“I’m in a cold sweat.” So began the call from the CMO of a prominent Fortune 100 company. “We’ve invested millions in new customer engagement technology and just realized that we never actually asked our customers how they define more relevant communications and experiences.”
Perhaps you, too, have had the awakening that the yield you’ll receive from the millions invested in new technology rests on your ability to deliver a personalized, preference-based customer experience. Research conducted by our firm, ERDM, for clients such as IBM, MassMutual, QVC, and Norton AntiVirus indicates that for many consumers--B2B and B2C--preference centers presumably designed to engage them are, in fact, alienating them.
This article, the first installment of a two-part series, provides insights regarding the special role preference centers play in enabling companies to capture the deep preference information necessary to drive truly personalized communications. Unfortunately, many brands are falling short. While conducting our ERDM VoC research, customers told us they are not receiving the expected value from preference centers. Among their statements:
- “Misleading--they are focused on the company’s sales goals, not on learning the customer’s preferences.”
- “They’re not focused on my preferences. The focus is on the stuff they want to sell my company.”
A summary of findings indicates that many preference centers don’t provide a resource that is:
- comprehensive across different product lines and channels
- easy to find, use, and update as customers’ needs change
Insights such as these are helping CMOs and CIOs realize they need a far deeper understanding of how customers define preference-driven engagement. This includes understanding how customers define a value-based relationship with their brands, personalization, and appropriate questions to ask regarding their preferences.
The Only Votes That Count Come From Your Customers And Prospects
For today's empowered consumers, personalization is a basic expectation. To achieve this heightened level of personalization, more accurate customer data is required.
“For customers, the preference center is the mechanism to voice how they wish to interact with a brand. For marketers, it allows them to develop a deeper understanding of their customers,” Jennifer Downes, Lenovo NA’s director of direct response marketing, told me. “That said, the reality is that marketers as business people have metrics to meet, which may be at odds with providing the best customer experience. The key to success is for the marketer to find creative ways to meet these metrics without creating a conflict with the customer's desire for relevant engagement.”
Added Diangelo Tyler, director of online marketing at Thomson Reuters: “Keep in mind that the preference center is for the customer, and they hold the power of voice. The criteria for a truly customer-centric preference center is simplicity. As marketers we must honor the choices of our customers if we want to keep them engaged from that point forward.”
Satisfaction A Given--Engagement Now The Critical Differentiator
Our VoC research also indicated that relevance and personalization is viewed as a service and benefit, not just a sales tool.
“As marketers, more relevant, preference-driven communication ensures greater audience engagement and maximizes marketing efficiency,” Denice Hasty, SVP of consumer marketing at Comcast, told me. “I think governance and vetting the strategy and tactical plan across multiple business functions is key. Strong execution requires maximum coordination. One misstep can cause a really bad experience.”
B2B and B2C consumers understand that in order to receive more relevant information, they need to share personal information. Among ERDM clients, we have witnessed preference-based engagement drives consistent double-digit increases in response, revenue, and customer lifetime value.
Takeaways From Execs Who Have Been Through The Preference Center Experience
In summary, customer-focused preference centers are essential for encouraging customers and prospects to opt in and provide deep preference information. This also provides marketers with unprecedented amounts of rich and accurate customer data, which will drive dramatic increases in response, revenue and customer engagement.
Here’s what we’ve been told:
• Lenovo’s Downes: “It’s critical that we enter into the process with an open mind, accepting that we don’t have all the answers. We must be diligent in asking questions in an unobtrusive way and be willing to let the customer guide us in formulating a customer-centric preference center.”
• Thomson Reuters’ Tyler: “We did some market research ahead of deploying our new email preference center. Our objective was to determine what was most important to the customer. Simplicity was the conclusion. It was critical that we make it as quick and simple as possible for our customers to manage their preferences and marketers to get access to their permissions.”
• Comcast’s Hasty, SVP: “We are just scratching the surface of what we can do in this space. As our markets become increasingly fragmented on interests and needs, delivering the right message at the right time in the right way will be impossible without a solid preference management practice. Online, we believe in a value exchange–the best offers online to our most engaged online audiences, which also provide the best progressive profiling data to act upon in future interactions.”
In my next article, I’ll focus on specific tips and recommendations from CMOs and senior execs regarding preference center functions and experiences that are critical whether you are about to build a new center or make improvements to an existing preference center.