It’s your birthday. Your child is graduating high school. Today was your first day at work. All of the above are just a few examples of momentous life events many of us experience, might like others to recognize, and could potentially trigger new purchase decisions.
In the quest to deliver more personalized experiences and promotions to customers and prospects, tech companies are positioning businesses to identify and speak to people related to such important life events.
IBM (News - Alert) is among the companies leading the charge, as reported by TMCnet contributor Michelle Amodio in a recent article. Big blue’s new consulting practice, IBM Interactive Experience, is providing businesses with tools that can allow them, for example, to pick up on such simple queues as a Facebook (News - Alert) profile status change to recognize life events around which they can build personalized communications with the consumer.
“Our clients understand that the experience any individual has with their brands, products, services or strategy is the new point of entry to sustainable business relationships," said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services. "That experience will generate the most valuable information any enterprise can ever possess – information on individual preferences. So as our clients' front-office agendas drive the next era of business transformation, we're going to see traditional distinctions between strategy, analytic applications, and the design of the individual experience, disappear.”
New this year from IBM to enable this kind of thing are Life Event Detection, which analyzes unstructured social media data to detect important events in customers’ lives and then make correlations to a range of financial decisions; Behavioral Pricing, which uses historical transaction data to help retailers design personalized pricing strategies to particular consumers; and Psycholinguistic Analytics, which combines the psychology of language with social media data to understand individuals’ personalities and identify their preferences for how they receive and consume information and offers.
Another company that is helping companies better connect with customers related to their life events is Hallmark Business Connections, the B2B division of the greeting card company that is focused on customer and employee engagement.
Rhonda Basler, director of customer engagement at Hallmark Business Connections, tells CUSTOMER magazine the division she works for helps create “human moments” between companies and their customers. It does that by enabling organizations to connect to individuals by sending them prepackaged, but personalized, e-card greetings. Not only has Hallmark created mini apps to enable organizations, like one of the world’s largest banks, send those e-cards, but it also provides a system through which organizations can set budgets and approvals for such greetings, which Hallmark typically charges for per send.
The most common greetings users of this service send are general thank you e-cards or apologies. But e-cards can also be built around birthdays, thanking veterans for their service, or congratulations or other messaging related to major life events.
The payoff for businesses is an increase (10 percent) in customer retention and higher job satisfaction (an increase of 18 percent) by customer-facing employees to which these customer e-cards are available, according to Hallmark surveys. That’s because customers feel more cared for and employees feel more in control, Basler says. She adds that one employee of a bank that uses the Hallmark solution got a call from a person who lost his ATM card in a house fire, so that worker sent the caller a note and a $50 gift card, which created good feeling on both ends.
Of course, most interactions employing the e-cards are personalized but much less personal in nature. Still, companies like Hallmark and IBM are starting to move the needle on efforts by companies that actually take into consideration what’s happen with an individual customer in their communications.
To further the effort to make communications seem more personalized, Hallmark is also introducing a digital handwriting solution that businesses can leverage to make messages look as if they are hand written. Of course, there are plenty of fonts that have that appear, but Basler explains that the proprietary Hallmark Digital Handwriting solution introduces imperfections to make it look like it came from the hand of a human.
Making the Online Experience More Personal And Marrying the Back Office Systems of Online and Real-World Environments
Most people are so plugged in these days that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to draw clean lines between their online and in-store experiences, so businesses are making their online portals like real-life shops, and connecting the back end systems of both environments for a more consistent capabilities between the two.
Vee24, for example, allows brands to deliver live personalized service to their customers over the web with video, voice, text, and co-browsing.
“The idea is to allow brands to make their online shopping experience much more in line with their in-store experience and to give online only retailers the opportunity to offer that high touch experience through the web,” said Jim Keller, CEO. “Many of these retailers have built their brand and customer loyalty on the great one-to-one retail practices they have developed over generations. Until recently, these companies have not been able to offer the same type of experience on their web sites as they offer in store.”
Vee24, which began in Europe and recently moved headquarters to Boston, works with more than 60 brands, including Audi, Fox Sports (Europe), Land Rover, Lexus, Sky TV, and Vodafone (News - Alert). Land Rover, for example, allows car shoppers to configure cars with the real-time assistance of a personal Land Rover agent.
This kind of real-world type of online experience is a match from anything to a high end vehicle to a pair of loafers, according to the company.
“We are now working with three top footwear retailers,” said Keller. “In that category, we are delivering four to five time increases in conversion with assisted sessions, more than 30 percent lift in average order value, and record customer satisfaction scores. These increase are above and beyond traditional self-help and live assistance tools.”
Retailers can build their businesses even further as they begin to leverage big data and CRM across both their online and in-store environments, Keller added.
“We can now use big data and CRM to drive the strategy for personalized high-touch engagement, a level of customer experience that has historically been limited to in-store,” he said. “Now, for example, with analytics tools like behavioral and audience targeting, we can offer the right experience to the right customer and leverage their historical buying behavior to offer them a truly personalized service wrapped in a rich multimedia experience.”
Neil Hamilton, director of personalization sales at SmartFocus, agrees. He said leading U.K. butcher Donald Russell is a pioneer in delivering very personalized online experiences that mimic the real-world buying experience. It does so by remembering shoppers’ preferences in terms of taste and pricing.
For those businesses with both online portals and bricks-and-mortar locations, Hamilton added, marrying the back office systems of the two can allow for more consistent services and the opportunity to leverage more available data to deliver a more personalized experience to customers wherever and however they interface with the company – or vice versa.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi