Big Data Is Only One Part of the Personalization Equation

NASHVILLE—With 90 percent of consumers expecting a personalized customer experience and only some 32 percent of businesses claiming to be highly effective at engaging individual customers, according to IBM, companies will be looking to close the gap between customer expectations and targeted interactions.

There are three key best practices to companies' effectively tackling the personalization problem—taking rich information housed on a customer, bringing in unstructured big data, and applying analytics on top of these components, said Paul Papas, global leader for IBM's Smarter Commerce practice, during a keynote presentation here at the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit.

"If I look at every moment I interact with a customer, and I hyper-personalize each moment, it [represents a] fundamental change in mindset," he said. "Clients that are doing this well are really going beyond delivering a good customer experience." One way companies are doing so is by converging physical and digital commerce environments to give customers a highly unique experience.

One IBM client, Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, is continuously challenged with getting all of the variances of its makes and models in front of clients. According to Nathan Summers, digital director for Jaguar Land Rover, the company needs a way to "help our customers get closer to specifications" on vehicles that best fit their needs. One way they do so is through data collection.

Working with IBM, Jaguar was able to create virtual showrooms with digital customization for its cars. Summers said the company did not want to dictate what cars and features would best fit certain customers, but, instead, put customers in control of designing their own dream vehicles. "The more the customer is in control, the more real the data is at the end," he noted.

Similarly, United Airlines relies on its people and process of understanding customer data as much as the technology that powers its online presence. "CMOs and IT need to be thinking, learning, and designing as one," said Scott Wilson, vice president of e-commerce and merchandising for United Airlines.

There is an emphasis on collaboration among teams that track each piece of technology and its impact on the customer life cycle. For instance, teams use IBM enterprise marketing management solution Tealeaf to measure actions on every page on the United Web site. If a site visitor hovers over a specific seat on a seat map but doesn't select a seat, "most Web analytics can't track that," Wilson said. With Tealeaf, the airline is able to follow up with a personalized and targeted email or other correspondences with that site visitor.

Another IBM customer, Pitney Bowes, relies on Smarter Commerce solutions to help centralize business processes and, ultimately, serve new customer segments as it continues to digitize its products and offerings. Although many Web sites provide a feedback button to field customer inquiries, Pitney Bowes vice president and general manager Rudy Chang says Tealeaf allows the company to tap into unstructured data to "diagnose and get back to a customer even if [his] submission is vague."

According to Alisa Maclin, vice president of marketing for IBM Smarter Commerce, qualitative assumptions are sometimes harder to predict when augmenting data on a digital site, but a technology like Tealeaf can add more nuances to data than quantitative Web analytics. This, in turn, can set the stage for a personalized offer, discount, or reminder.

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