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Article 10 min read

How to leverage data and personalization throughout the customer lifecycle

Data is key to delivering a superior customer experience. Here’s how to use the right data to provide personalization and enhance the customer journey, from sales to support.

By Patrick Grieve

Last updated March 24, 2022

Illustrated by Liam Cobb

Customer experience is emerging as a critical differentiator, able to drive or destroy brand loyalty. Fifty percent of customers surveyed in the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021 said customer experience was more important to them now than it was a year ago. Additionally, 75 percent of respondents said they’d spend more money to buy from businesses that offer a good customer experience.

Companies can provide superior, more enjoyable customer experiences by leveraging data and personalization—yet most are missing out on the opportunity. Less than half of support agents say they’re able to access any kind of data that could help them better assist customers.

If your company isn’t using data personalization to build brand loyalty, both you and your customers are losing out. Elevate their experiences by learning how to capture, access, and leverage personalized data.

Understanding data and personalization

“Personalization is about tailoring an experience or interaction to the customer by using known information about who they are or where they come from,” says Zoe Koven, senior director of innovation within Zendesk’s Customer Advocacy team.

When it comes to the sales and support experience, there are varying degrees of personalization. The most top-level form is structural personalization, which involves programmatically treating prospects or customers in different ways based on their background.

Koven explains, “For example: At Zendesk, we’re launching a new support team that will exclusively handle prospects who have product support or troubleshooting questions. When you’re new to Zendesk, you likely don’t know how to navigate the product and need a little bit more hand-holding. You require a different support experience than a long-term customer who’s able to go deep into troubleshooting.”

If your company isn’t using data personalization to build brand loyalty, both you and your customers are losing out.

At a more micro level, personalization is about directly engaging with customers in a way they’ll find more friendly and familiar. “We’re also thinking about how our teams actually interact with customers,” says Koven. “First, you need to give [the team] access to the [customer’s] information, and then teach them how to bring that up in the conversation so the customer feels like, Wow, they knew who I was.”

In order to provide these personalized interactions, customer-facing employees need reliable access to detailed customer profiles. Obtaining that information—and getting it into the hands of sales and support agents—is the key to data-driven personalization. It empowers companies to make experiences as pertinent to the customer as possible.

What types of data should companies collect?

Customer data allows companies to provide “white-glove” treatment, or an exceptionally high level of service. The more types of data you collect on an individual, the better you’ll be able to understand and cater to their needs and expectations.

In the B2C world, companies like to know many demographic details about their customers. That data may include the customer’s gender, age, income, education, and geographic location. It’s also important to document a customer’s “value”—how much they’ve spent, how long they’ve been a customer, and whether they belong to a certain “tier” or customer program. Not only is this information helpful for data personalization, but it can also be used to segment customers and analyze specific characteristics of your customer base.

To provide even more personalized support, companies will also want to know whether the customer they’re speaking to is a novice or an expert about their product—that is a major driver of how users will want to receive help. So being able to see prior conversations, knowing how often they request support, and understanding their frustrations are important to gaining insight into the customer journey.

customer data

For B2B companies, there’s even more firmographic data to collect. B2Bs should know as much as possible about each of the businesses they’re dealing with. “You want to have clarity on the company that the customer is working for,” says Koven. “Where are they based? How large are they? What does their business do? What industry are they in? Who are their customers?”

There may be secondary questions to ask, too. For example, if the business is a big conglomerate, what are their child companies? Are those subsidiaries potential customers?

Koven also recommends capturing information about the company’s relationship with your business: How much do they pay you? How long have they been a customer? Who is their assigned salesperson or account manager? What products have they purchased? Have those products changed over time?

Additionally, a B2B company should be familiar with the primary user and how they engage with the product. Koven explains, “In the software context, the type of permissions and licensing [users] have completely dictates how you’re able to provide them with support. And it answers questions like: Can you give them billing access, or can you make account changes?”

Having all these data points can enable a support agent to quickly put themselves in the customer’s shoes and provide better service. Not only does the personalization enrich the customer experience, but it may also convert the experience into more sales.

How should companies capture personalized data?

Customer data can come through a variety of channels. A customer may interact with your sales, marketing, product, or support team. But if the information they share stays siloed with each individual team, it’s impossible to create a full customer profile.

“You need to invest some energy in defining a source of truth for your customer profile and integrating that profile with other systems,” Koven advises.

An open and flexible CRM platform is a great place to house your customer data. When connected to sales software and support software, the CRM will automatically capture all the information exchanged during customer interactions, helping to keep your business in sync.

In the SaaS world, customer data collection often begins before a customer buys anything. Tools like Snowplow (which integrates with Zendesk) will capture data about every visitor to your website. If a prospect does something to become a qualified lead—like signing up for a free trial—you’ll have the opportunity to record even more details.

“We start collecting information at the very top of the funnel, at trial creation,” says Koven. “Businesses need to enter in information about themselves and what they do.”

If the prospect is successfully converted after the trial period, more customer data gets populated during the next step in the sales cycle.

Customer experience guide

Find out how to create great customer experiences that will lead to loyal customers, improved word-of-mouth promotion, and increased revenue.

“The next big event where you collect a lot of data is contracting, when they purchase and you learn how much they’re spending with you,” Koven explains. “From that point on, sales or account management will have ongoing conversations with customers as their product purchases change.”

Customer service interactions provide additional data. Whenever a customer engages with support, the details should be automatically recorded. Support software should document the customer’s channel of choice, ticket type, and length of interaction. It’s also a good idea to send a customer satisfaction survey after the ticket’s been resolved so you can capture customer sentiment.

While data collection begins at the top of the funnel, it should continue throughout the customer lifecycle to improve interactions and satisfaction.

How can data personalization be leveraged to enhance the customer experience?

Having a treasure trove of personalized data is great—if you know what to do with it. Those rich customer profiles won’t be very meaningful unless you can connect them to the actual individuals.

According to Koven, a company’s first step should be establishing authenticated channels that make it quick and painless for customers to identify themselves. “At Zendesk, we’re invested in creating easy-to-access authenticated channels that would live on lots of websites and widgets that allow customers to quickly type in credentials,” she explains. “Then we know who they are, and we can serve them in personalized ways.”

The second step is deciding how to connect customer-facing teams with the profiles they need. “Whether it’s your sales team or your customer service team, how are you giving them access to the information that lives in your [customer’s] profile?” asks Koven. “How do you ensure you’re not giving them too much or too little context?”

To help ensure faster, more personalized responses, Zendesk provides support agents with an essentials card that includes critical customer details.

Zendesk essentials card

Zendesk also allows agents to reference customers’ previous interactions—including their shopping cart and web and mobile activity—to see exactly where they’re at in the customer journey.

By having ample customer context, your support team can offer a new level of data-driven personalization. Rather than making customers answer a long list of questions, agents will already know a user’s account details, customer status, preferred channels, local time, recent interactions, and more. That amount of insight enables agents to provide a higher level of personalized service.

Data personalization can also become an integral aspect of self-service options. Chatbots have a bad reputation for making interactions feel awkward or unnatural, but personalization technology can lead to more comfortable AI conversations.

“One thing you can do from an automated personalization perspective is connect and implement a chatbot that has access to customer data,” Koven says. “The bot may say to a prospect, ‘Hey, Customer’s Name, saw you just signed up with us last week! We’re so happy you’re here—by the way, have you checked out this introductory article yet?’ ”

Of course, customers should also have the ability to opt out of a conversation with a chatbot and speak with a live agent. Part of personalization is letting people make their own choices. And with the right support software, the agent entering the chat will be able to read the whole interaction, meaning they won’t have to ask the customer to repeat themselves.

Agents can even use personalized data to identify upsell opportunities, considering:

  • How long they’ve been a customer

  • Which products they’ve previously purchased

  • The number of times they’ve looked at a specific pricing page

With this customer data at their fingertips, sales reps have unique advantages.

A rep at a B2B administrative software supplier, for instance, could receive a notification from a chatbot when a website visitor is on the pricing page for the company’s timekeeping program. The rep would be able to see the visitor is a current customer, pull up their info, and learn they’ve been paying a monthly fee to use the task management tool for over a year. Armed with this info, the rep can send a personalized message to the customer explaining the software’s benefits and offering a discount if they bundle it with their current subscription.

The more types of data you collect on an individual, the better you’ll be able to understand and cater to their needs and expectations.

Beyond providing your sales and support teams with the customer data and personalization technology they need, you should teach them how to leverage those insights and tools to make interactions more personal.

“Once you’ve given your team the tools to identify customers, you need to coach them on how they should respond,” says Koven. “Create playbooks about what to do with the data and how to tailor the way you provide support.”

You may find that different customer groups respond well to different approaches. Segment your customer data to determine preferences, document what works, and tell your agents how and why you’re implementing new processes.

Customer data and personalization technology

Data-driven personalization has a role to play at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Learning more about a prospect helps you customize your pitch and land the deal. From that point, continually tracking their interactions helps you learn how to provide better, more personalized support and identify potential upsell opportunities.

Make sure you’re using personalization technology that covers every stage of the customer journey, from the initial sale to continued customer support.

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