Why Creating a Personalized Customer Experience Will Impact the Future of the Retail, Healthcare and Banking Industries in 2021

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A pressing need for brands to deliver a personalized customer experience (CX) has been evident for years. In consumer research we recently conducted with Dynata, 70% of consumers surveyed said they will shop exclusively with brands that personally understand them. This is a continuing trend, as in a PwC study on personalization from 2018, 73% of respondents said that customer experience is an important factor in purchasing decisions, with 42% saying they will pay more for a positive experience. Underscoring just how important a positive CX is from a revenue perspective, 32% of those surveyed said they will stop doing business with a company after one poor customer experience.

Clearly, the need to provide a personalized experience to drive a competitive advantage is not a new phenomenon. In the wake of the events of 2020, however, it has become arguably the most important action a brand can take to meet evolving consumer expectations for safe, contactless, and digital-first experiences. In 2021, a personalized experience must account for the fact that consumer preferences have shifted dramatically. Consider, for example, the monumental shift in retail captured by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Over just two months – March and April – e-commerce penetration as a percentage of retail sales climbed more than it had in the 10 years prior. From 2009 until the end of February, e-commerce penetration increased from 5.6% to 16%. By the end of April, it stood at 27%.

As 2020 comes to a close, there is consensus that some of the changing consumer behaviors will be long-lasting, if not permanent. Certainly, a preference for a digital-first experience will become more pronounced, but changes also reflect that the way consumers live, shop, travel, work, and entertain have also been upended. I foresee personalization as a central requirement in 2021 for brands to demonstrate that they recognize consumers’ changing attitudes, preferences, behaviors, and values. There are many new ways to interact with customers, and personalization is key to infusing relevance into every interaction that results in more satisfied, loyal customers and higher revenue.

For a deeper look at how I see 2021 unfolding from the perspective of customer experience, we’ll look at it through the prism of three industries – retail, healthcare, and banking.

In Retail, Personalization Scores Ahead of Price, Product

As the U.S. Department of Commerce study shows, retail is undergoing a transition of abrupt, dramatic change unmatched in its history. Like the Industrial Revolution, albeit on an industry scale, the transformation of the retail landscape will make it almost unrecognizable from its pre-pandemic state.

A Commerce Hub consumer survey conducted in April highlights the scale of disruption: 69% of consumers surveyed said they will be more willing to subscribe to a delivery service for essential items after the pandemic, up 26% from before COVID-19. Furthermore, 59% of respondents said they are more likely to use curbside pickup after the pandemic.

These types of experiences – which also include buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) – illustrate the need for a holistic customer experience that blends physical and digital touchpoints. Brands will recognize very quickly that the way to provide a seamless experience at scale across a wide range of channels will require investment in data, machine learning, and automation. In 2021, brands will accept as a foundational requirement the need to integrate customer data from every source onto a single digital platform from which to orchestrate individualized and highly relevant customer experiences.

The ability to provide a consistent, cohesive, and personalized experience across channels is now an imperative for every retailer. This capability will determine which retailers will survive the new reality marked by rapidly evolving social interactions that have resulted in more dynamic, unpredictable, and mostly digital customer journeys.

Mind the Customer Experience Gap

Changing behaviors will expose the customer experience gap, defined as the divide between the type of personalized experience a customer expects, and the one brands deliver. In a recent Harris Poll sponsored by Redpoint, 73% of consumers believe brands are falling short of their expectations for personalized omnichannel experiences, with customers being 2.5X more likely than marketers to say that brands struggle to meet those increasingly lofty expectations. The net effect is that brands are underestimating the depth of the gap.

Rapid change makes it evident that the time for brands to dither is gone. If nearly one-third of consumers will switch brands after one poor experience, brands must quickly determine what now matters to customers. I argue that the importance of price and product, already largely commoditized, will continue to wane as consumers place more emphasis on a customer experience that is tailored to their interests, preferences, and values.

This, in turn, means that brands must very clearly express their value proposition, giving customers a clear line of sight into whether a brand’s values align with their own. How a customer defines and extracts meaning from its interactions with a brand will almost entirely depend on how well the brand recognizes the customer as an individual with unique preferences. That is really the core of a personalized customer experience; it goes far beyond addressing a customer by name or serving up recommendations based on look-alike segments. Instead, it is being ready to deliver a next-best-action for an individual customer on any channel, relevant to where the customer is in a specific journey with a brand.

With customers’ patience wearing thin for a personalized experience relevant to who they are and what they stand for, 2021 will be the last chance retailers have to get it right.

The Patient Engagement Tipping Point

In healthcare, I see 2021 as the year of consumer engagement – whether as a member or as a patient. Healthcare organizations – covering providers, payers, hospitals, clinics, telemedicine – will fully recognize that a consumer’s experience represents more than disjointed interactions with various stakeholders in that individual’s health. Rather, consumers’ experience will come to be understood as the entirety of a holistic healthcare journey.

As in retail, the consequences of the pandemic for healthcare have been stark. In the Wellframe COVID-19 Chronic Condition Patient Population Report, released in June, 57% of respondents with a chronic condition reported having delayed receiving healthcare because of the pandemic. This is of course just one sample point irrespective of the serious human suffering, meant only to illustrate that a strategy to improve patient engagement is one way to help improve health outcomes and reduce the ancillary costs of the pandemic created by delayed care.

Along with quality scorecards and population health management, patient engagement has long been recognized as part of a three-pronged strategy for reducing care gaps. While many organizations have identified quality metrics and have population health initiatives underway, patient engagement is often overlooked. The reason is that patient and institutional data is famously siloed; payers and providers and any healthcare organization that interacts with a patient all have their own records. Claims data, clinical data, IoT data, behavioral data, and demographic data are all siloed, clouding a single view of the healthcare consumer.

A complex, unintegrated healthcare system drives inefficiencies, raises costs, and results in suboptimal health outcomes. By breaking down siloes to form a single view of the healthcare consumer, payers and providers are able to completely understand, influence, and measure every patient engagement – providing a more holistic experience. This approach aligns with the trend of healthcare consumerism, which puts the healthcare consumer at the center of a healthcare journey, unlike a fee-for-service based approach that focuses on volume over patient experience.

Personalization and a Digital-First Mindset

Healthcare consumerism empowers the patient as a key stakeholder in decisions affecting their care. This means, in part, recognizing and abiding by consumers’ increasing preference for digital systems of engagement – scheduling appointments, looking up provider information and medical history, messaging, directions to a lab, etc. Findings from Accenture’s 2019 Digital Healthcare Survey reveal an increasing preference for digital capabilities, such as 70% of respondents saying they are more likely to choose a provider who offers reminders for follow-up care via email or text (vs. 57% in 2016). Likewise, 68% said they will choose a provider who offers the ability to book/change/cancel appointments online, up from 58% in 2016.

A single view of the healthcare consumer supports the transition to digital-first experiences. By knowing everything there is to know about the consumer, healthcare professionals drive optimal patient engagement at an individual consumer level. Engaging a consumer in the channel of his/her preference with a next-best-action that recognizes, in real-time, the consumer’s current situation has been shown to drive improved health outcomes. One company that adopted a consumer-centric approach with a single view of the healthcare consumer achieved a 4x improvement in closing care gaps for high-risk patients and a 3x improvement in new patient wellness visits.

An Opportunity for Banks to Differentiate on CX

As in healthcare and retail, banks and financial services companies also must contend with customers’ increasing preference for digital channels and for seamless personalized experiences across digital and physical touchpoints.

The overall poor customer experiences that big banks are infamous for – which surfaced anew during the PPP loan application process – highlights the need for a personalized experience to combat customer churn. The events of 2020 provide small, midsize, community banks with an opportunity to differentiate on customer experience in 2021.

Whereas differentiation used to entail digital-only banking products such as online check deposits, we’re well beyond the rollout of a mobile banking app as a touchstone for the personalized experience. In 2021, customers will expect a holistic omnichannel journey across channels and products. Meeting this demand will be a challenge because banks will have to find a way to duplicate the personal, in-person relationship that neighborhoods banks are known for – but at scale and with a digital-first approach.

A McKinsey report on remaking the banking experience after coronavirus drives home the point that investments in customer experience can be a competitive advantage. An analysis of 23 publicly traded banks revealed that the half with a high customer satisfaction score delivered 55% higher returns to shareholders between 2009 and 2019. “Delivering on customer experience,” the report states, “will be an integral part of how banks reassert their positive role in society during the coronavirus crisis.”

Digital-only financial services companies are further raising the bar for a personalized experience that is friction-free. Delivering on the type of customer experience that digitally-savvy customers expect will require banks to recognize a customer as an individual across products and digital and physical channels.

What might this approach look like? The barriers to a holistic experience across products and channels are similar to those in healthcare – siloed data and institutions. Mortgages, insurance, personal lending, credit cards, savings accounts – most, in general, entail a disparate customer journey that introduces friction into the customer experience. As for separate channels, it is still generally accepted that there are mobile banking tasks and tasks that require a physical visit – but an experience that combines the two is few and far between.

Compiling a complete understanding of an individual banking customer’s preferences and behaviors is the first step to creating innovative, personalized experiences in a holistic banking journey. This will be a priority in 2021.

A New Year, New Opportunity

Unforeseen circumstances in 2020 exposed which side of the customer experience gap companies were on, and also made clear that closing the gap will require companies to reassess what really matters to their customers. As the PwC study, referenced above, indicates even before the pandemic customers very strongly asserted that customer experience is an important factor in purchasing decisions and that they will take their business elsewhere after just one poor experience.

After the pandemic, companies will have a new opportunity to demonstrate that care about treating each customer in accordance with an individual’s preferences, behaviors, and values. Prior to the disruption of 2020, brands that ignored the importance of a superior customer experience may have gotten away with the status quo – at least temporarily. That luxury is gone. A single customer view as the foundation for using data and analytics to provide a personalized customer experience across channels will be the basis for success in 2021 and beyond.

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