I am not much of a “mall shopper.” In fact, I no longer seem to know how to navigate through my local mall to find exactly what I am looking for. However, I do enjoy shopping. Thanks to the Internet I can shop from the comfort of my couch, navigating from store to store with only a click.
Online and mobile shopping has changed how consumers interact with traditional retailers. This requires a shift in company culture in order to remain customer-centric and to foster a more unified customer experience. Sales associates are now working with many customers who have already researched and fully vetted their products of interest. Associates have to read the store’s clientele to determine if a customer is in need of support and advice or if they simply need to deliver the product.
A retailer’s online presence needs to consistently facilitate the role that in-store salespeople used to primarily serve — provide product information based on customers’ needs, allow comparison shopping, and offer alternatives and complementary products based on customers’ individual preferences.
In addition to the customer experience culture shift, marketing strategies have been forced to change in order to remain competitive. Instead of marketing a product to the masses with a mass communication, companies now must target their messaging to specific customer segments, or even to individual customers. It’s not one-to-all anymore; we are moving closer to a time where one-to-one communications are a requirement. It is now about relationship marketing.
Many retail sites can ‘watch’ a customer’s online behavior and then market to him based upon that knowledge. What was on his wish list or in his shopping cart? How can past buying habits predict future behavior? Online shopping behaviors can reveal much about your customers that can in turn allow you to develop a more streamlined experience for them and a more fruitful transaction for you.
However, relying on data collected from online behavior alone can actually lead to poor targeting, resulting in customers opting out of communications. I will give you a personal example. I enjoy shopping with an online retail giant primarily for housewares, electronics and books for myself (and therefore, in my taste). However I also frequent this online retailer to purchase gifts of other types and tastes for friends and family. This retailer relies heavily on online behavioral data, so I receive a lot of communications that are irrelevant to me because I have made many purchases that are intended for someone else. This led me to opt out of their “recommendations” which could have been avoided.
In order to market accurately your relationship must be authentic. In addition to tracking behaviors, a preference center that allows consumers to create that realone-to-one experience is critical to elevate your brand above the rest. Asking your customers what they are interested in hearing about and how they want to hear about it is key. Acting upon that information from each customer consistently is a must.
About the Author:
Sandy Tafur is the Manager, Account Management at PossibleNOW.
Below is an excerpt from a post on permission-based marketing written by Ivan Dimitrijevic, a blogger and SEO consultant.
Permission-based email marketing stands for a form of marketing where it is necessary that a potential client gives either explicit or implicit permission for the seller to send their promotional message (for example online catalogues, brochures, and similar promotional material). It is very important to be aware of a potential client's profile, preferences, habits, and needs when trying to advertise a certain product. Permission-based marketing means sending marketing communications only to recipients who have previously given their permission to receive them, so that there is a good chance they are really interested in what you have to show them. For permission-based marketing there are two kinds of permission:
Explicit permission is the permission that you obtain when a person opts-in or specifically requests to be given information from you. For example, they sign up for your bulletin or they make contact via your website.
Implicit permission is the permission you obtain from a client when you contact them.
My work with preference centers has made me acutely aware of businesses who manage my preferences well and those who don’t.
During a recent trip to Dallas, I received an email from the airline inviting me to check-in for my return flight…return being the operative word. I flew this same airline from Atlanta to Dallas just two days earlier. At that time, I checked-in via my mobile device. Although I appreciated the reminder email, clicking the link to begin the check-in process began a ridiculous journey through a very poorly managed preference center.
Even though the airline had issued me a ticket, which required inputting my name, address, email, mobile number and date of birth and then re-entering some of this same information a second time when checking-in for the first leg of my flight, it appeared they had no idea who I was. Now remember, I was responding to an email from them, requesting I check-in. This request was obviously not random, yet that’s exactly how it felt.
To check in I was required to enter my confirmation number. Since it wasn’t contained in the reminder email, I had to go back through my inbox to find the original number assigned to me at the time of purchase. After entering the number and the airport I was departing from, a message popped up in red saying they “had no record of this passenger.” Hello? You approached me, remember? After clicking a few more links, difficult on a mobile device, I eventually came to a screen where entering my name in combination with the confirmation number brought up my information. Whew! Now all I needed was to tell them how to deliver my boarding pass. I chose mobile.Tada! Not so fast…
You need my mobile number? But, you sent my previous boarding pass through this channel AND you have all of my contact information because you required me to submit it when the ticket was purchased.
Unfortunately, too many companies have not updated their sites to keep up with the way customers want to interact. Customers don’t want to enter a password or other personal information multiple times as a transaction progresses. We want our information to be captured and secure, but we don’t want to break into Fort Knox to get it.
Customization is key:
The sites that are most user friendly allow the user to dictate his or her own experience. They give you the option to choose your login method, be it by a distinct user name, an email address or maybe an account number.
Then take it a step further. If you’re an online retailer, let me save an address book in my profile to make it easier when purchasing items for friends and family. I’m more likely to make repeat purchases if you’ve made it easier for me than another site.
But not too custom:
We all get it; there are people out there with malicious intent who may try to steal our personal data. Therefore, it’s important to keep our data secure and protected by a unique password. But there is also a pain threshold for consumers that companies can breach by making it too complicated.
Successful companies stay that way because they keep their products and services up to date and are able to adapt to changing customer demands. The same holds true with preference centers. They should be flexible enough to keep pace with changing technology and changes in how customers want to interact.
About the Author:
Darci Bullard is the Project Coordinator for PossibleNOW's Preference Management Consulting group.
Below is an excerpt from an article written by Catriona Wallace outlining the necessary steps to a multi-channel customer experience.
The introduction of a multi-channel strategy may initially appear dauntingly complex as it potentially incorporates seven categories of channel: face-to-face, call centre, online, social media, mobile apps, correspondence and video. But it is something that almost every consumer services organisation will need to address in the next 12 months. The consumer’s desire to interact with suppliers across a range of channels is not going to abate and companies that cannot respond to this need for multi-channel convenience risk being left behind. To avoid being overwhelmed by the challenge, organisations going down the multi-channel path will find it much easier if they spend time upfront working out their customer’s needs, expectations and requirements and the resources and capabilities the organisation has to develop such a strategy. By documenting it all in an overarching strategy, organisations will find the path to multi-channel customer experience delivery becomes much clearer, and they will increase their ability to achieve, profitable as well as high customer engagement interactions.
Generation Y or Millennials is the next generation to make the transition to adulthood. For the past 10 years a lot has been written about the attributes of my generation, touting the tech savvy group as having the potential to be one of the most civic minded age groups in history while also showing alarmingly high levels of narcissism and entitlement. As this group makes the leap, marketers should be paying attention to its newest customer base as their attributes both good and bad have the potential to lift brands up and bring others down. Here’s how…
The negative traits that have been pinned to Gen Y are the same traits that make us incredibly loyal customers and ideal targets for targeted marketing. Millennials are looking for brands that will treat us as the individuals we believe we are. As the poster children for preference marketing, we demand the one to one communications and brand relationships, rewarding companies that do it well. Historically brands have used transactional data and analytics to “tell” consumers what they are interested in. For the generation labeled as narcissistic and entitled, what marketer thinks that is a good idea?
Now more than ever it is important to truly understand when, how, and what a consumer wants to receive. Millennials are no exception; in fact, the proof of concept. We grew up during the proliferation of direct marketing and for that reason have the most exposure to spam and know how to avoid it. We are the generation that grew up knowing the only thing to expect in a mailbox was junk, phone numbers belong on a do not call list, and a spam box is always larger than an inbox. Marketing atrophy quickly sets in and unless we are looking for or expecting a message, it will not be seen.
So what is a brand to do? Just Ask!
For a generation that has a very low barrier to socially expressing ourselves (sometimes too low), we are very open to telling brands exactly what we want, how we want it and how often. After all, it is that kind of behavior that has given us the reputation that we have. Enter preference marketing and the next era of brand relationships. Tracking and analytics can only get a marketing department so far, and the only way to ensure that you are sending a message that is relevant to a consumer is to ask them.
This type of marketing is an excellent way for companies to communicate in a timely and relevant manner, especially in channels that they never before considered. Gen Y will be the proving ground for companies as we push the envelope on the boundary between social and commercial. The only way for companies to engage their customers and prospects in these new more personal channels is to ask permission first.
We are the most connected generation yet, and are willing to interact with companies through channels and mediums never used before. Millennials created social networks, a medium and platform for us to voice and display our individuality to the masses. This includes the successes and failures of brands. Social media, which will have a big effect on brands over marketing moving forward, is by far the most sensitive medium for companies to target their consumers. The idea of marketing in social channels can be daunting to most marketers but what better place to ask a consumer what they like than the very place they go tell the world what they like. Expression of self is what makes every one of the social networks work, and companies are missing out if they do not listen.
About the Author:
Neil Tolbert, Senior Business Development: Preference Management, PossibleNOW.
We recently conducted a usability study to gain an understanding of consumers’ knowledge of preference centers and to examine how they interact with websites when setting up their preference choices. Participants representing a wide demographic sample were given a series of questions and tasks to complete related to preference centers. Most participants consider themselves more computer savvy than their peers, though some of the tasks we tested still caused confusion and frustration.
Our tests included general questions, such as what devices respondents relied on for communicating with companies. Most use multiple devices – computers, tablets, smart phones – interchanging between devices largely on the basis of convenience or proximity. We also tested specific tools related to preference centers, from general ways to navigate a website to specific check boxes and/or links that companies utilize on their sites.
The basics: In general, our respondents are familiar with preference management, even if they don’t call it that. All of the respondents are aware of the Do Not Call Registry and know how to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. The primary reason given for unsubscribing was simply too much email volume. However, some of the subjects have unsubscribed from email messages because they were not relevant. Most report that they sign up for communication because they have interest in a merchant or subject matter; it’s only when that communication is abused that users want to end communication privileges.
Age matters: It’s not surprising that younger respondents are more comfortable, in general, navigating the computer-based tasks. Users under the age of 30 do not rely on a discrete term for the “preferences” area of a website. Terms such as “settings,” “profile,” “account” or “my preferences” are all perceived to be interchangeable. For example, users associate the word “Account” with commerce, but they would not be confused to find other profile or preference information on an “Account” page.
Respondents 50+ can be slower to navigate webpages and also more likely to have difficulty with the terms used related to preferences. Although most could complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time without assistance, there is a notable difference in familiarity. These respondents tend to be more methodical and careful before clicking anywhere on a page.
Manage expectations: Respondents expect any buttons related to profiles/settings/preferences to be at the top right of a page and also possibly at the bottom of a page. They also prefer a numbered process when setting up a profile, particularly a visual clue of how many steps it takes to complete the process. Users like the ability to jump or skip steps in a process if possible. They do not see the need for a ‘return to the previous question’ option.
Perceived mistrust: As prevalent as social media use has become, users are unlikely to use the “Sign in with Facebook” or Twitter option to access a third-party site. Although these buttons are widely promoted on the Internet, most respondents have no desire to login with this method. Research suggests that the functionality and ramifications to the user of this login method is not understood. Additionally, privacy and trust issues abound over these kinds of buttons. Users express discomfort in thinking that a third-party website might use their Facebook data inappropriately, even though they are willing to share such information on Facebook itself.
Lessons learned: Our testing found that respondents are savvy about setting preferences and changing those as their interests change. Respondents appreciate the ability to opt down instead of a total opt out of communications. Overall, they want clear communication and a process that is easy to navigate, regardless of their skill and comfort level using a computer or other device.
What this tells marketers is that your customers want to engage with you, but with limits. They are willing to set up a profile, but don’t want that process to involve a lengthy questionnaire or data form that is challenging to navigate. They are open to hearing from you, but not too often. Most respondents expect customizable communication, but anything that simplifies the process or makes communication more relevant (without communicating an invasion of privacy) would strengthen the relationship between users and organizations. Increasing relevance and supporting user communication preferences will likely increase brand affinity and increase user satisfaction.
How customer data can enhance a service experience
Two years ago I purchased a brand new notebook computer. All too soon a problem developed with the screen. However, my next thought was that I was so glad I bought the warranty — I can just return it!
My first call to the company took me through the whole diagnostic procedure, reinstalling the driver and flashing bios — about an hour’s worth of installations. I was promised this would take care of my problem. Unfortunately, it did not. It was still not fixed after my fourth flashed bios and over 10 hours on the phone.
I made many very frustrating phone calls to that company for more than a year. Every time I called, I had to explain my situation as if it were the first time: Find the serial number, the model number, the warranty number, explain what happened, what had been tried so far, and so on. Each time I was forwarded to their offshore tech support where I often had to start over with the entire procedure, leading to even greater frustration.
Although I received a case number after each call, the companywas not able to link back to my history of issues and service calls. When I asked about a replacement notebook, I was kindly reminded that I first had to go through a protocol of three repair attempts, each lasting two weeks plus shipping time, before they would replace anything.
After following company protocol, to no avail, I was given a replacement laptop, but it was a lesser-quality product and I’m not happy with it. The bottom line: the company spent a lot of time and money and I spent a lot of time and frustration, only for an unsatisfactory solution. The company lost a customer over this bad experience.
Compare this with a story I recently read: A person had to contact Amazon about a malfunctioning Kindle he recently purchased and was prepared for the worst. In just 30 seconds after putting in a service request on Amazon’s website his phone rang, and the woman on the other end greeted him by name stating, "I understand you have a problem with your Kindle." The problem was resolved and a replacement ordered in less than two minutes; they had all of the customer’s information on file to process the shipment, and the telephone representative did not try to upsell him to other products.
Both stories are today’s reality; one frustrating, one delightful. Both involve broken gadgets. In the first case the company lost a lot of time, money and a customer. In the second story the company surprised the customer and therefore built trust with him. That kind of customer trust is invaluable to both the customer and the company.
In his recent letter to shareholdersAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained how Amazon is defining customer experience: "Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align."
But it's not just the different understanding of and commitment to the customer experience. What made the Amazon experience better, was the fact that the support rep had immediate access to the data about the customer and therefore was able to solve the problem in just a few minutes. In fact, Amazon collects a lot of information about their customers — not just addresses and payment information, but also previous purchases and even browsing history.
Amazon doesn’t use personal information just to sell more products. They also have the information available when a problem occurs which helps make the problem-solving a pleasant experience, rather than a painful one. Some customers are skeptical about what kind of information a company collects about them. But the Amazon model shows that customer data can be used to benefit the customer and build loyalty. That builds trust and a true customer relationship.
About the Author:
Sylvia Kay is a Project Manager of the Preference Management Consulting division of PossibleNOW.