Tech Line

How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?

Truly knowing your customers thoroughly allows you to meet their current needs and anticipate their future desires. That’s why it is a core differentiator today for businesses that want to stay competitive in an unpredictable world.

With customers shifting to a more digital-first stance both before and since the advent of the pandemic, organizations must improve their ability to not just collect and integrate information about them wherever they may be, but also to make sense of that data so it can be made actionable and affect the customer experience.

Such an accelerated data-management and -analysis capability will enable companies to be more customer-centric, allowing them to be data-driven in their decision-making regarding customer wants, habits, and behaviors. To address this need, companies must incorporate modern and robust data-management technologies to adapt to the constantly changing preferences and behavioral patterns of digital customers.

Foundational Personas

It all begins with the importance of developing customer personas which are more critical than ever, given the acceleration of consumer digital behaviors across multiple channels. Customer personas help businesses understand their customers more completely by modeling semi-fictional representations of key customer segments. This allows a business to target sales and communications more effectively, since they have a deeper understanding of a customer’s behaviors and attitudes.

Next up is creating more authentic experiences for customers by leveraging an ideal customer profile (ICP) to supplement standard persona development. An ICP is your main target in an organization who will help you connect deeper into a company through their many connections. An ICP is going to be your champion in a business, and a deeper dive into their habits and behaviors is warranted to tailor their experiences to be more authentic.

Eva Jackson, Director, Demand Gen Marketing, at PFL, explained: “The way we established the ICP was by looking at our best customers. Who’s spending the most money, who is our biggest champion in the market, and who is giving us maximum referrals? From there, we looked at demographic details, such as age, gender, and job title. We also did soft research into things such as hobbies, marital status, and homeowner status.”

Today, whether an organization wants to be or not, every company is a data company to some degree. Data about your customers is what is going to inform those customer personas, and the ideal customer profiles you use to gain entry into an organization—plus pretty much all other decision making in your company.

So, how are you getting that data about your most valuable customers, and how are you assembling it to make your programs more effective and efficient in a digital-first world?

Customer Service percent

Call centers and customer service representatives have been particularly challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing a large increase in both call volume and difficult calls, all while having to shift employees to either fully remote or a hybrid working situation. In fact, difficult calls increased by 50 percent during the pandemic, according to a study by Harvard Business Review. In addition, there was a 68 percent increase in escalations resulting in a 34 percent increase in hold times.

According to Kricia Storms, Director of Product Marketing & Customer Engagement for PFL, marketers at the company listen directly to their customers to hear their concerns and address them in a coordinated manner.

“Today,” she explained, “we use quarterly business reviews as a chance to conduct a health check with our customers. The exercise in hearing the customers’ feedback directly gives us the opportunity to understand what is top of mind for them and how we can improve the partnership.”

Prior to the pandemic, but accelerated during, customer service and call centers have been embracing advanced technology hardware and software solutions to alleviate manual tasks and routing when dealing with irate customers. More traditional call-center technology tools like interactive voice response (IVR) and analytics continue to be deployed in most call centers, while more advanced solutions, such as artificial intelligence (AI), will give customers more self-service options.

“This year, we are investing in Clozd for win/loss analysis for prospect opportunities and customers so we can give them a chance to provide feedback they might have initially been reluctant to share with their rep,” said Storms. “Clozd conducts prospect/customer interviews and surfaces insights into Salesforce. We will then use these insights to better serve our customers with improvements to our messaging, training, processes, and product.”

AI-infused software applications can reduce the need for manual call routing since AI can route a call to the most qualified agent, reducing wait times. AI can also deliver to an agent predictive actionable response during a call with a customer, giving an agent a multiple choice of responses to assist customers more quickly.

Customer Data Management Solutions

Without a robust customer data-management strategy and solution, no company can expect to truly understand their customers across all channels persistently over time. From DMPs to CRMs and CDPs, your needs and those of customers will dictate what level, type, and combination of solutions you deploy.

  • Data Management Platform (DMP): A DMP is a software platform used to store, manage, and analyze data about ad campaigns and audiences. It is used to create profiles of anonymous users so they can be shared with ad networks. A DMP connects to a demand-side platform (DSP) or a supply-side platform (SSP) to purchase ads through the network. A DMP is a platform for audience data, and is very useful for audience segmentation, building lookalike audiences, and optimizing paid media spend. DMPs are recommended for marketers who are most interested in doing audience segmentation for digital advertising.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): CRM platforms and tools are used by sales teams to collect, maintain, and update information about customers and prospects. A CRM system is used to track all touchpoints along the customer journey, from pre-purchase to retention and advocacy. While CRM systems are a centralized database, they are mostly leveraged by sales and customer-service teams. Marketers can also use a CRM to generate reports and analyze campaign performance for future optimization.
  • Customer Data Platforms (CDPs): A CDP is a centralized customer data-management platform built from the ground-up to collect, manage, and activate data from multiple sources. The CDP can then feed the relevant data to other marketing technology solutions to affect the digital customer experience (CX). Unlike the DMP or CRM, a CDP is designed to collect and integrate all formats of customer data with the goal of creating a single unified customer profile, also known as a “golden profile.” CDPs collect behavioral, demographic, and transactional data, and uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide optimal interconnectivity and interoperability with the rest of your technology stack. CDPs have a further benefit in that many are designed to manage first-party data centrally, so companies can stay in compliance with data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Looking Forward

Understanding your customers, truly understanding them as fully developed individuals, is going to be a key differentiator for businesses who need to stay in synch with ever-changing consumer demands and unpredictable market conditions. From developing data-driven personas to establishing an ideal customer profile (ICP) as an entry-point into an organization, having a full and complete view of your customers behaviors and inclinations is critical to serving and communicating to them effectively.

“It can sometimes be a challenge to understand customers when something has gone wrong. Not all customers are willing to voice their concerns and will continue to act like something wasn’t a big deal when it was, or they may become unresponsive altogether,” said Storms. “That’s when it becomes very challenging to regain a customer’s trust and work together to come up with a resolution.”

While customer data-management solutions, such as CRMs and DMPs, have been used for years by marketing, sales, and customer service to both understand and target customer segments more effectively. Emerging solutions such as CDP are built from the ground-up to collect, integrate, and deliver customer data to the appropriate technology platforms to affect the customer experience across all touchpoints.

Brian Carlson is a digital experience expert focused on the intersection of content, technology, and marketing and how they affect the overall customer experience. He is the founder of RoC Consulting.