Today's customers want more than anonymous, one-size-fits-all transactions. They expect you to provide experiences relevant to their situation, needs and preferences, and they expect it to be delivered in real time, across channels and devices. In fact, customers themselves are already thinking differently about the way they engage with brands. Increasingly, consumers are willing to provide personal information in exchange for personalized offers.
As communications become more one-to-one and immediate, people also expect a response within five minutes of contacting a brand via social media. Instead of siloed, disjointed contacts across channels, marketing interactions must be seamless and consistent no matter how they're delivered, whether email, web, call center or the smartphones they check 150 times each day.
Marketers are already working quickly to meet this demand by orchestrating and automating real-time, personalized, omnichannel marketing strategies across inbound touch points. When done right, these more meaningful interactions can truly transform the customer experience. Some of the initiatives we've been working on, for example, include:
- La Quinta Inns and Suites will soon launch an Instant Free Night service that notifies qualifying customers of the opportunity to redeem their points for a free night's stay—at the moment they enter the property.
- One company in the airline industry knows that customers waiting out a long flight delay have more immediate needs than a discounted upgrade in the future. Instead, the company will offer free access to its VIP lounge to ease the sting.
- A financial institution is working to ensure that its promotions take into account the most pressing needs of its customers. In an area recently hit by a damaging storm, for example, mortgage offers can be replaced in real time with more appropriate offers such as home improvement loans.
In working toward the best results for both brands and consumers, here are four ways to ensure that your programs produce a lasting bottom-line impact for your business:
1. Make it personal.
This can sound obvious, but there are still too many marketers that put a customer's name on a communication and call it personalized. Real customer engagement means deeper understanding of who people are and the kind of interaction they're looking for. You have ample information about your customers, from past transactions and behaviors to demographics and geography. What does it suggest about the right tone to use? Speaking to a middle-aged dad the same way as you address his tween daughter means you're getting at least one of them wrong.
This goes far beyond voice, of course. Do your offers reflect the personality and lifestyle of your customers? Wireless companies tend to promote lowest-common-denominator differentiators such as cost, coverage area, and reliability; how hard would it be to offer something more meaningful, like free downloads of digital music by the customer's favorite artists? That's a more holistic and relevant experience that still hews closely to the provider's core value proposition.
2. Balance business objectives with customer needs.
Closing a sale is all well and good but it's not the only priority. Sometimes giving up short-term revenue can bring greater returns in the future. Consider the La Quinta example above—instead of monetizing the current night's stay, the company focuses on helping the customer realize the full value of earned points, and of the loyalty program in general. It's also a great gesture: "I was prepared to pay, but you're offering me a free room instead?" This relatively easy step by the organization feels like a big win for the customer.
Look at the mix of messages you send out each month. How many are sales-oriented, and how many focus instead on value-adds for the customer? What's the right mix? It's not necessarily 50-50; the math will be different for each business and customer. But think it through before you finalize your plans.
3. Use real-time decisioning.
Timing is everything. If a customer has spent time browsing products on your site, you need to understand what they're looking for and respond with the right offer before they move on to the next site. An account holder who recently researched mortgage offers on a bank's website is a prime target for relevant messages delivered on the screen of an ATM, such as directions to the nearest location for a personal chat or the opportunity to get a personalized email with appropriate offers based on the customer's current accounts. From a technology perspective, you need to be able to capture data in real time about customer interactions through any channel. On the business side, you need to understand how to blend that real-time data with existing profile and product information to identify the right offer for that moment.
4. Enable collaboration.
Businesses typically communicate with customers through a variety of different departments, including sales, customer service and support, as well as marketing groups for email, social, digital advertising and more. This siloed landscape too often results in a fragmented customer experience. It's essential to take a customer-centric approach to communications through any channel, for any purpose. If a customer receives a promotion for a new service, every inbound touch point should be prepared to take the order—even if they're using a different channel than the one specified in the offer. A customer who posts a question or complaint on social media should be given a specific email address to follow up with someone who's already up to speed, not an all-purpose mailbox where they'll have to start over from the beginning. Silos will always exist, but from the customer's perspective, the experience must be seamless.
Collaboration isn't just an internal matter. You can also think about customer engagement in terms of working together to achieve positive outcomes. Customers provide you with their personal information, both explicitly and through their behaviors; you respond with relevant brand experiences and offers; and you each gain something of real value. That's a long way from the impersonal one-off transactions of the past—and it's the way forward for every brand today.
In our next post, we'll talk about using the right technology to ensure you are engaging people the best way in real time.
About the Author
Arjen van der Broek is the global product management leader for IBM Marketing Software Solutions (formerly known as
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IBM helps you create unbreakable bonds with your customers. Through a powerful set of tools and solutions for marketing, e-commerce and customer analytics, you can understand your customers, identify the moments that matter most and respond immediately with experiences that surprise and delight. Become a customer-oriented business, unleash the power of cognitive commerce and tap into an endless universe of information and possibilities, including how real-time personalization solutions help you turn individual customer interactions into relevant, contextual, optimized engagement. Learn more at ibm.com/real-time-personalization.