We all know the age-old saying – the customer comes first. Over the years, Plinc (formerly Planning-inc) has attended many industry events and had long discussions with B2C customer marketing leaders in various industries. And the notion of the “customer-first” has infiltrated nearly every conversation in some shape or form.
The digital age has led to brands striving to be customer-first, but what does this mean?
In our recent webinar, “The State of Customer Data 2023”, we delved into the complex challenges and opportunities of achieving a customer-first mindset.
After surveying 200 B2C senior leaders from retail, e-commerce, dining, hospitality, and travel about their customer data and technology, we knew it was time for customer marketers to have a customer mindset makeover, where customer decisions and interactions are better — putting a smile on every CMO’s face.
The webinar commenced with Lara Bonney, Sales Director at Plinc, underlining the big prize for putting customers at the heart of marketing strategy: stronger relationships and greater loyalty.
Stuart Russell, Chief Strategy Officer at Plinc, then took the floor, giving his take on what customer-first actually is and his expert knowledge of it.
The evolution of customer-first
Stuart began the discussion by highlighting customer-first as an evolution, beginning with customer-led strategies as the starting point. Initially, the primary focus was to attract customers and do everything possible to bring them through the door and retain them. The stress on the “customer” paved the concept of relevancy in customer marketing.
But as brands started understanding customers better, customer-led brands evolved to be more customer-centric, and perhaps this is where customer “needs” became more accepted and responded to. Evolving again, we arrived at the term “customer-first” – the true Nirvana of data-led customer marketing.
A customer-first business develops propositions and delivers customer experiences that are fully rooted in customer needs.
Most businesses are inherently product-led. With customers at the heart of every company, brands began evolving, seeking new ways to enhance customer experiences with personalised experiences. Over time, this customer-first journey seeped into retail, travel, and dining, with brands hoping to drive customer loyalty by delivering precisely what the customer wants.
Ultimately, customer-first represents an advanced data-driven state where all parts of the business are united around the view of the customer. Stuart shared how McLaren, the Formula 1 team, did this brilliantly with the concept of “citizen analysts” – putting data in the hands of non-technical experts to meet core customer North Star KPIs and achieve cross-channel personalisation capability, effective diagnostics and measurement and agility.
Understanding the market
According to our research, only 1% out of the 200 businesses surveyed appeared to be customer-first, and more than a third (36%) of businesses believe they are between four and five years away from achieving a true customer-first mentality. On the plus side, every respondent cited achieving a “customer-first” approach as a goal for their business.
So, what’s behind the delay in becoming customer-first? What’s holding businesses back, and what are the clear opportunities?
Looking at the core foundational data sets
As an expert in the field for 20+ years, Stuart proposed that customer-first can only be achieved when a business operates off a fully unified Single Customer View (SCV). To understand whether businesses are operating with a fully realised SCV, we asked:
“How strongly do you agree with the following statement, “My business has a full 360-degree view of individual customers, which collects and matches data such as onsite transactions and in-store transactions (if applicable), digital behaviours (e.g., customer-level website and app browsing) and channel interactions to a customer”.
It was interesting to see just under a third (30%) of brands strongly agreed that they had this infrastructure in place, 42% somewhat agreed, and 28% of brands neither agreed nor disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Looking at this critically, you would argue that less than a third of brands feeling fully confident about their SCV in 2023 is pretty disappointing, given that the notion of united data and the importance of a single connected data source has long been a point of discussion.
When we started to dig further into this statement and identify data points that we would anticipate being in the Single Customer View, we observed some interesting gaps…
- Only 23% suggested they include offline purchase history and transaction data in their core data asset, denoting brands are fundamentally struggling to connect offline activity to the rest of the data they have.
- Only 20% report that website browsing behaviour at the customer level flowed into the Single Customer View, which is a concern, as this data enables you to understand what customers are doing between purchases and helps drive predictive models and engagement.
- Just 19% say customer reviews were going into their 360° view. While this data source might not be pivotal for campaigns and personalisation, if you’re being customer-first, it helps to understand and respond to customer sentiment.
Time is of the essence
The key to being customer-first is having the latest data to hand to make informed decisions. However, 62% of respondents suggested that their core data asset was updated weekly or even less frequently. When this data is often locked behind a paywall, it is often quite difficult to access. During peak periods, managing and optimising promotions and stock availability is key, so it is critical that the core customer data which informs marketing is updated frequently.
Inaccessibility stunts relevancy
When asked “How much of your customer data is easily available and accessible to target and personalise customer campaigns?”, only 18.50% of brands felt that all of it was available to use easily. This shocking stat points to silos, broken tech, and the proliferation of point solutions that brands are using to personalise certain experiences. Close to 9% haven’t even connected their core broadcast platform (e.g., email service provider).
The implications for customer-first ability
Recognising that the core data asset that should drive customer-first strategies is currently underperforming, Stuart shared some insights into the implications of these missed opportunities and what challenges are specifically holding brands back from achieving a customer-first mentality.
On top of the list of challenges is the frequency of updates for analysis. Other issues include data duplication, integrating offline datasets, data retention and data quality.
We also dug deeper into the world of personalisation and asked respondents how sophisticated, if at all, is the personalisation in their customer marketing. Despite personalisation being a huge topic for many years, only 18% of brands could put their hand up and say they’ve achieved a very sophisticated state.
When asked what sophisticated personalisation looks like, Stuart emphasised that today’s customer marketers should be able to achieve genuine cross-channel experiences. Customers should receive the same experience across the touch points in-store and online. Personalisation is not exclusive to digital channels; it is something that can be enabled by colleagues in-store or by restaurant managers in dining.
Our solution: Unilyze
To conclude the discussion, Stuart demonstrated Unilyze, Plinc’s AI-enhanced, real-time data platform connecting millions of customers and billions of interactions for insight and activation. Unilyze provides an updated daily view of customer performance, split by about 100 different views off the shelf. These analytics encompass loyalty segments, lifecycles, and predictive segments, empowering more informed discussions among customer marketers.
The introduction of customer dashboards not only enhances team discussions but also democratises data access, catering to the needs of a ‘citizen analyst’—a concept we previously explored. These dashboards strategically place comprehensive customer views before relevant business sectors, fostering cohesion across business units and uniting them around customer-centric KPIs. This cohesive approach offers invaluable insights into customer behaviour and essential plays within the customer base, enabling brands to truly impact and differentiate themselves in the market.
If you have questions or want to learn more about Unilyze, get in touch. Our solutions experts would happily discuss your business’s personalisation efforts and provide tailored insights.