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Context Makes Sense

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Context Makes Sense
Context Makes Sense

“Treat your customers like individuals.” You hear that all the time. Yes, but, I mean, how?

“It sounds simple, but it can be a little tricky, because human beings are not uni-dimensional,” said Paul Papas, IBM's global business leader for Smarter Commerce at IBM's eponymous global summit in Nashville.

Say you're marketing to a mom. Sometimes she's at home playing with her kids, yes. But other times she's enjoying some quiet time with a book in the park or she's at the office prepping for a big presentation—and this is all a single individual we're talking about.

Or, say you're marketing to Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM Watson Solutions. He's the head guy in charge of Watson and cognitive computing—but he's also an adrenaline junkie who likes racing Formula 1 cars. Or say you're marketing to Maria Winans, VP of worldwide industry solutions marketing for IBM. She spends her days thinking about marketing Smarter Commerce, and she spends her off time as a kickboxing instructor and doing karate. She's a black belt.

Real people have a variety of interests. They're not just one thing, and they don't want to be treated like a segment—unless it's done well. Ninety percent of customers expect personalization—that's nine out of ten people. (“I'd like to sit down with that one person who doesn't want personalization and get into their head,” said Papas.) Customers are, on average, willing to spend 20 minutes of their time setting up personal preferences to let marketers know how, when, and why they want to receive communications, but a mere 32% of marketers claim to be highly effective in engaging with individual consumers.

“The difference between a customer you love and a customer you lose is one letter,” said Papas. “Take that Jay Baer. Smarty pants.” (Oh, the inside Summit jokes.)

So, to address the question of how brands can connect with customers on an individual level in context—please to enjoy three best practices from Papas:

1. Harness Big Data to personalize at scale.

More than 80% of the data being created today, and there's lots of it, is unstructured—videos, pictures, voice. To get a handle on it, Papas advises “taking all that rich information you have in structured form, then bring in your unstructured Big Data, and then apply analytics on top of that.”

For example, take IBM's client Telerex, a large contact center outsourcer. Telerex has about 30 years of customer history in unstructured form (voice recordings and that kind of thing). It was like sitting on a goldmine without a pan until Telerex applied automated voice transcription to the recordings, allowing it to efficiently organize a massive amount of information. To take it a step further, Telerex also does a bit of advanced social analytics for its customers to track and monitor social buzz related to product launches, etc.

2. Maximize and own the moment.

You can't really “own” the customer relationship anymore. Channels are just too fragmented and customers have too many choices. But you can own what Papas refers to as “the moment of interaction.”

Just look at CenterPoint Energy. A utility company may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “customer relationship,” but CenterPoint's doing a nice job of adding value at any touchpoint where it makes sense to do so. The company tracks customer preference information and shares that data across all its business units and functions so that when a customer tells CenterPoint's billing department, for example, that he or she prefers to be contacted via SMS, the tech and repair departments get that info also. CenterPoint also offers customers advice and suggestions, like tips on how to lower costs or reduce their carbon footprint, and uses its “smart meters” to notify customers in advance of planned outages.

3. Exploit the convergence of physical and digital.

“Don't think of digital and live interaction as two separate things,” said Papas. “The real magic happens when you bring the two together...and break the boundaries of innovation.”

IBM spends about $6 billion on research each year. Some of that money now goes to the Customer Experience Lab, where IBM brought together a group of 100 brainiacs to partner with clients and develop innovative commerce solutions.

One such innovation is centered on location-based services (LBS). The lab developed a tool, dubbed the Present Zone, that lets brands tap LBS in-store, where cell service is usually spotty spotty. Present Zone can detect when customers enter or leave a store, which aisle they're in, and how long they've been there. Customers can also use the tool to signal whether they want someone to come over and help them, or if they just want to be left alone.

Papas is a particular fan of the “leave me alone button.”

“A bad associate is like the in-store version of an online pop-up ad,” he quipped.

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