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Personalised customer experiences: why they are more important than ever before

Written by Paige O’Neill, Sitecore CMO

Digital transformation has been on the business priority list for a number of years, but the current pandemic has pushed it towards the top of the agenda.  While keeping the lights on is the top priority, many businesses, and entire industries, have had to transform to a digital-only model in just a few weeks. 

A recent study from McKinsey found that customer activity has changed dramatically as the move to digital-only commerce has unfolded, with Italy seeing an 81% rise in e-commerce sales of consumer products in just a week. It’s likely that many will keep a digital-first mindset long after the pandemic passes too, with China seeing a 55% increase in the number of people saying they will permanently shift to online shopping, for example. Providing quality online experiences and supporting customer needs is currently critical to building brand loyalty and will continue to be in years to come.

One area of customer experience that brands should capitalise on through their revisited online offering is personalisation. Pre-pandemic, personalisation made e-commerce experiences easier, quicker and more convenient for shoppers, as well as creating a human connection with a brand. However, it is an essential component now, more than ever, as customers who would have not previously chosen a digital experience, now have no other choice. For example, some customers still prefer to walk into a bank to do their banking transactions face-to-face. With that option not currently available in many places, people are having to turn to online banking – some for the first time. How can a financial institution communicate with a new digital user and a seasoned user of online banking at the same time? Personalisation is the key.

Unfortunately, many marketers face challenges when digitally transforming, and new technologies are not always implemented successfully. For example, research from SoDA,  shows that while the majority (85%) of senior marketers see personalisation as a major competitive advantage, less than a quarter (23%) are able to personalise beyond a basic level, and most are uncertain about how to use the available data and technology to become more sophisticated.

There are a number of steps which marketers can take to ramp up personalisation efforts and keep pace with the advancing technology available to them, five of which are outlined below.

Get one customer segment right first, then scale. Kick off your personalisation initiative with a single, well-defined customer segment. Continually test and refine your approach and then, once you know what works and what doesn’t, scale up. Starting small won’t hold you back. Even simple personalisation such as a free gift or discount on the day of a customer’s birthday can lead to strong conversions, and those successes will quickly build upon themselves, while demonstrating value to the company.

Get to know the customer journey. The process of making personalisation a reality starts with understanding the customer journey. Sitecore’s own customer journey map turned out to be quite extensive and illuminating—so much so that we ended up referring to it reverentially as our “tapestry.” It showed all the ways that customers were trying to interact with us on our website, the questions they were asking at each stage, and where they were (or weren’t) successful at finding answers.

One important note: Keep an open mind and abandon preconceived notions while mapping the customer journey. Marketers often feel that they don’t need to map the customer journey because they already “know” who their customers are; however, assumptions about personas can be problematic. Instead, stay open to the idea that the customer journey mapping may reveal new insights about your customers you haven’t considered before. When our customer journey map came back, I was surprised to learn that, in some cases, the personas were quite different than what we thought they were going to be. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to go through the strategy and mapping process.

Give customers the content they need, when they need it. Think about the customer journey from the audience’s perspective and look for ways to bring it to life, so the customer can get what they need, perhaps even in a new and engaging way. At Sitecore, one of the main goals of our personalisation initiative was to be able to deliver relevant content to anyone visiting our company website anytime. As a result, the content a customer sees is now based on their geolocation, history, and whether they are a returning customer or someone that’s visiting the website for the first time.

Visitors to our website can also use the ‘personalisation view’ toggle to see for themselves how a personalised platform looks. This has helped them visualise which elements have been personalised for them and become more aware of how and why their journey and the content they are shown on the site is unique.

Data is your friend – collect it, measure it and learn from it. When personalisation is done right, marketers create conversations with customers and then, through those interactions, learn how to continue to advance the dialogue and scale up their programs. As you interact with customers and prospects, continue to collect, aggregate, and measure all the data you can. With every piece of data collected, you gain an opportunity to create an even more compelling digital experience, making it a key component of your personalisation efforts.

Tell your brand story in an authentic way. Marketerslove talking about the brands they represent. But as part of your personalisation initiative, you need to carefully consider how you are talking to the market. One of the keys to personalising is being able to communicate your purpose in a simple, straightforward and transparent way, without using jargon. Simply put, you need to be authenticbut that doesn’t mean you can’t be bold. Figure out how to showcase your strengths in a way that differentiates you from the competition.

Looking forward, we cannot be certain how the current pandemic will continue to change the way brands operate and engage with customers. But as e-commerce continues to evolve and more brands become digital-first, personalisation will remain an important way to meet customer demands in our “new normal” and provide the level of customer experience that consumers will expect.

What’s more, as tools like AI continue to advance, they will help marketers tap into sophisticated predictive analytics so that we can anticipate customer needs faster and more accurately. For now, though, following these five steps will help you get your company on its way towards a successful digital transformation.