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The secret to a happy customer is right in front of you

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“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” ― Stephen R. Covey

The situation on the ground for consumers is…complicated.

The rise of big data has both simplified and complicated our lives. Most of us now accept a new reality of increased choice and convenience coupled with incredibly sophisticated tools to navigate our exploding galaxy of options. We also have greater expectations for online and mobile experiences that cater directly to our tastes, but there are two sides to this proposition.

On one hand, the measure of a great online experience often boils down to how relevant the value proposition is to us as an individuals. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Time Inc., 90% of respondents said they like the idea of custom content as a way for brands to engage with them, 89% believe that this type of content is a great way for brands to break through online clutter, and 93% like brands that share things with them they might not have otherwise seen.

On the other hand, the digital age has also spawned new fear, uncertainty and doubt in our minds about our privacy and security. Fake news, reports of near-continuous data breaches, and revelations about what’s being done with the personal information we’ve entrusted to Facebook, Google, and other data-chugging behemoths: all of these have left most of us with some profound misgivings about the future of big data in our lives, even as we crave the experiences it can deliver.

The situation in the cockpit for marketers is…also complicated

As reality shifts for us as consumers along the personalization versus privacy faultline, so it does for those who would serve us. As public trust continued to dwindle for organizations handling consumers’ personal data in 2015, regulators in Europe drafted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to tip the scales in consumers’ favor. This, in turn, led to a domino effect of many hapless organizations simply shutting down their EU properties on May 25, 2018 – when the regulation took effect – to avoid punishing fines.

Organizations must go beyond simply good intentions and a checklist of system and policy updates to truly infuse transparency throughout the customer experience. This is a new way of thinking for marketers, but turning thought into action, as we all know, requires a plan and a process to get there.

What does this process actually looks like? It all begins with something that’s familiar to anyone marketing to consumers through digital channels: The customer profile. Or, more to the point, what’s wrong with the customer profile, at least for many businesses clinging to their old ways.

But, before I jump into that, what are we trying to accomplish from the customer’s point of view?

What do customers want in exchange for their data?

Earlier, I highlighted “choice and convenience” as two of the most important elements of what the app and device-driven digital economy offers us as consumers. But, like the personalization versus privacy conundrum, this is also something of a paradox.

Unlimited choice does not imply anything like convenience. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and this is precisely where personalization comes in. If a business can understand enough about me to make meaningful recommendations or serve up content relevant to me in the moment, it can help reduce stress by narrowing down my choices, save me time and energy, and even help me discover things I wouldn’t have on my own.

This is the value we as consumers drive from data-driven experiences. The rub? That value vanishes in thin air the moment we feel manipulated, disrespected, or misunderstood. Fragmented data is a roadblock to both compliance and better customer experience, and it’s usually the very thing that is ultimately behind the breakdown of trust for consumers. Let’s look into a solution for this quandary that can tame the 800 pound GDPR gorilla in the room, while setting businesses up for success for the long haul.

Profiles in unity: A new approach to approaching customers

If you don’t have a clear understanding of who someone is and what they’re after, how can you hope to deliver what they want? Yet, this is often the case when organizations attempt to “profile” and target customers by stitching together fragmented bits of information from all corners of the organization, or purchasing audience segments built from unverifiable and anonymous information.

This kind of “personalization” is missing the most important element: The person! Also, the information used for this kind of strategy may have been collected without consumers’ permission or even their knowledge. This is no longer acceptable under GDPR (and not a great way to earn customers’ trust either.)

Flip this equation around, however, and you can build a foundation for more responsible and effective data-driven marketing that puts a premium on trust.

Start by offering value-for-information exchanges to consumers to encourage engagement, and don’t ask for information you don’t need. If someone expresses interest by signing up with their e-mail address for a promotion or newsletter, you already know everything you need to engage them for now, and every new interaction is another chance to offer more value for increased engagement. Rather than one-off point interactions, you’re now building a relationship with that customer that is mutually beneficial and trustworthy.

Then, consolidate the data that you collect across devices, brands and channels into unified customer profiles, governed from a central and secure repository – along with appropriate consent and preference settings. This gives you a single, permission-based source of truth that is consistent across the entire business, and that grows in value as relationships with customers deepen.

The unified customer profile

With this base of unified profiles established, you can orchestrate data out into your broader ecosystem to drive automated marketing programs, product recommendations and personalization of content and services, deep-dive audience analytics and more. Even third-party data stores take on new life when they can be connected to permission-based profiles, infusing human identity into what is otherwise inconsistent and unverifiable information.

The unified customer profile enables you to go from a quantitative to qualitative strategy that wins and keeps customers by offering real value, consistency and integrity across every touch point.

When this more transparent and holistic approach is taken by my favorite businesses, what do I get as a customer? Products, services, and content that improve over time. Experiences that engage me me in just the ways I need or enjoy most. Less stress, easier choices and solutions to my problems, and a feeling of ease from knowing who the “go-to” brands are that have my back.

As a marketer, meanwhile, you get increased conversions, engagement, and lifetime customer value. 

Learn more about strategies for thriving in the age of the empowered customer. Join our free webinar on November 1st!

Sonny Dasgupta
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October 30, 2018
Sonny Dasgupta

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