Customers engaging in digital-first, dynamic journeys expect relevant, meaningful, and consistent customer experiences regardless of how they interact with a brand.
New data from our commissioned survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that nearly half of the consumers that participated (48%) said that their customer experiences (CX) rarely meet their expectations, a failing they largely attribute to their belief that brands lack customer data that is accurate or up-to-date.
This is a data quality problem with serious implications. Because customers no longer tolerate brands uninterested or incapable of providing personalized, omnichannel customer experiences, which is what happens when brands rely on out-of-date, inaccurate data and fragmented marketing touchpoints. In the Harris Poll survey, 39% of consumers said they will no longer do business with a brand that does not offer a personalized experience.
The meaning of omnichannel customer experiences
A real-time, omnichannel customer experience (CX) instantly recognizes a customer on any channel, any device, and across every interaction with a brand or company. It also recognizes the customer in the context of the individual customer journey and delivers an experience – an offer, a next-best action, a conversation, a solution, etc. – perfectly aligned within that context. From the customer’s standpoint, a seamless omnichannel CX is as if a brand is speaking with the customer with one voice, regardless of interaction touchpoint.
Maintaining a consistent voice across all channels that spans every conceivable way a customer interacts with a brand (online, in-store, website, mobile app, call center, collections, service, etc.) elevates experience to beyond the scope of marketing. Rather, experience becomes central to brand promise if spoken consistently with the brand voice. The relationship a brand builds with a customer through the consistent delivery of an omnichannel CX is based on trust since the cognitive value of a brand is the reduction of the potential for making a bad choice, what economists call “loss aversion.”
An important dimension of trust is that the customer trusts that their personal data will be used in accordance with their stated privacy preferences to deliver such experiences. In return, they are willing to provide more personal data. Far more than price and product, the totality of a consistent omnichannel experience is how a customer expands the basis of trust and experiences through the perceived safety of sticking with the brand.
Delivering omnichannel customer experiences becomes even more important considering recent changes to consumer behaviors, many of them in response to the pandemic that has raised the bar for digital excellence. In a McKinsey survey on changing U.S. behaviors, 73% of U.S. consumers said they have tried a new shopping behavior since Covid-19, with roughly 80% of them saying they intend to continue the behavior indefinitely. Digital returns, curbside pick-up, and buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) are among the new behaviors gaining in popularity that blend digital and physical channels and put pressure on brands to know everything there is to know about a customer, in real time, in order to satisfy heightened expectations for personalized experiences.
See also: A Return to Small Data for 2021
Data quality and a virtuous cycle of data, insight, action
It’s easy to see how poor data quality prevents brands from keeping up with a customer, with lost sales as a result. A brand without a real-time view into a customer’s physical and digital behaviors will invariably provide an irrelevant offer, message, or content, often considered “breakage.” Or, worse, an action that introduces friction into the customer journey.
Harder to understand is why this must happen. Unfortunately, too often, the answer is because brands fall to the misconception that a unified customer database accessible to other systems will magically provide an omnichannel CX. The question, though, how? A unified customer database will do little to provide a single view of a customer if the business is decoupled, channel-driven, or if the customer data is otherwise siloed by business functions. These types of siloes create an inconsistent voice that introduces friction.
Another reason a unified customer database stops short at meeting customer expectations for a superior omnichannel experience is their traditional approach to identity resolution. For many of these systems, identity resolution relies on the co-opted concepts pushed by some of the displaced AdTech on-boarders now struggling to pivot away from the loss of revenue generated by selling audiences into another, questionable, use of third-party data that few, if any of us, have ever agreed to. That is using “data backbones” or “spines” or reference files. This is a tenuous approach based on the belief that they will be able to derail privacy legislation that outlaws the “dark usage” patterns and the privacy statement “small print” on which this kind of personal data exploitation depends.
The question of who owns your personal data is one each individual should consider. It is also shortsighted because other methods are more accurate and more adherent to privacy concepts. In a data sharing world where data sharing partnerships will rule, those reference files become a major source of latency and do not accurately manage the point of the sharing, the customer overlap. Stand-alone matching technology with well-developed and mature algorithms should be the focus. They are out there, just not making the kind of noise the post-third-party cookie vendors are.
With this approach, using the database to design an experience means that the brand is basing decisions on stale data that does not accurately reflect a single view of the customer. Stale data that is seconds, minutes, or hours old may be well behind a customer moving through a dynamic journey that combines physical and digital channels. Reference files do not provide the depth of data that is essential for creating a consistent experience that spans every stage of doing business with a company in real time. Instead, they provide a point-in-time match. When keys change with every episodic match, it is impossible for a brand to have a consistent voice over time. That depends on having a historical view of how the customer changes or how the customer’s relationship with a brand changes.
Lacking that longitudinal view of a customer will degrade the brand promise, which is based on the value exchange where the customer provides first-party data for a consistent, omnichannel CX. First-party data is the foundation of a virtuous cycle of data, insight, and action that extends the relationship and enhances customer lifetime value.
Omnichannel customer experiences with a single point of control
With an acceptance that accurate, pristine, first-party data is a base-level requirement for orchestrating real-time interactions and keeping up with a dynamic customer journey, the question then becomes how to create this lasting value through technology.
With the shortcomings of a so-called “unified” customer database laid bare, it becomes clear that true lasting value based on an exchange of value stems from having a single point of operational control over data, decisions, and actions. Data management is a key component; first-party data processing at the point of ingestion, applied immediately to a customer record, provides a brand with supreme confidence that a record consists of the freshest, most accurate, and up-to-date data. A brand knows a record is up to date because customers themselves are providing the data and because the data is processed at the point of ingestion – eliminating the lags that prevent a brand from keeping up with a real-time, dynamic customer journey across both physical and digital channels.
With intelligent orchestration capabilities and a real-time decisioning engine in the same platform, supreme trust in data and the ensuing customer record carry over into trust that decisions are always in the best interest of the customer, optimized by channel in the context of the individual customer journey. A modern architecture is indispensable to meeting customer expectations for an omnichannel customer experience. When customer experience is understood as an organizational imperative, it stands to reason that an unmanageable network of fragmented systems does more than create uneven marketing campaigns and process inefficiency. It weakens the relationship between the brand and the customer. Not to mention, these fragmented systems – unwieldy MarTech stacks, composed of narrowly functional, consumer-grade technologies – are an all-too-common sight in large enterprises.
As the Harris Poll shows, customers engaging in digital-first, dynamic customer journeys expect relevant, meaningful, and consistent experiences regardless of how they interact with a brand. Customers know this is possible because data-driven, customer-centric brands are doing this today. This is why they will not think twice about taking their business elsewhere if a brand does not meet the expectation. If a brand does not care enough about me as a customer to provide a personalized experience, why should I care to give it my business? Financial incentive is a powerful motivator for brands to get on board with moving beyond base-level personalization to deliver an omnichannel CX that builds relationships with loyal customers.