8 principles for building a real-time customer experience practice

It’s vital to get the right foundation in place to deliver real-time customer experiences, as key learnings from brands that shared their own journey at Adobe Summit 2021 reveal.

If organisations learned one thing in 2020, it was that they could achieve amazing things in surprisingly short time frames — weeks instead of months and months instead of years — with the right focus. As a result, customers who witnessed brands quickly evolving their digital offering began to measure other brands against the same yardstick, irrespective of industry, creating new expectations and impetus around real-time customer experience.

From supermarkets to startups, brands that found themselves on the front line of these changing customer needs and expectations rapidly evolved their real-time customer experience practice, re-evaluating the role of data, technology, people and processes.

“Every part of the business must work together, in real time, to meet customer needs, and be ready to adapt to whatever change may come next,” concluded Adobe and the London School of Economic’s New Era in Experience report.

It’s vital to get the right foundation in place in order to deliver real-time experiences, as key learnings from brands that shared their own real-time journey at Adobe Summit 2021 reveal.

Customer at the centre

A customer-centric culture is the first essential, according to Australian fintech, Hay. According to Hay’s Head of Digital Marketing Brad Pidgeon, the company “always puts the Hay customer at the centre of everything we do”.

This is embedded into the fintech’s data strategy, where all data is centralised in a data lake, enabling insight-rich experiences based on a single view of the customer. By the end of 2021, that unified view will extend to every stage of the customer journey, Pidgeon says, enabling the brand to surround the customer with “personalised contextual messaging at scale”.

It also includes establishing an audience of ‘founders’ to test new products and developments in return for early access. “We now do this for every major product release,” Pidgeon says, referring to Hay’s co-creation approach to development, which allows for rapid testing and learning, and a vastly shortened product development cycle.

Staged real-time experience technology roll-out

In digital transformations, marketing and experience teams are often advised not to ‘boil the ocean’ when it comes to rolling out new technology — meaning it pays to start small, bed in each solution, and build.

Hay, whose mantra, “Money at life speed” positions it at the centre of the real-time revolution, approached building its real-time experience stack with a staged adoption of the data, technology and processes required to support instant experience offerings, in keeping with its initial startup-sized budget.

The company’s real-time CX technology suite began with analytics and a data layer in 2019, then transitioned to test website and online app experiences, followed by the deployment of personalisation and audience segmentation tools powered by the complete Hay website and app launch.

By July 2020, Hay was optimising customer journeys to improve the onboarding experience over a period of just days, instead of the months that process would typically take in banking. This led to a 265 percent increase in conversion and a cost per acquisition from digital media that was 66 percent lower than industry benchmarks.

Actionable data and insights driving real-time customer experiences

Effective data management is fundamental to real-time customer experience, says Suzanne Steele, Vice President and Managing Director of Adobe Australia and New Zealand. “Without strong data management, companies lack a real, effective approach to engage customers in real time,” she told a forum of Australian and New Zealand analysts and media on the eve of Adobe Summit 2021.

At Hay and WooliesX, the innovation arm of the supermarket chain, data that generates actionable insights is fundamental to real-time customer experience delivery.

“To deliver personalised money at life speed experiences you must be measuring, then using and democratising real-time actionable data and insights to optimise and improve every part of the customer experience,” Pidgeon says.

Both brands have recently undergone a data democratisation process to put actionable customer data at the fingertips of marketing and other teams. At Hay, this has meant developing analytics workspaces showing live data for different teams to analyse and action.

The fintech has also securely connected transactional data with experience data, “allowing us to build data rich customer profiles and relevant audience segments” to fuel personalisation, Pidgeon says.

WooliesX’s approach to data includes external quantitative and qualitative insights, as well as reviewing customer behaviour — daily for some teams — to inform rapid content development.

“They make decisions around building out content rapidly to get to our customers as quickly as possible,” says WooliesX General Manager, Experience and Content, Kat Hartmann.

Test-and-learn iteration and rapid optimisation

Traditional marketing teams once planned a whole year’s activity in advance, but Hartmann says WooliesX has found significant benefits in launching something quickly, testing the response, and then iterating to improve it.

At WooliesX, the agile team structure also includes an experimentation chapter focused on “running tests to better understand customers, what they need and how they want to interact”, and an experience optimisation chapter that has a “remit of innovating rapidly and in small measures,” Hartmann says.

Empowered, agile teams

Agile teams with the flexibility, skills and autonomy to make quick, evidence-based decisions also give customer experience teams the speed injection they need.

The agile operating structure at WooliesX sees teams divided into chapters — which bring together experience management disciplines that foster the development of particular skills – and cohorts – where the actual work is done.

Agile ways of working have helped to “turbo charge” the team, Hartmann says. Team members have been empowered with the data and autonomy to make decisions and clear approval processes.

Real-time personalisation

The combination of data-rich customer profiles and relevant audience segments enables brands to make real-time personalisation a reality.

At Hay, the team is working on personalising its app launch screen, delivering “timely and contextual” next-best-action offers and messages, and further personalising the onboarding journey.

At India’s HDFC Bank, following the adoption of customer experience technology, data latency on the impact of campaigns has been reduced to just 30 minutes when it previously took up to a week, according to Head of Martech and Automation, Deepak Oram.

“We are able to now measure the full stack running from personalisation with segmentation to fulfilment,” Oram says, adding the transformation has been aimed at helping “everyone around me understand customers better and reach them in a timely manner”.

Integration of experience technology with business-critical technology

The secure integration of experience technology with critical business systems at HDFC is also spurring progress in real-time experiences that directly drive growth and revenue.

“In most banks the digital onboarding platform and the customer experience platforms are stitched together in a very, very shoddy way,” Oram says. “This is a big problem. It breaks the customer experience.”

HDFC has integrated its core banking system APIs with its experience technology. Among other things, it is driving a much clearer picture of attribution by making it easier to see the correlations between particular marketing channels and customer activity, such as loan applications.

“You can see how much was due to email and Facebook,” Oram says. “This is the power of connecting APIs to customer experience.”

Automation to create efficiencies

HDFC’s objectives include a 25 percent revenue target from “unassisted” customer journeys, meaning there is no employee involvement — not even an email — in those transactions.

“A transformation was required to change the uphill nature of acquiring products that a customer has to go through,” Oram says. “The bottlenecks were the customer onboarding channel — you cannot onboard a customer fast enough.”

To that end, paper-based methods have been replaced with fully digital, automated processes that occur in near-real-time, removing key administrative bottlenecks to real-time customer experiences.

“We removed paper and we were now in a position to offer profitable products to customers,” Oram says.

Constant evolution is a permanent part of the new era in customer experience, where real-time responses are rapidly becoming a customer expectation. Getting the right foundations in place, from a data, technology, people and process point of view, will enable brands to drive growth by exceeding those expectations.

For more on how HDFC, WooliesX, Hay and others have evolved their real-time customer experience practice, watch Adobe Summit 2021 on demand now.