The Relevance of Personalising the Customer Experience

By Elisabeth Lambert | 22 Jun 2010

If you think personalisation is simply creating a mail merge that plugs names from a database into stock standard email blasts, then it’s time to wise up. Start employing genuine personalisation techniques that will not only increase customers and returns, but will give you the competitor advantage too. To begin with, it’s important for online […]

If you think personalisation is simply creating a mail merge that plugs names from a database into stock standard email blasts, then it’s time to wise up. Start employing genuine personalisation techniques that will not only increase customers and returns, but will give you the competitor advantage too.

To begin with, it’s important for online retailers to gain an understanding of what true personalisation is –– and that is using customer intelligence to anticipate needs and wishes.  This all boils down to relevance.

Let’s look at the 3 levels of personalisation that all online retailers should be aiming to use in an integrated manner.

Level 1: Basic Send Limited Personalisation

Breaking it down to the very basics, if an email is addressed to you, it becomes relevant to you.  “A lot of companies still look to email,” says Jeff Clark, Managing Director, Engage Digital, Silverpop Partner ANZ, an Australian company that provides email marketing, marketing automation and lead management solutions. “It is easy and it still generates the highest ROI of any channel so companies have been complacent [in furthering their personalisation strategies]. Yet a lack of knowledge exists in this area and companies that only send emails [with the correct names inserted into them] are missing out on a massive opportunity and wasting a lot of money as a lot of these emails may not be ending up in the inbox and, in the future, these emails won’t get there at all.”

As Clark explains, there is increasing pressure to do a better job, which comes down to deliverability.  Currently, major inbox providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo track email engagement, or a lack thereof.  If an online retailer is sending out emails and people aren’t opening them, the inbox service providers will look at that company more suspiciously, to the point where emails sent by that company will get blacklisted or they may not get through at all.

“You have to be careful about black listing,” Clark warns, “so that your company isn’t viewed by inbox providers as a spammer. It is a fast way to waste time and money and an excellent reason for making your email communications highly personal and relevant.”

Yet in the online retail industry you cannot stop your personalisation efforts here. “It’s about engagement and keeping that engagement of your potential and existing customers, whether it’s over a session or a period of time,” explains Clark. “Taking it to the next level is the relevancy of that communication.”  And this is where dynamic content comes into play.

Level 2: Dynamic Content

Dynamic content refers to the ability to change content on site to meet the personal preferences of the individual user.   The content is based on information such as the types of product a customer has previously searched for or is currently searching for, past purchases made or choices an individual has opted in to hear more about.  This data is used to personalise an individual’s experience on your site, which in turn drives relevancy and keeps people on and returning to a website.

Browsing Trixan Body and clicking on a women’s tank top not only brings up the selected product and its information, but also displays other items for sale by the same brand, as well as similar tops by other brands.

Dynamic content shouldn’t be limited to your website. Clark explains that integrating the information you have learned about your customers with your email program is a way of further optimising relevancy.  “With data driven relevancy, you can dynamically populate your email communications too.   So for example your customers in New South Wales could receive a different email from those in Queensland.”

These processes can be achieved using one template with automated systems.  And with automated systems in place, personalisation can be stepped up notch.

Level 3: Trigger-based & Automated Communication

This level of personalisation can range from customer welcome programs to customer re-engagement programs and when implemented correctly, should run in the background of your site, as an automated personalisation tool.

Welcome programs provide a great opportunity to gather dynamic content data and provide an opportunity to engage your customers, in order to increase inbox open rates.

Customer re-engagement programs work to gently remind your customers about your company.  If customers haven’t purchased from your site or opened your emails in a long time, sending out a trigger-based automated email with a short message that may contain an offer or asking them if there are any problems with your service or relationship is a great way to re-engage customers.  “The more automation a company can do based around the experience, the timelier and more relevant these kinds of emails can be,” explains Clark. “Then we can do the other things such as life cycle communication, real time content and web analytics.”

Automated trigger based communication can also be used to re-engage transactions and address issues like shopping cart abandonment, which often happens due to customers being distracted mid-transaction and not returning to that point to finish it.  When somebody drops out of a shopping cart process, an automated email will be sent to that customer informing them that the transaction wasn’t finished, of where they got up to and giving them the option of picking up from where they left off. “It is highly relevant and a lot of customers appreciate that,” says Clark.  And of course, it increases your returns.

Personalisation & The Future

While Australian online retailers do a reasonable level and are starting to evolve their personalisation techniques, Clark still says that they are in danger of losing their business to international retailers who have already got these practices firmly in place.

“Australian online retailers are in a transition phase,” Clark says. “Companies know the value of personalisation and relevancy but don’t take the time to implement the next step –– they’re still sending out the same email to all of their customers.”

In order to gain that competitor advantage, Clark advises Australian online retailers to close that gap and work on combining their email programs with their customers’ online experience.

Personalisation Tip:

Some online retailers are taking advantage of user-generated content to increase the level of personalisation and relevancy with their customers.  Giving customers the option to leave reviews or rate products for really drives home your relevancy, as shoppers like to see what other people think of certain products or what they are buying.

Gap Online is a great example of an online retailer utilising user-generated content extremely well.

User-generated content is also a great way to utilise your customers as a marketing tool, including via social media avenues such as FaceBook and Twitter.

“Customers are more and more in control and have been for a little while now,” says Clark.  “The more you can leverage that, the more customers will advocate you, helping to grow your business.”