How First Party Data Enables Better Customer Journeys

Andrew Brown looks at how customer journeys are crucial to customer sentiment, which in turn is key to business success.

Strengthening relationships can be done through making relevant information easy to find on your website, quickly and accurately responding to a customer inquiry, or proactively reaching out with an offer at the right time.

by Andrew Brown

But how can you stand out in an increasingly crowded market?

Two out of three customers believe brands do not care about their needs

What worked in the past will not optimise the present. Customers’ expectations have never been higher, and outdated campaign tactics, broad-based segments, and scripted journeys no longer work. The average campaign, in any market, gets less than a 1 percent response rate. That means 99 out of 100 people ignore every communication sent by a business. It’s why opt-outs and unsubscribes are continuing to soar. Businesses are prioritising what they want to sell, rather than what customers actually need.

Success comes from when every interaction builds on the last one and earns the next

To keep customers, businesses need to connect. Look at the connection and ask if it’s relevant, contextual, timely, and empathetic. To do that, they must tap into first party data. Then use this to personalise every customer journey.

When managing billions of interactions for millions of customers, across hundreds of programs in dozens of channels, this might seem like an impossible task. However, if the marketing stack is structured correctly to utilise first party data in real time, it can be done.

Most organisations have a marketing stack loaded with channel-specific, siloed solutions, rigid and unadaptable to changing customer needs. There are currently more than 8,000 unique solutions available to engage customers across inbound, outbound, and paid channels. That’s 8,000 disconnected, siloed applications. Each has its own rules, data models, and unique way of understanding and interacting with customers.

These siloed marketing stacks are built to help businesses sell products in big batches and large segments. The majority were not designed to help organisations be agile and solve customer problems, especially not in real-time. This prevents businesses from taking advantage of what they know, and what customers are telling them, to improve customer journeys.

Success in today’s world means constantly listening to, and analysing customer needs, then adapting quickly enough to stay relevant and add value in the moment. Here’s how to do it:

Three essential components to optimising customer journeys

  1. Centralise decisions

The first step to activating first party data for enhanced customer journeys is to centralise decision making.

Ultimately, there can only be one brain. One centralised decisioning authority to power engagements. It should operate at the centre of a business’s channels and applications, collecting data from them: what customers are doing on web pages, what they’re saying to agents, if they’re opening emails. It combines this real-time data with all historical information available in that customer’s interaction history, and uses this to analyse each customer in every unique moment to determine their context and the next best action.

That action could be a personalised offer, a retention plan, service task, nurture effort. It could even be no action at all. But whatever it is, it’s determined from first party data in real-time using AI, adaptive models, and machine learning.

  1. Engage with empathy

To engage each customer as an individual requires businesses to get beyond traditional product-push mindsets and instead be able to pivot to things like service or retention in the moment, as customer’s needs change. Remember, it’s next best action. Not next best offer.

But how do you know which action is the next best action? This is where the math and AI come in. At the highest level, the next best action is the one that best balances what’s best for the customer with what’s best for the business within the context of a given situation: Propensity (P) * Value (V) * Lever (L).

With a centralised brain in place, previously siloed channels, which were once competing with – or ignoring – one another, can work together to understand every potential action: things like sales offers, service nudges, retention plans, nurture efforts, or maybe a hardship message. Whatever those actions are, they represent everything you could possibly do for this customer in this moment. The brain then determines the propensity of each customer to accept each action.

Next comes value. If a customer accepts an offer or opens a “happy birthday” message; what’s that worth to the business? This could be as simple as a margin calculation or as complex as an impact to customer lifetime value (CLV).

Finally comes the lever, which can be used to make adjustments based on a current business situation. For example, if sales are slow, you could boost a low propensity offer up. But be careful – going against propensity will decrease relevance, and potentially undermine the experience.

Ultimately, the next best action is simply the one with the highest (P*V*L) score.

But to engage with empathy requires adaptability. Every time a new piece of data becomes available, the business should re-decision the customer and calculate a new next best action. The best brands do this five, 10, 20, even 50 times per interaction.

  1. Deliver in the moment

When delivering personalised customer journeys in real-time, it is not enough just to know what to do, action needs to be taken in the moment to adapt to changing needs. Taking real-time action may seem daunting given the volume of channels and data at play, but having a centralised brain in the marketing stack makes it possible.

This could take shape in a variety of ways. In outbound, it transforms batch and blast campaigns and prescriptive journeys to only triggering next-best-action messages when propensity spikes.

In the call centre, this approach delivers massive value by allowing agents to adapt conversations based on what information the customer shares during the conversation and act on it in real time.

On paid platforms, using direct connectors to channels like Google, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube lets you engage potential customers without being beholden to a data management platform (DMP) or demand-side platform (DSP).

Your channel-based solutions become the execution vehicles for your next-best-action decisions. You don’t need to rip and replace anything. But, by using one centralised decisioning engine to power experiences, you can stay connected to every customer and give them the best and most personalised experience possible, regardless of channel.

Businesses that have adopted real-time personalisation are seeing amazing results

There are plenty of global brands leading by example, proving that change isn’t coming. It’s already here. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is making next best action decisions 24 million times every single day across 18 channels. Sprint has reduced churn to the lowest levels in company history while increasing upgrades by 8X. Meanwhile, health insurer Achmea has unified their inbound, outbound, owned, and paid channels with one central brain to deliver an 85% save rate when using next-best-action recommendations.

Brands that can lean in and make real-time personalisation a reality will continue to reap the rewards, while the others will be left behind.

Andrew Brown is the director, solution consulting at Pegasystems.


This article originally appeared in Marketing Magazine. Photo by Fabian Quintero on Unsplash.

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