Five or six decades ago, shopping was a radically different experience for most people. It was common for a person to walk into a store, be greeted by name, and have the proprietor recommend new products that he believed the customer would like. The proprietor often knew the names and ages of other family members and their preferences as well.
Through the years, shopping has become much more impersonal. Chain stores replaced mom-and-pop retailers. Store personnel changed shifts or locations frequently. The size of stores expanded as well as the number of products. Staffs were often kept to a minimum, making it difficult for customers to receive any attention much less warm, personal attention.
Online shoppers have never fared much better. They often find they must navigate through multiple pages to find the item they want. Unless they bookmark the page, the entire process may have to be repeated if the purchase is postponed.
How the Landscape is Changing
But technology has changed how customers interact with businesses. Shoppers can buy an item online or at a physical store, compare prices at multiple stores or evaluate reviews by others who had purchased the product.
In short, shoppers became more empowered than ever before — and with that, they became more demanding. The cookie-cutter, impersonal approach was no longer attractive. Customers began to demand personalized attention and an engaging experience.
Big data, robust analytics and powerful CRM systems provided the basic tools needed to give customers what they wanted. These three elements form a solid foundation for engaging customers in a personalized, intelligent manner.
To illustrate, it might be helpful to discuss two popular tools — Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sitecore 8.1.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Microsoft Dynamics is first and foremost a customer-relationship management solution. It can bridge all touchpoints, including your customer's activities on your website. It can leverage data to recognize visitors, their habits and their preferences to provide a personalized experience. Content and suggestions can be offered automatically to engage customers at just the right time. It can be a great way to build or nurture customer relationships while providing you with the insights you need to increase sales and reduce marketing costs.
Sitecore initially focused on content management in its early days. It has since evolved into one of the leading providers for managing customer experience and automating multichannel marketing efforts as well as managing web content. Sitecore 8.1 offers so many benefits to marketers that it is difficult to list them all:
- The Sitecore Experience Database, or xDB, can gather information from within Sitecore as well as other systems and even offline activities. This gives marketers a consolidated view of their customers that they can leverage in near real-time.
- Sitecore can provide a truly seamless cross-channel experience. Data and content can be shared with peripheral — that is, non-Sitecore — sites.
- Device-detection capabilities can provide you with the customer's geographic location and the type of device being used. Marketers can tailor offers or content based on location, or optimize load times or displays based on device type.
- Site analytics can reveal how your customers behave while on your site, where they came from and what they find least engaging.
Tips for Providing the Right Type of Experience
Once you have identified your customers' preferences, respect them. If you know that a customer prefers email communications, for example, do not flood them with text messages.
Make sure that you are providing relevant experiences. Leverage analytics to learn all you can about your customers. Sending a customer who is a vegetarian a discount offer to a steakhouse can be a waste of time, but it could also permanently offend the customer.
Remember that although customers expect you to know a great deal about them, they do not want you to know everything. Too much personalization can make customers feel as if they are being stalked.