Service Excellence

What It Takes To Deliver A Personalized Customer Experience

Troy Powell, PHD By Troy Powell, PHD Vice President, Statistical Solutions May 25, 2016

Customer expectations drive business. Companies that succeed are great at meeting those expectations. Companies that excel are great at changing them. Customers didn’t expect a cell phone to play music until Apple created the iPhone. The good news is that customer expectations are not random. They are the outcome of movements that have been going on for decades.

For a recent industry report titled Customers 2020, Walker Information conducted research to provide a look at what business-to-business companies need to do now to prepare for customer expectations in the year 2020. We reviewed current trends, consulted leading Customer Experience (CX) executives, and talked to hundreds of people in charge of managing their company’s customer experience to provide a look ahead. One overarching conclusion of this report is that a personalized customer experience will increasingly be the key differentiator in B-to-B markets.

Customers2020 Report

Source: Customers2020 Report, Walker Information Inc.

In the past companies have only been able to deliver personalized experiences to a select few customers at a time. As interactions between people and companies moved online and the barrier to acquiring and storing information eroded companies like Google, Amazon, Netflix and hundreds of others began delivering these experiences to anyone who had an internet connection. Now that customers are used to getting personalized offers and notifications we are beginning to expect personalized experiences all the time.

To prepare for this shift in expectations, leading B-to-B companies are focusing in a few key areas. Of all the potential areas of focus, a strong majority of CX leaders are prioritizing action and investment in better understanding individual customer characteristics (62%) and in simplifying products and processes (58%) to deliver an optimal experience. And they are realizing this will require a dramatic increase in the use of all sources of customer information.

Walker Information

Image Source: Walker Information Inc.

In other words, the delivery of a personalized experience to all customers requires a lot of data from a lot of sources so that we can understand customers’ individual needs and create simplified products and processes that allow us to achieve their desired outcomes. Great! Now how do we do that?

As Kevin Roche, President of EMC Global Services, outlines in his video, companies should consider a three-prong strategy to deliver a personalized experience with big data:

  • Technology that enables real-time analytics
  • Processes and governance to provide transparency and access to data across the organization
  • A cultural psychology where every employee is focused on using data and insights to deliver on customer expectations.

I love this strategy, especially for business-to-business organizations where delivering a consistent, personalized experience is most difficult. Currently, the most well-known personalization success stories exist when customers are predominately interacting with the company via a website, app, or other technology platform. However, B-to-B companies still deliver many of their products and services to customers through relational or personal interactions. While this is shifting over time, B-to-B companies will always retain a core competency of delivering value through human interaction.

The personal, or what I call relational, delivery of service adds complexity, but also presents a great opportunity: What better way to reinforce personalization than through personal interaction. This will require our technology (data and analytics) and our processes to work seamlessly with our front-line associates – neither of these pieces can deliver the personalized experience alone. I believe the three-prong strategy for big data is a necessary condition to deliver the required well-oiled interface between the technology and the human actors.

EMC has some great examples of this working in practice. One of them is in its Customer Service (CS) organization. For years, CS has conducted a close-the-loop process to address negative customer feedback shared through transactional surveys. However, not every unhappy customer provides feedback. Using customer feedback and service event data from EMC’s Data Lake, EMC partnered with Walker Information to run advanced data analysis and develop a risk model that can automatically predict at-risk service events and notify Service Managers to contact the customer, remediate potential issues, and document the feedback for additional analysis.


This program has had a big impact on customer satisfaction (153% increase in satisfaction to be precise) and behaviors, but it only works because there is almost no friction between the technology (data and analysis) and the Service Managers who act on the intelligence. Every day new data flows through the predictive algorithm, into the alerting system, into the hands of a Service Manager, and leads to a personalized experience for a customer. This is all because EMC implemented the three-prong strategy to create customer intimacy with big data.

Thankfully, Walker is working with more and more companies wanting to deliver a personalized experience through their people like a building supply distributor who predicts the type of sales relationship to deliver to each customer to best meet their needs. But for every success story there are many more failures, and each one can be traced back to a failure in one of the prongs.

Unless we harness the power of both people and big data analytics we will fail to deliver the consistent, personalized experience customers expect across all channels. It is impossible for even the best sales or service personnel to deliver a consistent, personalized experience if they don’t know all the information, and in today’s world, there is too much information for any human to know, much less process. To succeed at the game of business, we will need all the data we can get, but more importantly we need the technology, the processes, and the culture to deliver the personalized experience customers expect.

You can learn more about EMC’s use of big data to deliver a more personalized customer experience in the InFocus Viewpoints for Leaders document, “Unlock Customer Intimacy through Big Data”.

Troy Powell, PHD

About Troy Powell, PHD

Vice President, Statistical Solutions

Troy Powell focuses on business analytics with primary responsibility for advanced analytics and data mining projects. He also serves as a key thought leader with responsibilities of developing new, innovative solutions and advancing knowledge on customer research, analytical techniques, and research methodology.
Troy has held his current position at Walker since 2007 and has been with Walker since 2005. Prior to coming to Walker, he had eight years of experience conducting and managing research projects. He began his career working as a field interviewer and eventually a project supervisor at Westat, Inc. He then spent three years working as an analyst on various national and international research projects and two years as an analyst for the Department of Institutional Research during his doctoral program at the Duke University Graduate School. Powell holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Duke University, where he also attained his master’s degree. He completed his bachelor’s degree in sociology and environmental science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.

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