2010 was the year of Preferences

I first published this article on January 18, 2010. It was my prediction about what I thought the year 2010 would bring to both businesses and consumers. The key here was that the consumer expected businesses to know them, and serve them across channels.

2010 is about knowing your customer or member. It is about understanding prospect behaviour. It is about knowing across channels, & doing so in real time. In 2010 the empowered consumer will do business with people who know them.

Do you really know me?

How much do you really know about your customers or members? You probably know even less about your prospects? Even if you do have lots of data about them, you probably do very little to leverage the information in a timely manner for a meaningful transaction. Your customers, members, & prospects come to your site, visit your social networks, visit your kiosks, ATM’s, stores or branches, & even purchase from you. What do you do with all this information collected?

Think of an account you opened at a financial institution. When you filled out forms – you identified yourself, your family, they knew your needs. But did they actually remember that during transactions? Most customers and members are served up the same standard online ad every time they log into their web site, the ATM still wants to know what language they speak, and look at the ‘worthless’ statement stuffers. It makes the consumer wonder if the financial institution really knows them.

Retailers don’t fare as well either. If you make two major purchases a year, and a few other smaller purchases the retailer has great opportunities to know you and consequently up-sell & cross sell you with relevant offers. Sadly, offers do arrive, but not always when you need them. The web might recognize you every single time, but their emails don’t speak with relevance. A friendly store clerk may know you, but most times they treat you as if you were a stranger.

Most organizations however are always committed to knowing you better. They want you to provide preferences at every channel; they even attempt to assimilate your transactions across channels. They include post transaction product or service surveys. You get this from in person experiences, over the web or phone, at self service terminals, and even on social media channels. They want to know about your transaction experience. They even want your feedback when you do not transact. They want to know you better. But stop and think about the approach and the questions. The survey is typically included because the organization ‘has to’ do it, and in most instances the survey seems to do very little to actually engage the consumer. The survey serves the business!

What is worse with surveys is that most organizations are happy with a less than 2% response rate. While there is almost always a survey included at the end of every transaction, there is very little commitment from the organization towards getting the survey completed.

An introspective question that is important to ask is if you can truly anticipate consumer behaviour? Not sure how, here is a simple exercise – take a look at a set of transactions from the previous month / week / day & see if those were truly predictable. Was it based on something you did, or were you able to predict why your consumer really came in?

The reason we seem to have this issue is because most organizations are focused on the target, the channel, & ‘almost’ instant success. There is very little cross channel coordination. This makes organizations look goofy in front of the empowered consumer.

Organizations need to unify their preferences pages – not just keep silos of customer data across channels.

Here are some things that organizations should do to build up this repository of actionable information:

1. Have one preference page for the consumer. The consumer should be able to update their preferences across channel. Keep this preference page accessible across the web, or mobile – it is convenient for the consumer to share the information.

2. Have three parts to this preference page – one that is updated by the consumer, the second updated by your organization, & the third updated by consumer behaviour. Don’t forget behaviour is not just consumer action but also consumer inaction.

3. Collect the data in real time. Disseminate transaction information quickly to all your channels. Let your channels be aware so they can serve the empowered consumer better.

4. Get your consumer to update their preferences a little bit at a time, tie your surveys back into the preferences. And do this correctly by having a back and forth dialogue.

5. Provide the purpose of each channel to the consumer. Don’t forget to train your employees about the value of each of your channels.

6. Engage the consumer on ‘their’ social media channels by listing all your social media channels including the purpose of each of these channels. Don’t forget to entice the consumer to check out your social media channels – a mere follow us / share this is not effective.

The important thing for you to do is to keep the consumer engaged on their terms and keep the information flowing both ways. You need to think about an efficient on-boarding process for new members & customers. The on-boarding process could include a welcome stream of messages that make the consumer aware of what your organization brings to the table. You also need to think about ‘what next’ scenarios for existing consumers as they complete transactions or update their preferences.

Many organizations feel that they can know their consumer better by assimilating data into their CRM. Realistically you should be running an ‘Operational CRM’ at the speed of light by pulling data into the CRM through your touchpoints in real time, & quickly messaging the consumer with relevant messages across channels.

The key here is two things – first pull data together from your touch points in real time, and second – message your consumer with relevance.

To do this effectively organizations should assimilate data across channels with special emphasis on recency. Consumers want you to acknowledge their most recent transactions. Next, organizations should write specific use cases driving people across channels. Also, you need to listen & engage across channels.

A post card from a charitable organization talks about inspirational stories of change. A link on the post card takes you to their blog. The blog has more stories and solicits donations.

A grocer sells a product with two recipes. One recipe is listed on the box, the second recipe has teaser that encourages the consumer to go to the web channel.

A bakery tweets specials to people on their list and asks them to ‘whisper’ the code over to the check out person.

An entertainment company solicits your opinion on the ‘show’ and then texts you a coupon to use at the concession stand.

A financial institution intrigues you at the ATM machine, and this intrigue actually drives people to enter the branch, provide a mobile number, or go online to learn more about the offer.

A retailer runs an advertisement not for all but for one consumer at a time on their mobile device.

A travel company keeps in touch by asking you for feedback so they can update their recommendations across all channels.

One of the best cross channel social media tweets in 2009 was about how to create an insect free back yard. The tweet took you to an article on the blog which was peppered with good information and great pictures. The article was about attracting bats to your yard so they could keep the yard insect free. The article wanted you to create a haven for bats by getting a bat house. The engaging article ended with a link to purchase a bat house and you could do this by speaking to a person or do it online. The box that was shipped to your home included a catalog that offered even more. It all started with a simple tweet to followers that cared. A tweet that sold & sold across channels!

Social media, direct mail, self service, email, mobile, your physical locations – they need to work together to engage the consumer. The key is about recognizing people across channels, and carrying out conversations with relevance. You can only do this if you know the consumer. You can know the consumer by creating a preference page that can be updated across channels.

2010 will be the year of relevance. Those who are relevant will engage the empowered consumer. It is the year of how well you truly know your consumer. You can only do this if you connect your channels and connect with your consumers. You need to create an inner circle of friends, an insiders club, a small group of advisors and then aspire to create similar relationships with all your customers.

How connected were you with your consumers in 2010?