How Micro-Engagements are About to Change the Loyalty Landscape

I'm sitting at airport terminal gate C74 waiting to board my United flight to San Francisco, and I have a weird thought: I might be the most valuable person on this flight, and they don't even seem to know it.

But they should.

Let me explain. Almost all of my travel in the last four years has been on American Airlines, where I have Platinum status. But today I’m flying United under a "Status Match" program, which gives people with other airline affiliations a chance to check them out—and the airline a chance to win new business. Because of that (and because I'm a Customer Experience Manager), I'm taking mental notes on every interaction we have. And so far, it’s nothing special.

There's the problem. It should be special—at least if they care about locking down the 80,000-plus miles I travel annually (which are clearly up for grabs). Even so, since I received a confirmation email of this status match six weeks ago, there’s been absolutely nothing unique about my experience. In short, United’s window of opportunity is closing, and they’re not the only company in such a position. In the near future, customer experiences based on individualized micro-engagements will be the critical difference in which companies triumph in the loyalty game.

Part of the reality is that customer expectations are constantly evolving. Tactics that recently delighted your users can now seem utterly unremarkable (free return shipping anybody?). Whether you call these policies “customer-centric,” “holistic,” “360” or something else, they all still tend to rely on segmentation into “personas” rather than true individualization.

Does this look familiar?

  • "Ken, Regional Head of Sales, 64: Team player, family man, white minivan, loves his weekend BBQs"
  • "Dolores, Software Engineer, 41: Highly motivated professional, camps in spare time"
  • "Raj, UCLA Pre-Med, 24: Green-energy fanatic, blogs about customer experiences constantly"

Here’s the problem: Creating these sub-segments does achieve overall satisfaction improvements as needs are better defined, but it’s still grouping audiences into potentially massive categories. We position these personas as real people (heck, we even use head shots). But it’s easy to forget that they are just templates established to represent broad consumer types.

Predictive analytics promise to deliver personalized customer experiences. We’ll see. Most everything that exists today are generic customer journeys punctuated by one-off interactions, such as a free upgrade, targeted discounts, or a unique response to a select customer. Any of those examples may highlight a company service culture, but not a process.

Look at the Ritz-Carlton, a hotel chain that is legendary for delivering truly superlative service for its customers. One story recounts how a worker’s mother-in-law took a 2.5 hour flight to deliver food for a family whose son had food allergies. But hold on. When you take into account that the average Ritz-Carlton customer spends about $250,000 over his or her lifetime, the story becomes a bit less astonishing. And to reiterate my point, it’s simply a one-off for that family, based on a model that doesn’t anticipate needs, and is probably unrealistic for the other 99%. The question is, how would customer micro-engagements help, if you’re selling anything more pedestrian, like, say, coffee?

Personalizing Everyday Customer Experiences

Consider a trip to your neighborhood Dunkin Donuts. Let’s say you go in every day around 7am. You’re pleasantly greeted by name and, as you reach the counter, a coffee—cream, two sugars—is already waiting, ready to go. Perhaps even more than the Ritz-Carlton, the interaction is designed just for you, built upon multiple learned micro-engagements. The problem is that it’s not implemented across every outlet and every channel.

What happens if you go to that same Dunkin’ Donuts in the evening and are greeted by a different server? Or, what if you go to a different location? Heck, what if you’re at a different location, along with your kids, and in addition to hot chocolate they want a snack—but don’t forget Aiden’s nut allergy! (Oh, and by the way, you’re out of whole bean hazelnut coffee at home.) You go to Dunkin' Donuts almost every day, yet now you’re just another anonymous face waiting to be served. Just like me at gate C74. That’s what’s going to change. The future of customer experience lies in business systems that can tap into the many disparate systems relating to those touch points and deliver actionable analytics on an individual level: Digital Experience Platforms.

The next generation of web-based portals, Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs), have the power to integrate web-based user habits with stored personal information, public records, social media activity, preferences, and relationships to customize user-specific experiences—all in real time. The potential dividends of such actionable data are on display in the latest IBM Watson ads, which promise consumer insight that approaches “Minority Report” levels. True, Watson is not quite positioned as a DXP, but it highlights the potential for insight—if you ask the right questions. Also, that’s where these platforms will make their entrances: through business intelligence and marketing. If used for … let’s call it the opposite of evil, just consider the possibilities.

OK, back to the airlines. What could United have done to try and win me over? I detail all that in my next post - “How Micro-Engagements Will Forever Change Customer Experience.”

Just keep in mind that micro-engagements are coming. Now I've got a flight to catch!

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