Expert advice for better personalization
1. Show your customers that you understand their needs
Today's consumers value a great experience as much as they value the actual product or service they are buying. Think about it: when you shop on a website, you expect nothing less than a perfect experience. It starts with finding exactly what you're looking for, accessing peer reviews to make sure you’re getting the best possible product, and enjoying a smooth checkout experience.
After that, you naturally expect fast delivery and pinpoint-accurate updates about when your purchase will be in your hands, along with a hassle-free return process and customized recommendations for other products you might be interested in. As consumers, this is the kind of personalized, meaningful experience that we've come to expect for all our purchases.
And since people buying for businesses have gotten used to great consumer experiences in their personal lives, the demand for relevant experiences has also spilled over to B2B and B2B2C relationships. In fact, 67% of business buyers say they have switched vendors for a more consumer-like experience.* So, whether you sell to consumers or businesses, it’s critical to show your customers they're more than just a number to you by showing them you understand their needs.
* State of the Connected Customer, Salesforce Research, June 2018
2. Give your customers a reason to trust you
Trust is quickly becoming the new currency. When customers are in the market for a product or service, they have an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. There’s no reason they would choose a company they don’t trust over one they do.
So how do you build trust with your customers? No matter what your business does, you have to demonstrate to potential customers the value of giving their data to you. In other words, you need to clarify what they get in exchange. Beyond the obvious of telling them their personal information is secure (and ensuring it is!), you also need to use it in ways that show customers you understand them. How? By helping them get what they need and recommending ways to get the most out of their purchase.
For example, if you ask potential customers to create a profile for themselves in exchange for a discount, don’t throw the information into a database and forget about it. Use the information to recommend other products or services, or a better deal on something you know they could be interested in. They’ll be happy they chose to share their data with you because you’re using it to make their life easier.
3. Don't waste your customers’ time
We've all been there: You call up customer service, punch the numbers and answer the questions to make it through all the decision trees, and then you’re asked to repeat all of the information you just provided when you finally get to speak to a live agent. Or how about having to sift through a long page of mostly irrelevant products just to find the one you need?
The more time it takes for your customer to get what they need, the more likely you are to frustrate them and eventually lose their business. That's why things like progressive profiling, showing relevant offers, and thinking about your customer's journey are so important. You need to think about what you would do in their shoes. For example, where would you look for information about the products your company sells? What information would you need? And what would be the easiest way to find that information if you needed this product urgently?
Showing your customers that you respect their very limited time is critical. Give them the information they need about your products, so they don’t have to ask or look elsewhere. Make it extremely easy to find what they’re looking for. It’s another great way to show your customers that you understand them, and it will ultimately help you deliver a great customer experience.
4. Recommend the next best action
The customer journey doesn’t end with a purchase. You need to nurture customer relationships and show them you care about how satisfied they are with their purchase. For example, you could provide video, content downloads, or anything else that will help them make the most of their product or service. Instead of just offering another product to buy, you need to guide them toward the next best action to take.
This will help create loyalty with your customers and let them know you care about them personally — and when the time comes for them to buy another product you offer, chances are they'll stick with you. Because why would they look elsewhere when their experience has been so compelling?
5. Add value at each stage of the customer journey
Think about your entire customer journey. Document key customer moments, and then analyze how your customers interact with you through people, processes, technology, and data at those moments. By doing so, you’ll discover opportunities to recommend next best actions to your customer.
For example, suppose your company sells refrigerators. You know your customers typically do their research about this major purchase on their computer. Now suppose a customer goes to your website on their mobile device at 5 am. What can you infer from this atypical interaction?
For starters, you might suspect that this customer has woken up to a leaking refrigerator and immediately grabbed their phone to figure out how to deal with this emergency, before they even left the kitchen. But how can you know for sure? Just ask them! If they tell you it’s an emergency, you can add value to their interaction with you by offering advice on what to do to mitigate the urgent situation — for example, unplugging the refrigerator, keeping the door shut as much as possible, and so on.
By thinking about the different scenarios your customers might encounter with your products and the mindset they might be in when they interact with you, you can find opportunities to add value to each stage of the customer journey.
As consumers start to realize the value of their data, they’ll be expecting more in exchange for it. Companies that use that data to provide a better customer experience will ultimately win.
How to personalize for anonymous visitors
Some people simply prefer to remain anonymous when shopping around. On the surface, this can make it seem difficult to know who they are, or what they're looking for, but there's a lot they're actually telling you just by browsing your website.
For instance, suppose you run a national pet supply store. When a customer visits your site for the first time, you can learn basic information like their geolocation. With just that one piece of data, you can start personalizing by offering them products that are popular with other people in the region at that time of year.
If you manage to get the customer to fill out a form, make sure the form is quick and simple. For example, the form could simply ask for the visitor's name and what kind of pet they have.
Though it may seem very basic, there’s a lot you can do with that information to make your site more relevant to that person. Beyond just greeting them by name, you can show content that’s specific to each kind of pet, or change the images to reflect whether the customer has a dog or a cat. Make your website feel like it’s speaking to them.
The Lova’s Furniture customer experience
Consider this real-life example of buying a new sofa from Lova’s Furniture.* A couple is renovating their basement to turn it into a hangout space for their teenage kids. They do their shopping around, which includes looking at sofas, prices, and quality.
After asking friends and neighbors for recommendations, the couple visits a Lova’s Furniture store, and they have an excellent experience with the sales clerk. They fill out a floor plan and give the clerk a lot of information about their family, their renovation plans, and why they are looking for a new sofa. After comparing all their options, they order a beige sofa from Lova’s Furniture, and are told their new sofa will arrive in 6 to 8 weeks.
Between the purchase and the sofa delivery, the couple is essentially left alone, and that’s where their excitement about their new sofa begins to fade. They start to move on to other details of their renovation project, and they even start to get a bit frustrated not knowing exactly when their sofa will arrive. The only contact from Lova’s Furniture is the eventual delivery notice and delivery of the sofa many weeks later.
Lova’s Furniture provided a great experience to these customers when they came into the store. And while nothing went wrong and the couch was delivered on time, you could say that Lova’s Furniture missed out on a huge opportunity to engage their customer in the 6 to 8 weeks of delivery time.
*Name changed for anonymity.
What Lova’s Furniture could have done
By leveraging the information the couple voluntarily provided, Lova’s Furniture could have kept in contact with them during the time between purchase and delivery to provide a great experience and create loyal customers. Here’s what they could have done:
- Provide up-to-date manufacturing and shipping status
- Email a photo of the new sofa, so the customer could share it on social media
- Send pictures of the sofa as it’s being constructed, and a picture of the Lova’s Furniture team building it
- Create a renovation persona in their CMS to predict the customer’s behavior
- Send content about this season’s trends and colors
- Offer specials on furniture that might be appropriate for their renovation project
How to elevate the customer experience
Lova’s Furniture could also be doing more to tap into the trust created by peer recommendations. Here are some ways they could do that:
- Create an environment where customers can be voluntary brand ambassadors (for example, an online community)
- Encourage customers to share their experience online
- Share user-generated content (for example, customers who post photos of themselves happily relaxing on their new sofa)
When it comes to personalization, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What would be useful in terms of information or offers? How can you find the information you need quickly? What would you want your data to be used for? Answering these questions from your customer’s perspective will help you deliver a more meaningful, personalized experience.