A few weeks ago I was fortunate to be one of the first to read the 2015 Aimia Loyalty Lens Report. Loyalty Lens is an Aimia-sponsored annual research report designed to explore global trends in consumer loyalty, attitudes to technology and views on sharing personal data. What this year’s report had to say about our collective effectiveness at delivering great personalized customer experiences was surprising. US loyalty membership declined in 2014 in all sectors except banking, with credit card providers suffering the biggest membership declines. While US sectors regarded as treating customers as individuals (such as banks) performed better than others, even in that sector, only about 2 in 3 customers agreed that companies were using their data to treat them as individuals. Meanwhile, while 78% of US consumers are expecting better service and benefits in exchange for their data, only 21% feel their expectations are currently being met.

I was mulling over these findings and trying to decide what they mean. While watching a game on TV, I heard the commentators describe the experience of a rookie pro athlete working hard to master the game at a top level with little success. They talked about everything as moving too fast, struggling to coordinate inputs from coaches, practice, prior experience and the game at hand. And then I heard the following cliché: “…and then the game suddenly slowed down for her”. 

Then it struck me: maybe the game hasn’t slowed down for marketers yet.

Like that rookie, perhaps we are still struggling with the countless inputs involved – in our case, vision, internal politics, technology, process and resource changes, program mechanics, and performance measurement. Add to this market forces, customer behavior, and company performance - variables that continually shift beneath our feet.

That said, like many other areas of human endeavor pursued and mastered, it has always seemed inevitable that we will eventually realize the potential of personalized customer experiences. And today there are many great brands leading the way. Nevertheless, it’s disconcerting to see multiple success indicators for this pursuit trending in a less-than-positive direction. 

In considering what common issues may be hindering progress, these possibilities rose to top of my list:

  • Too often customer experience may still be “trumped in the trenches” by other prerogatives. Even writing this feels like sacrilege - but though you’ll never hear it acknowledged on a shareholder call, I suspect this is always a factor. I have seen it in the way CRM is perceived and used at retailers (for example), in the way performance is judged, and in the way its evolution is planned. Brands whose organizations view 1:1 brand-customer interactions primarily through the lens of revenue generation are a bit like ships searching for land through the wrong end of a telescope. Does this mean brands can’t create a great customer experience while also generating revenue? Clearly the two are causally related, and it is clearly possible to achieve both, but balancing these needs is still a skill many still struggle to master.
  • Brands still lack sufficient commitment to a customer experience vision – especially when to deliver it, they might have to act occasionally on faith. Without a commitment rooted in both, customer experiences often get affected in counterproductive ways. The world’s most admired brand customer experiences - Nordstrom, Virgin, Starbucks, Zappos - reveal a long-standing commitment by leadership that has often transcended what can be measured and financially proven on a quarterly basis. If true, how realistic is it to think any brand can accomplish the same lofty customer experience heights without a similar commitment?

Clearly, it’s getting harder to win over customers with anything less than the exceptional. To slow the game down, perhaps brands need not only execute flawlessly against a brilliant customer experience vision, but also to simplify the playbook so all employees can consistently put customer experience quality first. I am not convinced anything less is likely to get us a better grade from consumers next year.

Here’s hoping.

For more information on how Aimia can help you create better personalized customer experiences, please contact us at [email protected] or www.aimia.com.

 

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