Customer journeys: How to be ready when customers visit

By Jeff Alford, SAS Insights editor

The customer journey can take many paths. It can be fast, smooth and as pleasant as a relaxing drive on a newly paved road; or it can be bumpy, frustrating and fraught with detours. Making the customer journey consistently satisfying comes down to three things, according to Wilson Raj, Global Director of Customer Intelligence at SAS – planning, insight and flawless execution.

Raj recently sat down with the International Institute for Analytics to talk about the current state of the customer experience.

Enabling the best customer experience means you must be able to see all of your customer data (online and offline) in a unified way (think data hub). And it really needs to be all of your data – purchasing, social, third party, interdepartmental and even from outside of your brand.

Consumers long for that emotional connection in a world of overabundant and often distracting messages.

Which customer is this?

What is the single biggest mistake that companies with a poor customer experience make? Failing to effectively use the data they’re collecting to instantly and accurately identify loyal customers; and, recognizing their needs and interests -- no matter what channel the customer chooses. The answer? Analytics.

With analytics, you’ll be able to take the diverse and divergent customer information to make the best possible offers, score customers’ likelihood to purchase and more accurately forecast sales. Analytics will also help you avoid annoying your customers with too much contact or irrelevant offers and will help you better identify when they’re really ready to buy (and not just window shopping).

That’s the operational retooling; next, you need to change the way your marketing team thinks about the customer journey.

Several areas of your marketing mindset need rewiring, and it’s no surprise that analytics plays a crucial role. Because your customers are moving in and out of your channel so quickly, if you blink you could miss them. With customers moving at the speed of click, if you don’t make a relevant offer immediately, you can lose a sale. That’s where analytics capabilities like event-stream processing and marketing automation can help.

Embrace change

To stay ahead, these and other innovative approaches are crucial. “You have to be trying new things and assessing the results continuously, using data and analytics to shape and test new offerings and messages. This acceleration usually requires dismantling the silos and promoting collaboration both inside and outside the brand,” Raj says.

An additional challenge is keeping track of customers as they move from one of your channels to another, or switch from a smartphone to a laptop. Without a unifying platform, your efforts can quickly become fragmented and the offerings irrelevant.

“Customer centricity is not just a rallying cry, not just an attitude toward the customer. I view customer centricity as a strategic operating model where all your channels are aligned so that you present one face to the customer, and the customer has one face to the brand,” Raj says.

Make the effort to really connect with your customers

It's important to remember that how customers feel about your brand plays an equally big role.

“I think it’s important to emphasize the power of the emotional aspect,” Raj said. “You want your customer to be delighted with the interaction or the message that they receive from your brand. You want them to think 'Wow, this brand really gets where I am, what I need and how to deliver it to me.' Consumers long for that emotional connection in a world of overabundant and often distracting messages.”

A company that gets it right

The real proof of the payoff of using all your data (and the principles discussed above) is creating exceptional customer experiences. Raj has an example of a company that puts the customer front and center that illustrates the rewards that focus brings, Vail Resorts. Putting an RFID tag in every ski pass enables Vail Resort to take advantage of gamification and social media to increase brand recognition. More than 100,000 were registered in the first season. Those customers accounted for about 35 million social impressions. But it’s also a story about what Vail Resorts was able to do with all the data it collected via the badges. It uses the data to enhance every aspect of their customers’ experiences – airport shuttles, ski activities, dining and shopping.

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