How to Use Data to Personalise Online Customer Journeys

As consumers, we all like to feel valued and appreciated by the businesses we spend our money with. Who doesn’t feel a warm glow when the barista at our local coffee shop starts preparing our usual drink the moment we walk through the door, or the staff at a favourite restaurant remember us by name? 

Equally, whether we’re shopping for clothes or a new mobile phone or a new car, isn’t it great to have the full attention of knowledgeable, friendly sales personnel who make honest, informed recommendations as we decide what to buy?  

In short, we love the personal touch.

This might seem an issue for ecommerce. On the face of it, online is an impersonal medium that removes opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Surely it therefore makes building relationships with your clientele that much harder?

So you might think. In truth, digital has done the exact opposite. It has turned consumer expectations around personalisation on their head. Market research has found that three-quarters of digital shoppers in the US now expect personalisation as standard. Other studies have found that two-thirds want more personalised offers when they shop, and half of people say they are prepared to switch who they buy from to get a more personalised experience.

How is this so? How can online shopping be more personal than doing it face-to-face?

There’s a simple one-word answer – data. To provide a personalised level of service in a shop, restaurant or coffee bar, you are relying on the skills, knowledge and memory of staff. How many customers can you realistically expect them to get to know so well they remember their preferences, their last purchase, and their personal details?

Online, no one has to remember. Invaluable information about who your customers are, how they like to shop, what they like to buy, what motivates them to buy and what their main concerns are when they buy is all readily available in extraordinary detail.

Every channel they use, every page they click, every product they browse, every piece of content they view, every purchase they make leaves behind a digital imprint in the form of data. With the right analytics tools, this allows you to build up an in-depth understanding of who your customers are, and provide tailored journeys and experiences to suit.

What are the benefits of personalisation?

This is about more than giving your customers a warm glow of satisfaction when the information or products they were looking for miraculously pop up in front of them. There is a very strong business case for putting personalisation at the heart of your digital strategy.

First and foremost, studies have shown that personalisation boosts online conversions by more than a third. According to McKinsey, leaders in digital personalisation report increases in revenue of between 5% and 15%. Half of online shoppers in the US say they would be prepared to spend more for more personalised journeys.

Personalising what your customers see online, the navigation routes they are offered, the deals they can take advantage of etc makes buying from you easier and more relevant. That means you will reduce churn and encourage more repeat business from satisfied customers. Personalisation also leads to better ROI on marketing spend, because you can target promotions and campaigns according to what your audiences want to see.

How do I start personalising customer journeys?

Modern customer journeys are complex, especially online. There are just so many different channels where your customers can engage and interact with your business.

If you think about all the places you can gather data about your customers from, the list includes websites, mobile apps, social media, e-commerce checkout, advertising and search clicks, loyalty programs, email marketing, surveys, customer support channels and more. These are all potential touchpoints on the customer journey.

But there is no linear progress from one to another. Instead, customers build their own journeys, picking their own routes from inspiration to discovery to purchase using the options they are most comfortable with. Customer journeys are in that sense intrinsically personal and unique.

That’s why the first step towards effective personalisation is customer journey mapping – understanding exactly how people navigate your various digital channels to become customers. Mapping out the way that your customers build their journeys across your digital channels depends fundamentally on gathering data from across them all, removing silos and applying analytics to create an end-to-end picture.

As Gartner puts it, customer journeys are there to be discovered, not created. The idea of mapping highlights this sense of discovery. Rather than constructing pathways based on hypothetical or idealised customers, journey mapping is all about observing, through the lens of data, how real people actually engage with your business online.

It’s about identifying their preferences, putting their needs first, responding in a customer-centric way rather than trying to dictate terms. That’s the foundation of effective personalisation.

What can I personalise?

The first objective of customer journey mapping is to understand who your customers are and how they engage with you. From there, you can make incremental changes to make the experience you provide more seamless and relevant, including addressing obvious pain points, with a view to achieving measurable improvements in customer satisfaction, conversions and loyalty.

In terms of what you can personalise to achieve these goals – with end-to-end data analytics and agile modern web technology, the answer is, more or less anything you like.

The channels you use to reach out to customers, the content they see in adverts, emails or on landing pages they click through to, the navigation and checkout/order options they receive, sales and promotional messages – all of these and more can be tailored according to who the customer is, their habits and preferences, and the context of the engagement (i.e. are they making a purchase, a support query or just browsing?)

The key is to use personalisation to focus on the experiences your customers want to receive. A quarter of consumers, for example, say they like getting targeted product recommendations based on their past purchases. This is an easy win using sales data to feed into targeted advertising, email and social campaigns, product page navigation and up-sell recommendations at purchase.

It’s also important to point out that personalisation doesn’t have to be all about tailoring every single shopping journey on an individual level. You can personalise the experience simply by being aware of what your customers are looking for from your business, and guiding them to find it as easily as possible.

If you know from search data, for example, that people are regularly searching for information or advice on a particular topic, you can create relevant content in a blog or a how-to video. The key then is making this readily available as and when people are most likely to want it, whether it’s through search optimisation or contextual mapping and automation so it appears when visitors follow certain paths through your site.

Interested in finding out more? At Key Element, we specialise in creating digital experiences that deliver maximum business impact. From cutting edge data analytics to customer journey mapping to wider strategy and delivery, we can help you take personalisation to the next level. We’d love to talk about your business – get in touch with us today.
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