Can print enhance customer experience?

Canon EXPO 2015

From social media and mobile to real-time, technology is influencing what customers value, what they expect and how they behave. For many organisations, this means adapting their marketing, customer service and sometimes even overall business strategies to remain competitive. As a result, many businesses are placing more emphasis on delivering the right customer experience, with 22% of business professionals having described customer experience as the single most exciting opportunity for 2015 and 20% expecting it still to be their top priority in five years1.

This change presents an opportunity for Print Service Providers (PSPs) to demonstrate how print not only has a role to play in enhancing the customer experience, but can actually also help to generate insight about the customer. To understand this opportunity, however, it is first necessary to understand customer experience from the marketer’s point of view.

Customer power

A power shift has taken place. Relationships in which the seller held the information and had the power are a thing of the past. The growth of social media and the wealth of information available online means that people today – whether making personal or professional purchasing decisions – are better informed and more empowered than ever before. The customer now has all the power.

These customers expect convenience, such as one-click shopping or the ability to buy online and return in-store. They also demand speed – now that any information is available by simply clicking ‘search’, a two-day response to a query can result in losing a potential customer. Finally, people want an individualised customer experience that meets their needs, whether that means customising their hamburger or simply having relevant product recommendations on their Amazon homepage.

This power shift is also impacting the way businesses are perceived. Social media and the power of peer-to-peer recommendations mean that customers now also have substantially more power when speaking about their experiences.

For marketers clamouring for attention in an information-saturated marketplace, this presents a challenge. They need to build long-term relationships with customers who will remain loyal or even recommend them on the basis of their customer experience.

While definitions of ‘customer experience’ vary, it generally describes the overall outcome of numerous interactions the customer has. When marketers talk about customer experience, they are not referring to a one-off, call-centre conversation, store visit or catalogue purchase, but rather the cumulative effect of every interaction a customer has during the course of their relationship with a company.

Building an omni-channel customer experience

The growing volume of data organisations hold about the people with whom they interact is enabling this focus on customer experience. This is why data-driven targeting and personalisation are being prioritised. Indeed, 49% of marketers worldwide expect to increase their spending on personalisation this year2.

In the context of customer experience, personalisation is not simply about personalised email, personalised URLs (PURLs) or offering the customer the option to customise what they purchase. It is about using data to understand the context behind the customer’s enquiries, behaviour and buying intentions. Using this insight, the marketer can tailor the messages and offers used in their approach to each customer in order to increase their relevance and thus impact. The aim of this is to ensure the overall customer experience is positive, memorable and most importantly, creates the feeling of a one-to-one relationship.

Consider a supermarket loyalty programme. The customer’s experience will almost certainly have begun before they decided to join. Imagine the customer’s first interaction with the supermarket was when they redeemed a money-off voucher for online grocery shopping. Once the supermarket has the shopper’s address and first shopping list, they will be able to make certain generalisations about the customer’s demographic details and send the customer offers based on these together with their online purchase history. However, it is only once the shopper joins the loyalty programme that a more complete picture of the customer begins to form, because that is when their offline purchasing behaviour becomes trackable too. So now, repeated late-night nappy purchases at the customer’s nearest store may reveal that the shopper has small children, and the supermarket can use this to shape the customer’s online shopping experience.

Just as using limited data can result in an incomplete picture of a customer, so too can using only one communications channel create an incomplete customer experience. Yet, because the data relied on is so often digitally-acquired, online communications tend to dominate. Indeed, only 23% of client-side marketers were using personalisation in offline channels in 20143.

However, recent research by Econsultancy shows that 95% of client-side marketers who implemented personalisation in offline channels saw increased conversion rates4.

One reason for this may be that some consumers are overwhelmed by the volume of digital communications they receive – around 116 billion business emails and 88 billion consumer emails are expected to be sent or received globally every day in 2015, mobile instant messaging continues to grow and the average person now has at least three social media accounts5.

In addition, while customers expect their experiences to be relevant, they want this done without infringing on their privacy. Most people don’t like invasive online tracking techniques and many are reluctant to disclose personal information online. As a result, many marketers need to explore offline channels that can make use of or generate data without creating an Orwellian feeling for the customer.

Enhancing personalisation and generating insight with cross-media

Marketers who focus only on digital personalisation are missing out. The interactions and insight that define customer experience take place online, offline and face-to-face. Customer experience needs to be omni-channel and PSPs are ideally placed to help marketers and communications professionals deliver this.

Personally addressed letters, customer loyalty vouchers and customised catalogues are just a few examples of print applications that can individualise the offline customer experience. However, while personalised print is highly impactful, when aiming to enhance customer experience, the focus should be on personalising the whole experience and not just some channels. In other words, a personalised letter would not necessarily replace a personalised email, but rather complement it.

More importantly, the potential power of print to enhance the customer experience does not end with personalisation. Using cross-media, it is actually possible to use print to increase the insights a marketer has about their customers.

Take, for example, a restaurant re-opening after six months of renovations. The restaurateur has a list of former customers, but some may have moved away during six months. Potential new customers will also have moved into the area. Capturing passing trade with attractive signage and opening-offer posters will only go so far, so the restaurateur asks his menu printer about door drops. Instead, the PSP proposes a multi-channel campaign that will both use and update the restaurateur’s database.

The campaign begins with personalised letters inviting former customers to the reopening week. Signed by the restaurateur himself, each letter contains a PURL where recipients can book a table and receive a voucher for €10 off their bill in return for updating their details. After their first visit, they receive a personalised email inviting them to post their review on the restaurant’s new Facebook page in return for another voucher.

Meanwhile, printed flyers featuring the restaurant’s menu and a PURL to redeem a voucher are dropped through the mailboxes of all non-customer addresses in a two kilometre radius. When recipients visit the PURL they receive a voucher for €10 off their first bill in return for signing up for the restaurant’s newsletter, and on visiting the restaurant they are personally welcomed by the restaurateur.

Simply by using personalised URLs in this first set of activities, the PSP helps the restaurateur to compile an up-to-date database of loyal former customers and first-time visitors to the restaurant. The PSP then recommends that the next phase of the campaign includes a ‘refer-a-friend’ offer on Facebook and channel-specific voucher codes on Twitter to not only expand the database, but also to gather more information about customers’ channel preferences.

Using vouchers featuring unique codes or serial numbers makes it possible to track who redeemed what and when. Armed with this information, marketers and PSPs are then able to evaluate which offers particular customers are more likely to respond to. They can also see who didn’t redeem offers and then target them with an alternative offer or using a different channel, or simply remove them from the database.

Enhancing the customer experience is about more than personalised print. A cross-media approach can gather customer insight to improve the effectiveness of individual activities and help the marketer build a multi-dimensional picture of each customer. Using this, it becomes possible to enhance each customer’s individual experience online, offline and face-to-face.



1 Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing: Digital Trends 2015, Econsultancy, January 2015

2 Marketers Stuck on Basic Data for Personalization, eMarketer, July 2015

3 Offline Personalisation Matters Just as Much, eMarketer, January 2015

4 Offline Personalisation Matters Just as Much, eMarketer, January 2015

5 Email Statistics Reports 2014-2018, The Radicati Group Inc., April 2014

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