Orchestrate meaningful customer relationships in the new digital era

As the world gradually reopens, the precedent during the pandemic of being accessible across channels will remain – along with the expectation that each customer interaction will be personalized.

By Kelly Kirwan

The race to digital channels during the pandemic started out as a necessity. With stay-at-home orders in place, businesses had to rapidly rework their customer engagement strategies (cutting down the time it takes to implement new channels by 46%).

As the world gradually reopens, this precedent of being accessible across channels will remain – along with the expectation that each customer interaction will be personalized. 

In the past, implementing omnichannel, real-time personalization felt like a far-off benchmark, one that could only be pulled off by the likes of Amazon and Netflix. But now this is table stakes for every business. In our recent State of Personalization report, 60% of consumers said they would become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience (up from 40% in 2017). 

As a part of Twilio’s Engage Everywhere series, leaders from Segment, Accenture, Slalom Consulting, and Walgreens Boots Alliance discussed how brands can leverage next-generation data management, a unified view of the customer, and cross-channel journey orchestration to meet consumers’ rising expectations. 

In this article, we dive into the top takeaways from their discussion, which you can watch here

Focus on customer centricity, not last-mile personalization

Personalization has become universally important across industries. But when it comes to implementing it successfully, there are a few obstacles. One of the more obvious is technological infrastructure: without data consolidation and identity resolution, personalization is close to  impossible. But another more subtle issue is perception.

In our recent State of Personalization report, we found that 85% of businesses believe they’re offering personalized experiences – but only 60% of consumers agreed. As for the reasons behind this gap, Rob Fuller, Managing Director of Consumer Data Orchestration at Accenture, offered the following analogy: businesses often view personalization as sprinkles on a cake. It’s seen as an add-on to the customer experience, and often just scratches the surface of meaningful personalization. Instead, personalization should be something that’s considered from the very beginning. Following the cake analogy, a more effective strategy would be to consult the customer before baking: what ingredients, flavors, dietary restrictions, etc. should be considered from the get-go? 

Matt Harker, VP of Global Marketing Strategy and Transformation at Walgreens Boots Alliance, added to this: “It’s not about ‘last-mile personalization tweaks.’” It’s about considering the full customer journey, and even starting with product development. The tendency among businesses has been to use personalization to maximize conversions, which, of course, makes sense. But it can also be counter-intuitive. “Last-mile” personalization tweaks  doesn’t make the consumer feel special; it makes them feel like a means to an end (which isn’t a great way to win customer loyalty). 

Unify your first-party data to access comprehensive, compliant customer profiles

Personalization has gone omnichannel. Consumers now expect businesses to remember them as they switch between touchpoints – whether it be email, SMS, online chat, and so on. This has made data consolidation and identity resolution essential; businesses need a unified customer profile to see individuals’ behavior, interests, and preferences across channels (and, ideally, in real-time). 

With an integrated tech stack,  businesses can then take this data and activate it in downstream tools (e.g., for ad suppression, sending targeted email campaigns, etc.) 

With the mass data migration to digital channels last year, the sheer amount of data that businesses have to draw from has skyrocketed. In 2020, Segment saw the number of API calls tracked on our platform grow by 132%, passing the 1 trillion mark. As a result, businesses have turned to CDPs to handle this influx of data, and put themselves in a position to scale. In fact, 73% of companies now say that a customer data platform will be critical to their customer experience efforts.

But just as important as having a scalable infrastructure for data collection, consolidation, and activation, businesses also need to consider the evolving regulations around data privacy. Focusing on first-party data is the best way to ensure that data is accurate, ethically collected, and doesn’t (for lack of a better word) come across as creepy. 

As Rob Fuller said, “Make sure you have consumer consent, data governance, and are asking customers more about them to help personalize the experience over time.” Customer profiles should be built progressively, to establish trust and personalize the customer experience in a way that’s both organic and transparent. 

When it comes to omnichannel engagement, start small

Omnichannel customer engagement can quickly feel like a daunting task. How do you actually deliver this customer-centric personalization across channels? 

Take Walgreens Boots Alliance, which has over 10,000 brick-and-mortar locations and more than 450,000 employees across 25 countries. Cross-channel personalization at this level takes an incredible amount of global coordination. But as Matt said, “Don’t overthink it. Start with a practical business application with one or two use cases to make it real, and uncover the processes.” From there, you can create a framework that can be duplicated across the organization. 

Rio Longacre, Managing Director at Slalom Consulting, echoed this sentiment, “Do it in phases — crawl, walk, jog, run. Pick specific use cases where you can make a difference.” 

Matt also advised to start omnichannel engagement from the “bottom up,” rather than trying to implement it from HQ. In his words, “give your sub-organizations the ownership to create customer-first experiences.” This is how large enterprises stay agile: by giving their teams the autonomy to act on insights and adjust personalization strategies to account for local communities. 

Looking ahead 

If 2020 was the year of CDP, 2021 is the year of journey orchestration. 

As Rio stated, once businesses have the right data foundation in place to understand what customers want (and how they want to interact with brands on different channels), the second step is to orchestrate intelligent customer engagement at scale. 

At Segment, our new feature Journeys has been a foundational piece to building out our combined vision with Twilio for continuous customer engagement. With Journeys, teams can design multi-step experiences, across channels, using triggers based on customer behaviors and context (all with an intuitive UI). 

You can watch the entire conversation here, or to learn more about Journeys, request a demo today.

The state of personalization 2023

The State of Personalization 2023

Our annual look at how attitudes, preferences, and experiences with personalization have evolved over the past year.

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