For a better customer experience, make it personal

Because of a past life in retail, I've always thought introductory pages for websites were like approaching the main door for a major retailer. A homepage is like a shop window, your copy is like a sales assistant, your shopping cart is like… well, a shopping cart. The best part about a website is that you can do things online that you could never do in real life, like instantly optimise content to suit the user. Let's look at what an ok experience looks like… and what it could look like when you use technology to it's full potential.

What an average customer experience looks like

When you first reach 99% of homepages on the web, it's usually immediately obvious what the company does, who they are and what campaigns they're running. Everything in the 'front window' may even be tailored (targeted content) with content for, say, 'back to school', with clothes, electronics, and stationery that fits that demographic.

If you're lucky, someone will be standing at the front door with a big smile on their face. Ready to greet you, take queries, hand out things, and point you in the right direction. Then they'll say goodbye and check everything's all hunky-dory when you leave.

But that experience only really "suggests" it's personal because it's obvious they do exactly the same things with everyone else. And the "back to school" story in the shop window falls flat with you because you don't go to school and you don't look after any kids.

The experience doesn't have to fall flat - with the reams of data available to marketers as well as technology like CRM and Marketing Automation, many organisations are innovating and providing more personalised, intuitive customer journeys.

What an amazing customer experience looks like

In an ideal world, you approach the storefront/homepage and everything seems tailored just for you. That's because the store's systems identified you as a customer, accessed your shopping history, patterns, and behavior, creating a window that displays only items that you're actually interested in purchasing.

The furniture display includes all your previous purchases such as lounge chairs and tables, allowing you to see how potential purchases would look within your home. At the door, someone greets you by name and asks how your new sofa is going. Inside, as you add a Teak coffee table to your shopping cart, you notice that the display has subtly altered to show wood care products.

When you check out, someone asks if you need a handyman service to help you put together your table, which you gladly accept. You're also asked about your dog and whether it might cause any access problems. Because last time the handyman was at your place he made a note about almost getting mauled by a Rottweiler. You tell them the dog ran off (sorry Fido!) and you have a new kitten, so there shouldn't be any dramas. The items are processed and the system gets updated, along with the note about the kitten.

As you leave the store you glance back at the shopfront and notice there are new displays featuring cat food and toys.

Sounds like science fiction right?

Nope. Well, kind of, if you've seen Minority Report.

This sort of experience (in part) already exists in some websites and online applications. You've probably noticed personalised ads and campaigns in Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon based on how much they know about you and the various things you did before you got there, while you're there, and after you leave.

The next step is for businesses of all sizes, B2B and B2C, to begin personalising content based on the behaviour and history of not only known visitors, but unknown ones (based on location, IP address, etc). Because the more personal the content is, the higher your conversion rates are going to be. The technology is there, but it requires a lot of tinkering and integration with various systems - CRM, CMS, Marketing Automation and Search.

Optimising your customer journey isn't easy - it's a marathon, not a sprint. Start small, beginning with a landing page or campaign page, then use that data to experiment and improve until you're confident enough to roll it out to across your wider web presence.

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