Want to Compete on Experience? You’re Going to Need Data

12 Apr 2016 | By Adam Walhout
This interview with Cxense CEO Jan Vels Jensen was originally published on Aberdeen Essentials (11 April 2016).


How can we figure out what people want before they know they want it?

This question is top-of-mind for many marketers and is of particular interest to Jan Vels Jensen, CMO at Cxense. Why? Because Cxense believes that they can help marketers answer it.

Cxense provides thousands of companies – including many leading publishers such as ABC News, Gannett, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal – with advanced, real-time data analytics, data management (DMP), advertising, search, and personalization technology.

Their goal, Jan explained to me, is to make it possible “for companies to know all there is to know about their prospects and customers” so they can, for example, turn someone from a fly-by visitor into a subscriber in five clicks or fewer.


Competing on Experience

“Everybody knows that in two to three years, there will be no price book,” Jan told me. “There will be total transparency around pricing and brands will become commodities.”

What this means, he insists, is that companies will have to compete on experience. That is, what will truly differentiate companies is the way it feels to do business with them.

“When I do online banking,” Jan said to illustrate this point, “I get ads for car loans and all sorts of things I don’t need. I have a car and it has been financed by the very same bank that’s serving up the ad. They know this, but they just can’t act on it. They don’t have a single view of their customers. That’s frustrating to me and damaging to their brand.”

“By contrast,” he said, “with the Commercial Bank of Dubai (recently recognized for it’s Digital Banking innovations), every customer goes to a different customized website.”

That difference, which stems from providing “customers with fresh relevant content and an entertaining website experience,” is the difference between making customers feel like strangers and making them feel like you actually know them.

“We all want to feel we’re important, special, unique,” Jan elaborated, “and a disjointed experience is off-putting.”

“Brands that get it right, though,” he continued, “Are the ones we fall a little bit in love with.”


Insights are key – Data is the fuel.

“Think about your best offline experience,” Jan said, “Online experience should be like that.”

While such advice is very enticing, how do you get there? Well, one thing you need is data, and lots of it.

The three types of data that Cxense relies on are: behavioral data from Web and in-app engagement; the customer’s own 1st party data from CRM, BI, e-commerce, ad serving, etc. systems; and 3rd or 2nd party segment data from public and private data marketplaces.

All this data should allow you to streamline the customer experience and ensure that you are serving up highly relevant content. The basic concept here is fairly simple: Give people what they want – and/or enable them to find what they want – quickly and seamlessly.

If you do that, the experience will be positive and you will get what you want: engagements and conversions.


Creating the Data-Driven Organization

At the same time, however, the volume and kinds of data that we’re talking about add several layers of complexity to your operations. First of all, you need to weave all these data sources together to create a “single view of the customer.”

Secondly, you need to have a data policy in place so that your organization can be transparent about data governance and data privacy, both to satisfy government regulators and to manage customer data concerns.

“It can get complicated if you try and solve everything across all functions at once,” Jan says, “and that’s why people fail.”


Culture Matters

Since it can get complicated and people do fail (or at least their attempts to be data-driven don’t live up to expectations), I asked Jan what companies need to get right.
He told me that companies should focus on three things:

  1. Customer Experience – Creating a compelling, personalized experience is the primary goal, so you need to define what that experience should look like and figure out how to best architect it.
  2. Think Big/Start Small – It can be daunting to pull all this data together and put it to good use, so you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.Instead, he insisted, you need to start small – – and build on that success. Start with one specific use case – increasing engagements and conversations by 10% through personalized newsletters, for example – learn a little, and grow from there.
  3. Make It Mission Critical – Using centralized data to deliver a better customer experience is not the job of one department; it’s a cross-functional imperative that can only be tackled if everyone is on board.

This last idea can’t be overemphasized. It will be hard enough to wrangle all the data from all the different sources you will need. Trying to do that without buy-in across the enterprise will be impossible.

Part of making such a initiative work depends on hiring the right people (you may not already have them in-house) and establishing the right processes.

The other part requires answering the question, “Once you start to engage across all channels, how do you ensure consistency?” And while there are technical and even process-oriented answers to that question, in Jan’s eyes, it all comes down to culture. Culture eats, hands down, strategy for breakfast (as Peter Drucker once opined).

“Values matter,” Jan told me.

“If you have a bad culture, there will be people who don’t care how you treat customers. No process can fix that.”


It’s Not (Just) About the Data

Which brings us back around to the centrality of customer experience. Yes, the vast amounts of data to which marketers have access today make it possible to do things that were unimaginable ten years ago.

Nevertheless, just because something is possible doesn’t mean that you should do it. You need a guiding ethos, and that’s what focusing on the customer experience ­– getting your customers to “fall a little bit in love with you” – provides.

Of course, this isn’t just about being nice to people (though there’s nothing wrong with that). It’s also about the business.

“According to Gartner,” Jan said, “customer experience can give you a 30% price advantage over competitors.”

And that’s an advantage you can take to the bank.