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PHOTO: Kris Atomic

The proliferation of online customer channels created a great opportunity for businesses: access to ever-growing amounts of customer data. But with this opportunity came a challenge: how to combine these multiple data points to create a complete view of a customer's experience. Add offline customer activity into the mix, and the headache grows even larger. 

Think of someone buying a car: Most people research a car online, visit a dealership to see the cars, do more research (again, usually online), and finally return to the dealership to make a purchase. To provide meaningful customer experience (CX) across this entire journey, car manufacturers need to track customer behavior from start to finish, said Mark Smith, president of customer journey software provider Kitewheel.

According to Smith, Ford handled that very challenge during a recent promotion. Ford hosted New Year’s Day gatherings at its dealerships, during which it collected data from those who attended. The company then matched the data collected to customer profiles, so it could serve contextually relevant content across different touchpoints (e.g., email campaigns, online advertising, and so on). The online and offline data capture made it possible to deliver a higher level of personalization, which resulted in increased engagement with ads and emails.

Define a Strategy

Defining a strategy for the collection, measurement and use of customer data will help achieve the desired balance, according to Kim Kaluba, senior product marketing manager with analytics software and services provider SAS. “Balancing online and offline data collection differs based on the different and unique needs of each company. Customer data is still considered a byproduct of a system or business process because the data being collected about offline and online customers live in different systems, are managed by different departments, and have different functional requirements. Without an overarching customer data strategy that is supported by data governance, data literacy, and data management, customer data will continue to be disjointed, inconsistent, unreliable, and untrusted by the data community. As a result, companies cannot balance the customer experience.”

The company should also spell out the corporate goal for digital experience and who is responsible for it, often the CMO, Kaluba added. Whoever is responsible for the corporate goal should establish the strategy for how to achieve it.

“The strategy is going to contain marketing campaigns to increase the share of wallet, reduce attrition, and understand customers across brands and channels — and data is the key element,” Kaluba said. “Therefore, a customer data strategy should be the foundation to meeting corporate marketing goals and striking the perfect balance between balancing online and offline customer experiences.”

Related Article: Building Bridges Between Your Online and Offline Data

Customers Have a Singular View

Though a company might view online and offline channels as different, customers do not, said Ajay Khanna, vice president of marketing at master data management platform provider Reltio. “Bringing all customer data together and making it consistently available across all channels and all functional groups such as marketing, sales, service and support is crucial. This requires an advanced ... master data management [MDM] solution to build a comprehensive 360-degree view of the customer.”

He added that employing an MDM equipped to connect all the data relevant to transactions and interactions is the first step to make sure all channels have consistent customer information, enabling customers to jump from one channel to the other without losing the context of their engagement.

“Enterprises with online as well as brick and mortar stores must make sure that POS [point of sale] systems and online ordering draw from the same customer information so that customers have a personalized experience online and store associates have access to recommendations on how to make the customer experience more engaging,” Khanna said.

Related Article: Online, Offline — Who Cares? Present One Brand Experience

Care of Customer Data

Whether collecting data online or offline, marketers need to remember that data is a two-way street, said Matt Millington, director of strategic growth for global design firm Method. “Customers are savvy. They understand the transaction and the value of the data they are relinquishing. As a digital or marketing leader, you must work hard to pay attention to the cadence of data collection and deployment in your customer’s experience. When is it okay to ask for data and when should you be the one using the data to add value back to the customer? In the eyes of your customer, you have a responsibility of care. Both for the security of the data but also a responsibility to use it to add value back to them. The question should not be: ‘what can I do with data,’ but ‘what can data do for me,’ or more accurately, ‘what can data do to add value for my customer and as a result, benefit my business?’”

“Data privacy is top of mind for consumers, so data collection, both online and off, is becoming more complicated,” Smith added. “If customers understand why you are collecting their data — that is, if they understand that it will be used to help improve their experience — they will be more willing to share it.”