From Personalised to Personal – Merkle’s Azlan Raj

Azlan Raj from Merkle explains how customer experience is shifting and how to steer that course as smoothly as possible

Azlan Raj, SVP, Customer Experience, Merkle EMEA

When announcing their new chief experience officer, Donald Chesnut, Mastercard highlighted the impact that the end-to-end customer experience can have on a brand’s relationship with its customers. The company said: “Mastercard knows that personalised experiences, predictive analytics and closing the loop with dissatisfied customers is going to be the difference between high retention and profit-killing customer churn.” This quote draws attention to a significant shift that has gathered pace in 2019 – the evolution of the complete customer experience.

This not only encompasses consumers’ digital and non-digital touchpoints, but also their engagement with product, service and brand experiences – the positive and negative ones. We are witnessing the dawn of an era when customer experience becomes the sum total of every encounter a person has with a brand, not just the experiences that are enabled by adtech and martech.

Not only that, but there is also growing recognition that a great customer experience is rooted in understanding what is really valuable to the individual customer. In this context, value spans multiple pillars across the buying, servicing, product, marketing and brand experience – convenience, exclusivity and price – and finding the right balance among these pillars to know when to be personalised, versus how and when to be personal.

While there are examples of where focusing on a single pillar of value and delivering personalisation has succeeded in the past, delivering sustainable value over the longer term will only come from meeting the customer’s own personal needs in a relevant and contextual way.

Businesses on this journey tend to exist in three core stages from which they need to pivot.

  • Organisations at the first stage aredeeply rooted in channel-based planning and execution, with highly developed silos that limit any real connected planning, measurement or execution. Often in this stage, the promoters of the internal adtech and martech capabilities seldom speak, and collaborate even less.
  • At the mid-point, we find those companies that, while still exhibiting siloed behaviours, have embraced the need for a customer-focused strategy to cement what is already some form of multi-channel approach. Adtech and martech know and speak to one another, and there is some evidence of truly connected planning.
  • The full pivot, reaching that third stage, involves not only uniting adtech with martech, but also fully integrating the sales and service relationships as well, and then accelerating the adoption of the predictive analytics and AI required to make sense of the data and provide contextual frameworks.

If this is the desired direction of travel, is anyone really getting close to the third base? Nike has
successfully moved from simply selling products to creating personal experiences for customers (from personalised shoes through to bespoke events), all based on its declared mission to “bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world”. This mission is a combination of its customers’ challenges and their own brand beliefs. Whilst sales are, of course, the end objective, Nike is starting to take a more personal approach to meeting its customers’ needs and being rewarded with sales as a result.

This trend has also served to highlight where the role of data, technology, insight and ways of working has, in fact, been trumped by brand trust and authenticity.

As we’ve discussed, this move towards personal – rather than just personalised – customer experiences, is a big shift. And those companies on that journey would do well to follow these steps:

  • Develop a connected customer strategy that defines, in an unambiguous way, exactly what you are
    aiming to do for which customers and where the value will come from that.
  • Develop the performance measures to track progress. Since ‘you get what you measure’, making sure you have the right business and customer measures in place is an essential step to achieving your customer vision.
  • Develop an integrated capability roadmap aligned to the customer objectives you are trying to achieve, designed to achieve your big idea in stages.

When moving towards organisational (re-)alignment around customer objectives, collaboration is key. The success or failure of your customer strategy will in large part come down to the people delivering it, their alignment to the customer vision and the agility they bring to how they work within the organisation and with business partners. And don’t forget, while you are testing and learning in a more agile way, to also focus on iterating change. It doesn’t happen automatically, but through sustained effort.

Apply the principle of ‘think big, start small and scale fast’. A ‘channel +1’ approach can underpin progress, as opposed to leaping straight into a complex omni-channel deployment. Most businesses have an omnichannel strategy but very, very few of these same businesses have connected even their web and email.

Set a clear vision and be prepared to course-correct towards achieving it. This will help you to move from a product focus to a customer focus over time.