The Personalization Conundrum

Engaging with customers as people and not users is critical to systematically creating exceptional experiences.
Customer Experience

Providing personalized experiences has become a key differentiator in a saturated marketplace where competing on product feature or price is no longer enough. And every business owner wants to provide the right experience that turns consumers into returning customers but data silos and organizational challenges make that difficult.

Companies can overcome these challenges by centering business decisions on the customer, arguesManish Grover, a consultant and marketer who has consulted with global organizations such as American Express, Citi, Unilever, and AIG among others. Grover lays out a strategy for connecting with customers in his new book, Dancing the Digital Tune: The 5 Principles of Competing in a Digital World.1to1 Media caught up with Grover to discuss cross-channel strategies, the role of the CMO and CIO, and the value of customer experiences.

1to1 Media: What challenges are you trying to solve in your book?
Manish Grover: I've helped develop many marketing initiatives and seen companies struggle to connect with their customers. There's also a lot of competition to stay ahead and attract loyal customers. All of that intrigued me as I researched my book, which I organized into five principles [external reinforcement, customer interaction, uncommoditization, presenting, and completion] that marketers and salespeople should keep in mind as they're thinking of the digital business.

How should readers decide which principle to start with?
MG: The first thing you need to do is map out the customer journey. Who are my customers? What do they do when they interact with my products and what do they do before that? Then you start figuring out what motivates your customers. That will make it clearer which principle to start with. For example, if your company handles a lot of transactional relationships like banks and hospitality businesses, you may want to start with the principle of customer interaction. But if you are struggling to differentiate your products or services, the principle of presenting comes into play.

In your book, you wrote that "the definition of channel is evolving to mean a set of interacting businesses working together to meet the customers' needs." Can you give me an example of that?
For example, you might be an active gym-goer and the fitness center forms a partnership with a grocery store to keep your profile data updated. When you go to the grocery, the grocery can send you coupons for supplements based on your profile data. Another example is a bank that has 10 different products, but ultimately they're all reaching the customer in an isolated fashion. It would be more effective if the channels interacted with each other. Customers already think of businesses in this connected way, and companies need to catch up.

How do you see the relationship between the CMO and CIO evolving?
MG: Everyone says that the CMO's power is increasing, but CIOs have always worked closely with business stakeholders. They make sure they can bring all the complementary solutions together to make a business decision come true.

What's changing is the ability of someone on the business side to implement tech solutions without the CIO. For example, when marketers wanted reports, previously they would have asked the CIO, but now there are technologies that let marketers create reports themselves. But the CIO's job is to keep the technology aligned with the strategy, and if 10 business guys are putting in solutions all over the place, the overall enterprise architecture gets lost. That's when you end up with data being locked into silos. You need someone to oversee the integration of these technologies and the decision of which applications to launch should fall to the CIO.

In your book, you're urging companies to engage with customers as people and not users. What are some best practice tips to do that?
MG: When we think of customers as users, we traditionally segment them into broad categories or personas. Retailers for example send coupons based on past purchases or browsing behavior. Also, the basic definition of a user means you're leaving a lot of value on the table by only thinking of the person as a direct user of your products or services. But if you thought of that shopper as a person, you would start exploring that person's interests and connections. This could help companies uncover products that they wouldn't have necessarily associated with the customer's profile, but actually fit that person's needs.

What's the best customer experience that you've had recently?
MG: I heard about this from friends: The Four Seasons is starting to work closely with local businesses so that when you book a room, for example, the hotel will automatically give you local recommendations and offers for nearby restaurants and sights to help you plan your trip. In other words, Four Seasons is thinking about their guests as people and what their needs are beyond the room. That's a smart way to approach the customer experience-by thinking of the entire customer journey.