It’s now clear that the dramatic shift to online brought about by the pandemic is here to stay. Even as ecommerce drops back to pre-pandemic levels, many are sticking with online – making appointment bookings, shopping click-and-collect – as they’re enjoying the ease and convenience it offers.
Greater investment in digital transformation has rendered the customer journey increasingly non-linear, letting consumers engage with brands across many different channels.
The result of all of this change over the past few years is that expectations of service have never been higher. The good news is that meeting these expectations can make an even greater impression on your customers, and it’s more than possible to do with the right tools.
Rising customer expectations
Due to various factors, including the Amazon effect, customers now expect that brands understand their needs at every step of their journey and that any interactions are personalised. According to 2021 research by McKinsey & Company, 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions, while a survey this year by Gartner found that 71% of B2C and 86% of B2B customers expect that the companies they interact with are well informed about their personal information.
The ability to personalise could also have an impact on the bottom line. McKinsey’s study found that more than three-quarters (76%) of consumers describe receiving personalised communications as a ‘key factor’ when considering a brand, and that 78% said that this content would make them more likely to repurchase.
In order to thrive in this new environment, businesses in all sectors must take a more customer-centric approach.
Being truly customer centric means aligning your strategy with the needs of your customer, rather than those of the business. This applies on both a micro level – such as by sending relevant content to a customer when they’re most likely to need it – and a macro level – keeping their needs in mind when making decisions about how the organisation works as a whole.
In an increasingly crowded field, meeting these expectations by being more customer centric will help the business gain a competitive edge. But how do businesses achieve this?
Putting the customer at the centre
As we’ve found, customers want personalised communications and expect seamless experiences. With marketing automation, it’s possible to personalise the customer experience – at scale – while learning more about your audience, creating a feedback loop that makes the business increasingly better at serving the customer, and the customer more loyal to you.
Automation lets you map and predict the course a customer journey will take, making it possible to anticipate customers’ needs, and segment audiences so that you can tailor your communications to them. Playing a major part in this journey is email.
By its nature, email is a customer-centric channel in that the customer has opted in and can engage with it at their leisure. It differs from so many methods of digital marketing in that it creates a one-to-one connection – it’s not a faceless, blanket, mass communication that the customer scrolls by.
Email has continued to perform in terms of delivering ROI. In a sea of digital ads, email offers unparalleled cut-through, a way to build a relationship with the customer that’s less transactional and more meaningful.
Communications don’t have to be led by the hard sell – offer the customer something useful, ideally with no expectation of something in return, and take the opportunity to demonstrate you understand their needs and pain points. As long as you remain a welcome guest in their inbox, you can communicate with them consistently and build a relationship over time, which is where you get the most value.
Marketing automation can help to make email campaigns more relevant, as they are personalised to the customer and can be triggered by certain events. For example, Travel agent Flight Centre used email personalisation to increase travel enquiries among its email subscribers. They worked with Everlytic to create dynamic emails populated with content based on customer data including persona, location, travel interests, purchase history and shopping preferences.
The subject line, header copy, layout and pricing were personalised in the emails, which had a 6.9% higher open rate and 4.5% higher clickthrough rate, and led to a 106.45% increase in email user enquiries on Flight Centre’s website. Overall traffic to the site increased by 388.72%.
Getting the right data (the right way)
Achieving results like these requires not only the right data, but also the right data strategy. Customers are becoming more wary of who they share their data with, and may not want to divulge too many details at first.
However, it is possible to strike up a relationship with a customer with just a first name and email address. Over time, as you build that relationship and start to build trust, you can invite the customer to share more, which will in turn enable greater personalisation. There is also the information you can learn from their behaviour – which emails are they opening? What links do they click when they open the email? This will demonstrate which topics they’re most interested in, or the problems they’re seeking a solution to.
New or strengthened privacy regulations in markets all over the world mean that businesses must take care in how they collect and store prospect and customer data. Marketing automation platforms allow businesses to manage customer data as well as collect it in a compliant way, and provide a clear overview of the data the business holds on individual customers. They also make it easier for individuals to manage their data permission preferences, such as opting out of a particular email marketing list, and can help ensure any stored customer data complies with local privacy regulations.
With sizeable potential penalties for data breaches – in the UK, the fine can be up to £17.5m or 4% of the company’s total annual worldwide turnover the previous year – having a robust data strategy makes sense not only from a marketing perspective, but as a business imperative. Fortunately, it is possible to create a symbiotic relationship between personalisation and privacy, as demonstrating your competence with customer data will nurture trust.
While recent years have been challenging to marketers, armed with the right tools and strategies, this influx of new digital customers presents opportunities that can be transformative.
With today’s increasingly digital experiences, across almost all sectors we have the opportunity to learn a lot more about our audiences, what they seek, and to forge more meaningful relationships with them with the provision of tailored, relevant communications. Marketing automation along with a customer-centric approach makes this possible.
Marketing communication and automation platforms underpin the experiences customers expect today while furnishing brands with the insight they need to serve them in the future. While technological developments and channel innovations will continue to make the customer journey more complex in ways we can’t yet imagine, one thing will remain certain – in this challenging digital environment, the brands that will succeed are those that best understand their customers, are able to anticipate their needs and serve them where and when they expect.