customers notice this and feel manipulated. By contrast, when companies begin by thinking of the customer journey from the customer’s standpoint, and then figure out ways to optimize and simplify that journey, customers actually appreciate it.

So what can brands do to ensure that they are personalizing interactions in a way that customers want?

Embark on Journey Discovery

Customers often behave in ways that are unexpected. Using journey analytics as part of a journey discovery initiative gives you critical insight into the entire lifecycle of your customers. Analyzing customer journeys as they unfold in reality helps you identify, for example, points of friction where you can positively influence the customer experience. This exercise is particularly important when you are dealing with cross-channel journeys, where transitions and paths can become complicated. It’s only by discovering what is or is not working in your customer journeys that you can take steps to improve the experience for customers. 

As more brands focus on journey discovery as a lead up to journey orchestration, their personalization initiatives get stronger. 

Related Article: Get Big Picture Customer Experience Insights With Customer Journey Analytics

Knock Down Data Silos

Twenty-seven percent of marketers pegged data as the key stumbling block to effective personalization, according to Gartner. Customer data plays a key role in the creation of engaging customer experience, but aggregating the most important data and quickly resolving the identities of site visitors remain stumbling blocks for many companies. Brands absolutely have the data necessary for meaningful personalization and other CX initiatives, but end up hobbled because they can’t access the data in a timely manner. 

Develop a data management framework that allows you to pull customer data from any part of the business and enable dynamic profiles that can be updated for individual customers and prospects. Your data doesn’t need to be immaculate, so don’t let data clean-up projects delay journey management initiatives. However, your data does need to be available, so focus on projects that increase data connectivity.

Related Article: Old MacDonald Met a Data Silo, E-I-E-I-O

Set Your Orchestration Strategy and Activate

Once you’ve listened to what your customers are telling you through journey discovery and gotten your data house in order, you’re ready to do the real work: building an orchestration plan and setting it in motion. Based on your journey discovery findings, identify the steps in your customer journey that will most benefit from orchestration and decide on the metrics you’ll use to measure success. Once your plan is in place, you can begin automating parts of your journeys to deliver optimal, contextual, personalized experiences to every customer and prospect. 

Done correctly, orchestration achieves customer-centric, real-time personalization that leads to the customer behaviors you want to see. 

Related Article: Customer Journey Orchestration Isn't Just for B2C Anymore

Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

Journey discovery is an important prerequisite to effective personalization, but it’s not something you can do once and then forget about. Continually test and listen to your customer journeys and personalization efforts. Audit your data and ensure you have complete customer views. Analyze repeatedly and look for ways to make improvements. Rinse and repeat the journey discovery, data integration and strategy steps on a regular basis and you can continuously improve customer experience while enabling personalization that wins loyalty, builds satisfaction and increases revenue.