Truly knowing the customer and the employer is set to be more important post-pandemic, and requires robust data and technology, experts reveal.

Personalization has become a major challenge and opportunity for business technology leaders in retail and financial services, but being personal in customer service is not restricted to buying pet insurance or the weekly shop. In today’s digital economy, all sectors can and should adopt personalization to improve not only the customer’s experience but also the employees

To become a business that provides a personalized service requires a strong understanding of the customer and the employee, as well as a business-wide focus on the data and next-generation technologies.

“To get a better share of wallet, you do that through relevance and quality, not silly offers,” says Jay Parmar, Chief Technology Officer at Lyst Consulting, who has worked with clients such as international coffee chain brand Costa Coffee and Rolls Royce the makers of aircraft engines.

For many sectors, personalization is how organizations will win over a customer - the share of their wallet. This is vital in sectors like retail, where the profit margin per sale can be as low as one percent. The digitization of industry reduces the margin available and therefore requires increased digitization in the form of personalization. Parmar adds that organizations need to understand the “needs, wants and wishes” of each individual customer so they can translate that into a relevant offer.

“In financial services there used to be a situation where the bank should have known you well, as it could see your spending behavior, yet you would return from a holiday and then they would target you with a travel insurance offer. If they had used their data to know you, they would have seen the customer purchase a holiday and then immediately offer travel insurance,” Parmar says.

Richard Tilbury, Director Of Development at Personal Group adds it is vital to use customer feedback at all times. “We have location awareness within the Happi App that we operate, so we can spot that a Happi user is in Sainsbury’s for example and offer them a discount….but it is important not to be creepy,” he says of the importance of respecting privacy. Happi is an employee benefits and engagement platform that employers offer to their staff.

“Personalization is on everyone’s minds, and the customers demand it, they want a service provider to ‘show me that you know me’,” Parmar adds. “The consumer experience is founded on data, and an organization has to be able to offer a consistent service.” Both business technology leaders agree that the divide between a physical and digital experience has disappeared.

The Happi platform that Tilbury works on is an example of how personalization is not restricted to the retail environment. “We are sending out messages, payslips and P60 documents on behalf of the client,” Tilbury says of how his organization is, in effect, a broker, providing a personalized experience to the staff of a major employer. “We are about the experience and making the employee engaged with their employer,” he says.

The personalization technologies that retailers and bankers are using are adapted to employee benefits by Personal Group, using OutSystems as a technology platform to reward hard-working employees and to help organizations spot when they might lose a valued member of staff or if productivity is dropping. “We have both of their interests at heart. Our clients want a more sophisticated way of engaging with their staff,” Tilbury says.

“The methods and technologies used by Personal Group are the same as selling, they are modelling the data, looking at propensity to fly to another service, so it is all a play on data,” Parmar observes. 

Data’s Personally Vital Role

Data has an intrinsic role in delivering a personalized service, whether in a business-to-consumer or business-to-business context. Without a strong foundation of data, organizations will not be able to offer a personalized product, service or insight, and therefore customer service the business technology leaders reveal.

“If your data is in different places and not connected, then you will have problems and will need to do extra work in the middle because otherwise your business agility to offer personalized messages or offers is reduced,” Parmar says. 

A common challenge is device diversity. Technologies such as Device OS provide CIOs and CTOs with in effect a bridge to ensure device choice doesn’t create data gaps.

Data also allows organizations to adopt the next generation of technologies, which will modernize the operations of the business and can deliver improvements in customer service. “We have a program called ‘make the boat go faster’ on at present at Personal Group, where we are looking at how to make the business more streamlined and make us more efficient,” Tilbury says. “A couple of technology development days can save five minutes off an operation that a staff member does 10 times a day,” he says. 

Parmar agrees and says organizations are automating actions from systems such as the enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms to improve the workflow and pace of business processes such as approvals for procurement, holiday requests or expenses. “We are exploring automated approval, using a set budget, which in the long run will save the business money,” Tilbury says.

“I see robotics and automation as a middleware and integration opportunity for business technology leaders,” says Parmar. He adds that as well as the next generation of technology such as robotic process automation (RPA), organizations can increase their automation and personalized service through the use of APIs or even old fashioned file transfers. 

IT’s Personal

Both business technology leaders were clear that personalization is a business development process.  A personalized service requires insight from sales, marketing, product and customer facing operations as well as the technologists. “It started off as an IT project as it was a problem, but as personalization has gone on, different groups have got involved to do what is necessary to make personalization happen,” Tilbury says. 

Parmar agrees: “As a business it has to be co-created, and it is important to involve all the stakeholders. Co-creation is vital as a technologist cannot be a marketer and a marketer cannot be a technologist, but they can collaborate to create a great outcome.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on all sectors of the economy has made personalization more important, and those organizations that demonstrate that they understand their customers - or employees - will return to health. 

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