Up Close and Personal: Technology's Undeniable Impact on Individualization

For those companies looking to improve personalization, success depends upon both technology and technique, as these critical tools must support and sustain the human element behind the traditional, long-term customer relationship.
Customer Experience

For the modern consumer, personalization isn't ideal-it's essential. Yet, while the technology driving the customer experience continues to evolve, the underlying relationship remains the same, for companies must constantly work to maintain customer trust and loyalty.

One recent Janrain study confirms that online consumers (74 percent) get frustrated with websites when content (offers, ads, and promotions) don't reflect their given interests, while MyBuys claims that 40 percent of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels. However, integrating the technology necessary to meet this demand continues to baffle many brands.

While most brands aspire to marry the multichannel data points necessary to cultivate the ideal single customer view, easier access to advanced technologies now allows companies at all levels to work toward these personalization goals. However, most approach this imperative by searching for technologies that will revolutionize their operations. Instead, companies must shift their mindset to pursue technologies that will facilitate such initiatives by empowering employees, as no single solution will be able to replace the human connection necessary to individualize the customer experience.

Susan Connors, executive vice president of consumer solutions at Quaero, notes that, above all else, companies must implement an effective data management platform that's capable of handling the overwhelming volume of digital data flowing into their organizations, as offline and online data must be organized and curated to enable smarter decisions. But, as most companies already understand, there's no single software solution on the market that will truly solve all their problems. Instead, internal teams must collaborate and, at their discretion, choose various solutions that they can knit together to ensure each channel has the ability to talk with one another.

Tearing down internal silos will ultimately allow companies to cultivate a more complete view of their consumers, enabling employees to connect with consumers in a tailored, targeted fashion. "In the age of all things digital, with the customer in control of brand interactions, a data platform is a necessity for increasing satisfaction, loyalty, and retention," Connors says. "It is important to utilize tools that recognize customers and speak to them appropriately. Enterprise personalization, done well, will be the key differentiator for brands." Each brand, of course, will require differing systems, but all must aim for this similar level of maturity.

But, while proper technology solutions must be in place if brands are to successfully execute their analytical goals, how companies employ these systems makes all the difference when it comes to personalization. Ultimately, it's all about the human connection and using these tools to augment relationships, not hinder their development, as even the best, most complex personal technologies won't increase loyalty if companies don't ask, understand, and respect customer preferences.

Graeme Grant, president and COO of CQuotient, stresses that personalization always has and always will focus on the end consumer, but the necessary techniques and technologies also lead to internal benefits, as data that drives value will greatly support the desire to strengthen trust and increase loyalty. However, brands must not treat personalization as something to pursue alongside their regular marketing efforts. Personalization must be an integral element of the company's everyday operations as they work to meet goals aligned with consistent, coordinated, and relevant messaging across all touchpoints. Though it may appear easier to establish separate paths at the start, it will only make it harder to blend down the road. Thus, companies must be sure the technology implemented facilitates integration at inception.

David Robb, CEO of Shoppost, notes that, through personalized interactions, brands are able to learn more about their customers and how they interact with the company's key communications efforts. Smart companies listen to what consumers are both saying and doing so they may educate themselves in order to engage their target audience effectively.

By demonstrating an affinity for delivering value, brands will also receive much more in return, as consumers will be more likely to trade personal information for an enhanced experience. "With personalization, brands need to remember that, despite the fact that they're leveraging technology, at the end of the day what they're looking to create is a human-to-human engagement," Robb emphasizes. "You're not relying on algorithms or automations systems to execute." This newfound dialogue will only help to perpetuate and strengthen the long-term customer relationship, as each party will fuel the other's goals and expectations.

Future technologies, such as the Internet of Things, will also impact the customer relationship, as these individuals will not only begin to develop personalized relationships with the given brand, but that given brand's products, as well. Justin Foster, co-founder and vice president of market development at Liveclicker, notes that wearables and responsive technologies represent the next big opportunity for personalization. For instance, one day, our refrigerators may be able to suggest when to buy milk based upon the current bottle's expiration date. Thus, companies will have to implement technologies that secure customer trust in brand communications, while also supplying end-user technologies that extend this trust and loyalty to the consumers' everyday activities.

Sephora and SmartFurniture.com Explore the Personalized Web Experience

When diving into personalization, companies must embrace the technologies and channels that will truly engage their target audiences. For many of today's leading brands, that means tapping into digital media to connect with teens and twenty-somethings-the consumers of the future. According to one recent SDL study, the average millennial shares six pieces of content via social media each day. Thus, Sephora chose to blend social, mobile, and "selfies" in an effort to boost customer interactions and increase product sales throughout its younger consumer base.

Much like Pinterest, Sephora's new Beauty Board allows customers to upload images via desktop or mobile and share style tips with the rest of the online community. However, there's one unique twist-users are encouraged to post photos of themselves demonstrating their favorite makeup looks and then tag the Sephora products they're wearing so others may quickly and easily purchase the given items if they so desire. Users may also provide feedback, make suggestions, and ask questions, generating dialogue among shoppers who have the power to influence one another. Sephora understood that, not only does its customer base enjoy sharing beauty tips via social, but many also look to said platforms for real-life applications of these often expensive products so they may, in essence, see what they're getting before they buy. By putting the "person" back in personalization, Sephora now has the chance to turn this collaborative environment into an opportunity for improved satisfaction, loyalty, trust, and ROI.

Similarly, SmartFurniture.com decided to boost its Web presence by implementing online showrooming technology that enables consumers to view complementary furniture pieces side-by-side. The interior design, home d?r, and furniture retailer's digital marketers sought to develop a better understanding of those people visiting their website in order to create an optimized content strategy that enables the brand to appeal to the masses, while reaching high-value customer segments with more targeted, personalized experiences simultaneously. By leveraging Adobe Analytics, SmartFurniture.com was soon able to establish which content and design elements drove the greatest engagement and conversions.

With the desire to convert potential customers into loyal customers, SmartFurniture.com then used this more complete view of the customer to hone its "prescriptive personalization" strategy. Marketers can now blend behavioral and historical data to inform the recommendation engine's algorithm in real time in order to power relevant, complementary buying options. Customers can virtually visualize items in their given living space, while this dynamic, personalized media also displays multiple pieces of custom furniture within the context of the consumers' search. Not only has SmartFurniture.com seen a 35 percent drop in bounce rate and a 47 percent lift in conversion, this technology also contributes to the company's competitive advantage, as these personalized experiences enable consumers to digitally interact with products, increasingly their likelihood to buy.

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