3 data-driven strategies to deliver customer experiences that matter

To successfully deliver experiences in a digital-first world, companies must capture meaningful data and derive insights from it. Here are three data-driven strategies that do just that.

M1’s journey toward digital transformation began well before the COVID-19 pandemic. As a leading telecommunications operator (telco) in Singapore, M1 moved its business to the cloud to better serve its customers — from when they first visit the company’s website all the way through the activation of their services and billing.

“We want to be a customer experience leader, and what that means is we want our customers to be able to self-serve for what they want to do,” said M1 chief digital officer Nathan Bell in our conversation at Adobe Summit 2021. “We already enable them to check how much data they’ve used or to view their bill, but we want them to be able to do everything. It’s important for us to drive rich customer experiences.”

Going through a digital transformation during a pandemic was a massive undertaking, especially for a large organization like M1. But the telco was able to quickly change course and ramp up its plans. In less than a year, the M1 team integrated a complex network of over 20 software systems and established a single data model across all the elements in its ecosystem.

In my conversations with business leaders across the Asia Pacific region, the desire to deliver rich customer experiences is a common theme. Wherever organizations were in their digital transformation journey before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has accelerated the pace and raised customer expectations for digital experiences. Moreover, ongoing uncertainty in many countries, including Singapore, makes clear that embracing this shift is about more than muscling through temporary volatility. Rather, by embracing a digital-first mindset, leaders are future-proofing their business while prioritizing health and safety for the long haul.

Fast-tracking their companies’ digital transformation is step one. Next, they must find a way to strengthen their data capabilities. Adding to the pressure, they have to figure out new ways to attract and retain customers — with third-party cookies going away, brands will have to rethink their strategies for capturing and using customer data.

To succeed in the new digital-first world, companies must have both the technical infrastructure and the skills to capture data, derive insights from it, and then use those insights to deliver experiences that matter to their customers. The organizations that are leading the way aren’t just focusing on data — they’re also focusing on empathy and trust. Here’s how.

Wherever organizations were in their digital transformation journey before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has accelerated the pace and raised customer expectations for digital experiences.

Glean insights that enable you to take meaningful action — in real-time and at scale.

Turning data into meaningful, actionable insights requires both hard and soft capabilities in the realm of data logistics. Hard capabilities refer to the infrastructure you need to manage the process of acquiring data. Soft capabilities involve understanding the difference between first- and third-party data and how to bring them together to continually improve your understanding of your business and customers.

To achieve those insights, you need to have the right systems and processes in place to organize your first-party data better, then enrich it with data from external sources to gain more value from it. The new Segment Match and Look-Alike Segments that we announced at Adobe Summit 2021 can help. These features allow Adobe Experience Cloud customers to exchange insights about similar segments without sharing personally identifiable information about individuals.

In Southeast Asia, the financial services and telco industries are ahead of the curve when it comes to data logistics, leaning heavily on data and customer insights as a point of differentiation. These industries are adapting to an increasingly mobile market, investing in digital channels to reach and engage mobile-first consumers across the region.

Speed to insight is crucial, since your customers expect you to deliver experiences that are both tailored and timely. According to the 2021 Digital Trends Report from Adobe and Econsultancy, only 23 percent of business, marketing, and technology leaders surveyed rated their organizations as “very strong” in gaining accurate insights quickly. Technology infrastructure is a key variable in speed to insight, and companies using a cloud-connected platform to integrate their customer and marketing data are more than twice as likely to fall into the “very strong” category compared to those with ad-hoc solutions or in-house platforms.

Our study also found that on speed to insight, marketers with cloud-connected platforms outperform their peer organizations with in-house data platforms or ad hoc solutions:

In M1’s case, digital transformation included moving paper-based assets to the cloud, making them readily available online. Rather than putting their efforts into tedious tasks and rote functions, M1’s teams can now focus on the jobs that are adding value. “As a telco, we create lots of reports, then scour over them to understand what they’re telling us,” Nathan said. “We wanted to be able to automate and digitize those reports so the business can focus on what the trends are and what we need to be understanding.”

M1 also has dedicated data stewards and data champions across all its different business teams. Their job is to figure out what the company can actually do with the data. “They come up with ways to identify new trends and new analytics that weren’t there before,” Nathan said. “So we’re working to blend the analytics we’re taking from Adobe, for example, with natural language insight tools to be able to guide the business.”

Adobe’s own experience building a data-driven operating model (DDOM) for the Adobe Creative Cloud business — a digital transformation journey that started a decade ago — is an interesting example of how a brand can use data to engage, convert, and retain customers.

New developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are enabling brands to gather insights at speed and scale and drive further automation, particularly around crunching large amounts of data. And it’s more than just volume — we’re working with faster-moving and faster-changing data too.

To keep up with both speed and volume, businesses need technologies that can rapidly distinguish anomalies in data. This could take the form of AI- and ML-powered listening algorithms that are trained to identify certain types of customer behaviors. For instance, if the algorithm spots an opportunity to give an online shopper a tailored promotion at just the right moment, then that decision can be made in real time. The Anomaly Detection feature in Adobe Analytics is an example of building AI and ML into applications based on high-speed, high-volume data, allowing for quicker time to insight and swifter decision-making.

Only 23 percent of business, marketing, and technology leaders rated their organizations as "very strong" in gaining insights quickly.

Adobe and Econsultancy

2021 Digital Trends report

Cultivate empathy to better serve your customers.

Our 2021 Digital Trends report argues that empathy is the future of customer experience (CX), and “analyzing and adapting to the customer’s emotional journey is the next evolution of experience management.” Through empathy, you can forge an emotional bond with your customers that will help you serve them better.

Empathy comes naturally for many marketers. They try to understand the needs of their audience in order to create advertising that fosters an emotional bond with their brand. Weaving that skill throughout the customer experience journey is how brands can differentiate themselves and thrive in their markets.

Active listening is a way to further cultivate empathy. When you practise this skill, you’re paying attention without projecting your own preferences or your understanding of a person. Transposing that to the digital marketing world, you gather data from both online and offline channels, merge the two, and look for patterns.

If you organize that data in the right way, you start getting insights around customers, allowing you to dive into the details of segments or even reach nirvana — where you could understand and possibly predict the needs of those segments. By tailoring your communications and offers to each segment or customer based on all the research and listening you’ve done, you’re demonstrating an understanding of their needs and being more empathetic.

The anomaly detection feature I mentioned earlier is a tool you can use to pay attention to digital clues and provide content or offers tailored to a segment or even to an individual customer. That kind of custom-catering shows empathy — if you do it right.

Another example is M1’s made-to-measure offerings. At the core of the company’s digital transformation is hyper-personalization, with an aim of providing everybody in Singapore with choice. The telco created a framework of more than six million unique combinations of service a customer can take — whether that’s in terms of the device, the type of contract, the value-added services they want to include, or the traditional mobile plan of voice, data, and SMS, among others.

“All of those things combined means we have a scenario where everyone in Singapore would be able to have their own unique plan if they so desire,” Nathan said. “That for us is hyper-personalization. And that’s why the blend of technology with data is so important, to make sure we can bring that hyper-personalization to life.”

“Only 23 percent of business, marketing, and technology leaders rated their organizations as "very strong" in gaining insights quickly.”

Adobe and Econsultancy

2021 Digital Trends report

Build the kind of trust that leads to long-term customer loyalty.

Transparency and trust are vital parts of a great customer experience. Customer loyalty requires trust, and trust requires transparency and a respect for customers’ privacy.

As our 2021 Digital Trends report states, “Brands providing relevant, personalized experiences put their customer at the center, with an approach to data privacy grounded in trust and transparency.” In fact, of the senior marketing executives surveyed, 92 percent said that privacy is a fundamental part of CX. Meanwhile, half of CX leaders and a third of those from mainstream organizations “strongly agree” that transparency in how they use customer data can be a differentiator for their brands.

Yet an added challenge to building trust is the move toward a cookieless world, in which customers have more control over when and how brands capture their data. Third-party cookies are on their way out, and so companies will have to rely more heavily on first-party data. As the 2021 Digital Trends report notes, it’s important for brands to understand the benefits of first-party data versus third-party cookies.

This shift means brands will be custodians of more customer data, and as a result, they’ll have to take governance even more seriously. You have to ensure that you’re not just collecting and securing your customers’ data properly, but also using it in a way that’s ethical and doesn’t break the boundaries of trust.

With Adobe’s new segment sharing feature, for instance, brands can exchange insights about similar customer segments without sharing any customer data. This approach is one way to enrich your understanding of your customers while still following best practices for data governance.

Deliver experiences that matter — for your customers and your business.

Across the Asia Pacific region and around the world, digital-first brands are using customer data — in thoughtful and ethical ways — to build a customer experience advantage.

“We want to become a digital business, and therefore we want to be able to holistically digitize our business model,” M1’s Nathan Bell told me at Adobe Summit. “In doing so, we know it’s going to give us a sustainable advantage. And that means we can keep evolving from being a digital network operator to then becoming a digital services provider. The opportunities for M1 to be able to serve our customers in different ways are very much on the basis that being digital allows us to bring services to market a lot faster and in a much broader way.”

Data plays a pivotal role in customer experience, helping brands glean insights at speed and scale, cultivate empathy to better serve their customers, and build trust that leads to customer loyalty. By putting the right capabilities in place and embracing a data-driven operating model, you can use data to deliver digital-first experiences that lead to long-term loyalty — even in an ever-evolving, cookieless world.

To learn more, watch my conversation with Nathan Bell, chief digital officer of M1 Limited, at Adobe Summit 2021: M1’s Digital Transformation.