Personalized Service 2.0: Businesses Try to Bring the Customer Experience Full Circle

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Personalized Service 2.0: Businesses Try to Bring the Customer Experience Full Circle

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 14, 2013

This article originally appeared in the DEC. 2012 issue of CUSTOMER Magazine.

Delivering a personalized experience is a widely circulated concept these days. Everybody is talking about how businesses can and should leverage big data and otherwise cater to customers and prospects to build brand loyalty and expand average revenue per user. But while conventional wisdom indicates that organizations that provide such experiences stand to benefit handsomely, it can be difficult to figure out just exactly how to go about all this.

“The reality is for most CMOs, they are so behind on this it’s not even funny,” said Dave Laverty, vice president of worldwide marketing-information management of IBM (News - Alert) during his speech at the AdExchanger conference.

It would seem that providing customers with personal service wouldn’t be all that difficult. When you think about it, isn’t that how businesses have operated for most of history?

Mothers-to-be who visited the baby section of Marshall Field’s department store in 1950s Chicago were led to a comfortable chair and sales assistants brought the products to them.  

And if you walked into a local butcher shop in a small town back in 1955, notes (News - Alert)  in the white paper “Meet Customers Where They Are”, “the butcher knew your name, what cut of meat you liked, and what you bought the last few times you were there.” And because the butcher had a feel for your preference, he could recommend you try pork belly or answer a question about how to season a rib eye. “The shopping experience was personal,” says, “more of a congenial conversation than a transaction.”

Of course, as big business moved in, personalization and proximity largely went out the window, replaced by impersonal call centers and sales assistants who often lack familiarity with the product or, apparently in some cases, much interest in the customers’ needs.

The good news is that we appear to be going full circle, in a sense, as businesses’ interest in delivering a personalized customer experience has been reignited. And while it’s still early days for leveraging big data and the always-on experience to provide better service, the interest is now there and we’re starting to see some companies making strides on this front.

One is Trident Marketing (News - Alert). The direct marketing and sales outfit, which makes 4,000 calls a year for companies like DIRECTV, is parsing 30 data information points on people, said IBM’s Laverty. That includes whether those individuals are cell phone users, whether they rent or by, and whether they live in a seasonal area (which is important to DIRECTV for churn rate reasons). Trident leverages that information to do such things as route callers identified as high churn candidates to the best call center agent. The company has brought down churn from 4-5 percent to 1 percent by doing that, he said.  

Speaking of churn, Laverty said that social media tools and big data analytics also can be used to identify detractors of your brand, find habits of those detractors, and then offer those individuals special perks the next time they use your service. That can quash detractors’ negative attitudes about your brand and potentially turn them into fans, he said.

Personalization can even be applied to digital billboards, added Laverty, who spoke about IBM’s work with the City of Stockholm to figure out how most effectively move citizens – by foot, transportation, etc. They did this by looking at cell towers and combining location data and some simple subscriber information from a cellular company to target digital signage to users passing by.

The credit card companies also seem to be especially successful at catering to individual needs while at the same time preventing fraud.

During his speech at the AdExchanger conference, John Mellor, vice president of strategy and business development-digital marketing at Adobe (News - Alert) Systems, conveyed a personal experience he recently had while on holiday with wife in Italy. He was trying to buy sunglasses with his American Express card, which shopkeeper said wasn’t working. Just then he got an automated call from Amex on his cell phone asking if he just tried to make purchase from Italy. He said confirmed that he was, and a moment later the shopkeeper again ran the card, and the transaction was completed. The thought that all of these back office systems involved in making that happen could respond in an instant to allow him to make the purchase, he said, was pretty amazing.

That is the kind of fast and loyalty-producing results that can happen when the correct systems and procedures are in place to leverage data.

Mellor said it’s really about matching people’s digital selves with the company’s own brands. Whenever the customer takes some action, the brand has an opportunity to deliver an experience, he added. Saying that advertisers have, in effect, become digital matchmakers, Mellor offered another example of how big data can be leveraged to deliver a more personalized experience. This one involves a customer who recently bought a phone from a telco and looked online for family plans. The telco could assume from that search the customer is a good candidate for a Mother’s Day offer, so could deliver that offer related to that holiday.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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