I had the opportunity this weekend to listen as customers encountered a newly personalized customer experience. Each customer was presented with a web page of content entirely selected based on his or her profile. When asked if they valued the News email they received, the answer was no, it is so rarely relevant it’s not worth the trouble to open. When asked if they valued a News tab on their personal page, the answer was no, the News will be the same irrelevant stuff delivered by email.
But when confronted by personalized News, the reaction was…
“Wow, this is great! This is really useful information!”
Marketers believe, or desperately want to believe, that the privacy downside of targeted content is redeemed by the upside of the improved customer experience.
I’ve just watched proof that customers can agree with that viewpoint.
But the question remains: is your content selection good enough to delight your customers? How do you know?
What approach to personalization will improve your customer experience?
Which of these customer experience improvements contribute to your business goals?
How will all the effected parts of the company summon the will and resources to change?
On April 24, Adobe trumpeted a new feature of Adobe Social to further personalize the customer experience. Adobe Social is now able to recommend content that will best engage a Facebook visitor, using predictions based on sentiment analysis and text mining. The recommendations select the content as well as the timing of its delivery.
The feature is currently in beta, and is expected to be generally released in a few months. Additional social platforms will be supported in the future.
I’m all in favor of anything that improves the quality of my customer experience. The new Adobe Social feature promises an incremental improvement to my Facebook moments, which have been trending sharply downward recently. (It’s not so much the ads as the evident decline in FB activity from all my friends. A case of “been there, done that?”) Perhaps you digital marketing wizards will offer content compelling enough to bring me back.
For marketers, the Adobe Social feature provides the tools to improve their results as well as the data to track progress. Success will be less of a crapshoot when the content and its timing are selected based on analysis rather than guess.
I look forward to the day when the whole process is automated, and marketers can trust their tools enough to step back and watch the dance.
Personalization in B2B is more complex than in B2C, and potentially even more rewarding.
It is more complex because there are more people involved, and the relevant information is broader. The potential rewards are greater than B2C because the relationships tend to last longer and involve more revenue.
Relationships are deeper because they are expensive to establish and maintain. In the past two decades, reducing the number of supplier relationships has become a common process, and a key tactic for reducing costs. Each of the relationships is thus more valuable, and there is inherent stickiness. Replacing a supplier is expensive. Having deeper relationships with fewer suppliers, buying more things from an existing supplier, is cost-effective even if an item has a lower price elsewhere.
But whereas the personalized retail experience involves lots of, “other people like you liked/viewed/bought this,” the personalized business person’s experience is more complicated.
I have heard hundreds of customers describe what they want from their suppliers: “Give me one web page that has everything about our relationship.” What my company has bought, and what warrantees apply, and what service contracts exist, and what the serial numbers are, and who I should call for field service, or training, or billing. What is on order, who ordered it, when is it coming. What have we contracted to buy, at what prices, in what quantity, in what timeframe. Its the relationship-at-a-glance page.
This relationship-at-a-glance page is simple in concept, but difficult to implement. In fact, based on the facial expressions of the suppliers hearing this request from their customers, it is nigh impossible. Here are some of the challenges:
*Identifying what products your company has bought and still owns. The supplier may have multiple order systems dues to acquisitions and geographic boundaries — and so may the customer. Such records can be incomplete and inaccurate, a problem that can be handled (awkwardly and slowly) by personnel, but only confused and escalated by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying relevant warrantees and service contracts. Including those in process of renewal. Warranteeing the inaccurate and incomplete list of products produced by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying the appropriate employees and partners who support all the aspects of the relationship.
*Identifying who you are, and which information should be available to you.
*Providing access, via a single log-in, across multiple systems and applications in order to deliver the information and services a user needs.
*Providing a system for someone at your company to manage user permissions to your company’s relationship data. Does an engineer get to see all the orders, or just the orders related to her work?
*Managing password resets. Providing support for understanding the relationship-at-a-glance page, and using the supplier’s myriad applications.
Addressing these challenges is expensive. It is a long journey, with huge efforts on the supplier’s part producing small improvements for the customer. The situation is so overwhelming that many suppliers respond by kicking the can down the road: we can’t fix it this year, maybe we’ll have the money/time/skills/motivation/focus next year. I’m sympathetic.
But customers are not so sympathetic. They need the relationship-at-a-glance page to do their jobs efficiently. Every company has stripped its workforce to the bare bones during this century, and this means that neither the customer nor the supplier has the people resources to build spreadsheets of historic data and painstakingly investigate the validity of each entry.
On the plus side, the relationship-at-a-glance page provides strong motivation for customers to log in and identify themselves, thus enabling marketers to deliver relevant messages and collect more customer information. Will these marketing benefits produce enough revenue to offset the costs of implementing the relationship-at-a-glance page? In some cases, undoubtedly. But I don’t think suppliers really have a choice. The personalized relationship-at-a-glance page is the new baseline for supplier relationships.
As a consultant and researcher in personalization, I have a vested interest in asserting that personalization has immense value to an organization.
But flabby assertions don’t help you understand what to invest, or the return on existing in-vestments, or progress toward a goal, or setting the goal to begin with.
The leaders in personalization measure, track, and report results of personalization efforts. The challenges in doing so are both technical and mathematical.
Continuous multivariate testing efforts, which compare different approaches, discover and measure the optimum techniques deployed for personalization. The technical challenges are in deploying the various alternatives: identifying the best segment to experience each variant: cor-rectly assigning each visitor to a segment; and tracking, analyzing and reporting the results.
The mathematical challenge is evaluating the results of continuous optimization.
The so-called winner of each test is in turn nested into approaches that are tested and com-pared. After a year of continuous improvement efforts, how should the impact be calculated? Today’s revenue compared to one year ago? You’ll get a lot of argument on that one. Too many other factors: the sales team, brand marketing, the economy, competition, the weather, world events.
Successful personalization programs solve this puzzle by developing models that estimate impact and assign value. The models consider trends in the influencing factors, as well as actual visitor activity, extrapolating on where revenue (or other goals) would be with and without the program efforts.
Of course, models should always be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. While the algorithms may be sophisticated, the results can’t be terribly accurate. It’s a guess, not a measurement. But whatever the accuracy, having a consistent valuation method helps an organization proceed with its efforts and investments. Leaders in this arena have no difficulty justifying continued, and increased, investment in personalization.
The forklift was the wakeup call, the image that proved my world is better personalized than I realized.
Until yesterday, I thought the rudimentary personalization I routinely encounter mattered little to my experience. Sites I often visit always show me products I wouldn’t wear, articles I don’t want to read, items I would never buy. Personalization, at its best, is none too good. It has a long way to go to have much impact.
Yesterday I discovered that my expectations for personalization are ingrained and fairly demanding. The top news in my reader – 4 items I assumed were selected for me– included…a forklift repair manual. And an article in, I think, Vietnamese. I immediately closed the reader, convinced that there was a grave error somewhere in software. I gave my iPad a vigorous shake in hopes the problem would resolve. Nope. Still the forklift, still the indecipherable.
My confidence in the newsreader, a recent acquisition, was shaken to the core. Even if I was getting the 4 top stories for the world, or for my location, or among my friends, in what scenario would a forklift repair manual qualify? Belonging to a forklift technician’s association? Wouldn’t they be reading about football? My puzzlement may endure for years.
Today is much more relevant: an article in Vietnamese, an article about mouth herpes, and an article about signs. I do have a mouth, and I often read signs. I feel slightly reassured. I am developing an interest now in Southeast Asia, and look forward to unreadable articles from Cambodia.
You’re deep into a forum and encounter a post mentioning the product that will solve your problem.
Or, you’re on a product page staring at a product that might solve your problem, but won’t feel convinced unless you can read a how-to article.
Ideally, the information you want next would be available from a link on the page in front of you. But today, you likely use Google to make the connection between information and product. And then perhaps Google again to find the page you inadvertently left. For retailers, this revolving door leaks customers the way a physical revolving door leaks warm air.
Peerius has released SMART-media, a service that enables retailers and information-purveyors to automatically deliver a page that contains the products, articles and links that will engage the visitor. SMART-media creates a vocabulary and semantic relationships for a retailer’s product catalog, and for a relevant content source. Content and product display widgets are placed on pages to deliver the relevant content, whether articles or product recommendations. New content and product recommendations are created with each page view and action (such as hovers and clicks) and rendered as the page is refreshed. Content is selected based on shopper, product and time attributes. Some of the attributes used are item popularity, visitor view history and price sensitivity, product brand, category, and price. SMART-media also includes an auction service to make content acquisition easier (and less costly). Participants buy and sell content using content attributes, as well as price. While SMART-media early users are focused on connecting products and high-quality content, the service is capable of creating entire personalized pages or emails.
Mytights.com uses SMART-media. As you can see, above, a blog page contains product recommendations. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to you? If you visit Nike’s blog, as an example, you will not find product recommendations nor will you find links to purchase the item being featured. If you visit mytights.com, you’ll find that the product pages also contain recommendations for blog posts, and most pages on the site contain recommendations for blog posts as well as products. It makes for a rather engaging experience, as you consider products while reading about fashion and legwear technology.
Peerius claims that SMART-media can increase revenue by 3-5%.
SMART-media extends Peerius’s personalization offerings, which also include SMART-recs, SMART-content, SMART-mail, SMART-ranking, SMART-landing, and SMART-target.
Peerius, which is based in London, provides personalization and recommendation solutions for retailers, with a strong client base in the apparel and accessories category. Three-quarters of its deployments are in Europe, one fifth in North America, and the remainder in Australia. Its European clients are in U.K., Germany, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.