Creating Seamless Experiences for Customers: The Overlooked Facet of Individualization

May 25, 2017

Commerce professionals have noticed that “omnichannel commerce” was simply a building block for the next customer driven desire: unified commerce for better customer experiences. The industry has been talking about this all year, and commerce professionals are looking for ways to deliver on better customer experiences.

Many things contribute to this concept of unified commerce for better customer experiences, and today we will discuss a frequently overlooked facet: Individualization. For the purposes of this article, “individualization” is not “personalization” as personalization simply cannot provide the technology needed for a holistic view of the customer. More on that here.

History has shaped us, now press on to the future

First generation personalization was a great start on the personalization path, but the current demand is for something greater. One of the key limitations of first generation personalization systems is that they were built for a single channel like website or email. Depending on which channel the system was designed for, they have a bias for how they collect and store data. For example, website oriented systems will collect and store data in cookies in the customer’s browser, and email systems will build a database that is keyed off of the customer’s email address. The two aren’t exactly connected.

This was a great starting point, but now it has become imperative that we are able to provide personalization across all devices and touchpoints. The evolution of the personalization solution can be compared with the natural evolution of the customer, from one touchpoint to multiple touchpoints; from silos to omnichannel to unified commerce.
You can’t have an individual experience if you don’t know how to interact with the individual consumer across devices and touchpoints

Personalization (or as we like to call it: individualization) allows the brand or retailer to see consumer behavior across all different touchpoints. Compare this to a siloed experience: seeing only website or only in-store or only mobile or only call center behavior. If you can only see a fraction of what the consumer is doing, you are missing out on major opportunities to provide them with a better customer experience and your company with more sales.

Customers are feeling the division made by the silos, and are taking their phones into their own hands in an effort to connect channels: some 77% of U.S. shoppers have used their smartphone in store to help them shop. With consumers already using their mobile devices in store, it begs the question: Does your technology allow you to see that the consumer is in your store using their smartphone?  Individualization sheds light on what people are doing holistically.

What data do you have, and what do you do with it? 

There are many systems and programs to gather customer data across touchpoints, and what you do with it makes all the difference. Let’s break this down into two goals.

Goal number one: Capture as much information as possible to understand customer behavior across touchpoints in one repository.

The company sees many benefits from understanding customer behavior, but what does it do for the individual customer?  Enter goal number two.

Goal number two: Communicate with the customer across touchpoints. Don’t just take data, but now it’s time to push it back out, and actually provide individual experiences.

Data comes from everywhere, and the data that is currently the most limited is store data. Right now store data is mostly purchase data. However, we see it’s evolving rapidly (enter beacons) which will provide more store data once they are more widely used. The great news with machine learning individualization systems is the more data you can gather, the better. Great systems can easily scale to take on more data.

Consider this customer expectation from Kibo’s Consumer Trends Report — 2017 Edition: 74% of consumers expect store associates to access their customer history data when they visit a store after purchasing online. This expectation simply connects two touchpoints: online and in-store. Let’s take it further as you consider the following example:

Imagine an in-store experience where the customer gives their email address to a tablet-enabled store associate and together they look up purchase and browsing history. The associate recommends a few products based on that history. The customer informs the associate they are not interested in that product. The associate enters this preference into the tablet.
If they were simply taking a local note, the only other person who would know about this preference would be the next associate using the tablet. And imagine the frustration of the customer if they keep seeing that same product recommended to them over and over again while shopping on desktop and mobile, despite having already made their preference clear.

True individualization will give the store associate the opportunity to input the consumer preference into the software, and that data will then be pushed out across all touchpoints. Suddenly, the consumer feels like they are known to the company, and that their preferences are actually taken into consideration while shopping with that company.

Not every company has a store associate for every customer who walks in the store, but that’s okay because customers can also receive this kind of individualization via a mobile app. Strongly consider how a mobile app will benefit your customers, and if you already have one, determine if it functions as you need it to.

Seamless customer experiences

Individualization leads directly to better in-store experiences. It’s not hard to imagine how it will also lead to a better call center experience, mobile experience, or desktop experience. These are the seamless experiences customers are looking for.

A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and this is a great way to look at unified customer experiences. Does your omnichannel strategy have a weak point? The technology industry uses the word “smart” to imply connected devices or products, so take inventory and enable all  touchpoints to be smart touchpoints. Companies who want great customer experiences have smart channels. These channels capture data and then push it back out.

Remember back to that in-store example. The system the associate was using is a learning system, which collects all the information available and puts it back into the system. In our example the customer wasn’t interested in the product, but the opposite could very well be true. The customer may have been shown a recommended product, the associate had the benefits and features right there on the tablet, and the customer decided to make the purchase. The associate can then add all of that information and that experience into the system to better inform future communication with this customer. They are able to close the feedback loop, and the learning system becomes smarter.
It today’s market, the search for seamless customer experiences must include individualization. Smart channels bring connection between companies and consumers, which in turn leads to great customer experiences.