As technology provides ever more ways to interact with customers, marketers must ensure their customers still feel like kings. Are they getting calls they want, or being barraged with nuisance calls? Are they benefitting from a sound Web presence, or deleting spam? Are they engaging in social networks, or online arguments? The principals that Seth Godin outlined more than a decade ago in his book Permission Marketing still hold true today.
The concern is that businesses are allowing technologies, such as the mass personalization of emails or automated outbound calling, to depersonalize the customer relationship. When personalization is lost, it becomes much easier to treat customers as an amorphous mass, communicating with impersonal tools such as mass untargeted mailings and blanket cold calls, or worse still, bombarding them with offers when they've opted out. This is precisely what the use of technology in marketing was meant to avoid. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., have argued passionately for years for the one-to-one relationship between vendor and customer.
The fact is, consumers respond much better to personalization. Recent research from Gartner, for example, found that customers of online banking sites valued personalization and communication above all else, and were prepared to readily switch banks to obtain them. Businesses need to ensure swift, personal communication with their customers.
The easiest method of doing so is to ensure human contact as soon as possible. However, this simply isn't practical in most cases. Having enough call center staff to answer every potential customer query immediately is impossible; while a visitor to a website doesn't expect human contact, he does seek quick, relevant answers to his queries. What is vital is that, whether on the phone or online, customers get where they need to be quickly and are rewarded with relevant information. Enabling this journey is mostly a matter of smart design, but how can businesses ensure that their design is foolproof?
Any electronic transaction generates data, whether it's from the clicking of a mouse or the pressing of a phone button. Organizations can gather and monitor this data to study every action customers take when communicating with them. At its simplest, this allows companies to see where in a phone system or on a website its customers give up in frustration, or where they easily navigate. With this information, marketers can make sure that phone systems and websites are designed to take customers exactly where they need to go. Yet beyond this simple use, customer data provides insights that can be used for a near-infinite degree of personalization.
Factors such as location, age, and general interests can all be ascertained through a customer's repeated use of a phone system or website and used to further personalize their journey. To continue the banking example, a bank website can't realistically offer all of its services on one screen. However, providing a personalized landing page with links to savings plans, starter pension advice, and maybe even first-time buyer mortgages will be welcome to visitors in their late twenties. Conversely, customers from a more mature demographic may be more interested in managing their own funds. Providing appropriate links based on supplied user data makes the customer's journey much easier. This kind of approach works when you remember that the customer is willing to receive marketing messaging only as long as he or she perceives value from it.
It's important to resist taking personalization too far. Not only is this labor-intensive, it can also repel customers. In recent consumer research, Kognitio found that only 28 percent of respondents trusted marketing departments to use the information they gathered ethically. If customers believe that companies have too much data about them, they may go elsewhere unless those companies tangibly demonstrate that they are using that data responsibly. (Note to marketers: instead of the legally required yearly disclosure, filled with mumbo-jumbo, about how personally identifiable information [PII] is being used, why not say it simply and in terms your customers are likely to read, understand, and appreciate? If nothing else, they'll value the honestyand that can go a long way.)
The information age has given marketers the ability to personalize their dealings with customers as never before. Marketers must use this capability intelligently and responsibly -- and for the single purpose of keeping the customer at the center of the universe.
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About the Author: John K. Thompson is CEO of North American operations for Kognitio