In the race to create the perfect personalised customer experience, most marketers have amassed huge volumes of customer data, according to Nick Keating, VP EMEA for Maxymiser, who here asks why the majority are still failing to deliver the quality of experience demanded in an era of continually rising customer expectation. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The problem is that historic CRM data, however in depth and accurate, cannot reveal what that customer is buying online right now, or what the intent behind their online behaviour is. It can't tell you that the long term business customer is actually looking to book a family holiday; or that the insurance customer with a 'web only' discount offer is struggling to complete the online renewal form.

So how are marketers going to turn this deluge of static customer information into a powerful, personalised experience that delivers business value? As Keating insists, when it comes to creating the right personal experience context is everything. This rich customer data is fantastically valuable but it is only by integrating offline customer data with real-time, online customer activity that an organisation can truly harness the power of personalisation.

Personalisation is a priority
According to a survey from Econsultancy 94% of companies agree that personalisation 'is critical to current and future success'. At the same time, Forrester Research asserts that improving customer experience is now the Number One priority of business executives. But what does this mean in practice? The reality is that most companies are drowning in data; they are struggling to identify clear customer segments, let alone individuals; and they are failing to deliver any kind of personalised experience in real-time. To most, personalisation is little more than a welcome message or product banners.

Furthermore, marketers have no way of prioritising personalisation activity. Which customers or customer groups will deliver the greatest uplift as a result of well-targeted personalisation? Gut feel can be great - but it needs to be proved, or disproved. Should the company focus its attention on its top customers - women under 25 without children, say; or is there more value to be gained from identifying underperforming customer groups - for example, males over 50, living in the North East - and transforming the quality of their experience? Most marketing teams simply have no idea.

It is clear that organisations are failing to meet customer expectations. According to Forrester's revised Customer Experience Index organisations need to overcome experience gaps in performance, convenience, personalisation, and trust by adopting a new experience architecture and philosophy. "Firms must move beyond basic, reactive processes and leverage the knowledge housed across the organisation to deliver complete customer journeys that are relevant to customers' specific needs and situations within and across touch points."

The Power of Real-time Personalisation
CRM customer profile information is increasingly rich, offering diverse insight from socio economic group to newspaper preference, annuals earnings to postcode area. But creating a single customer view based on historic data is not enough - what happens when the repeat business traveller is, this time, looking to book a family holiday? Any business specific content or offers will not only be irrelevant but may actively disenfranchise that customer. Without understanding the real-time context of what that individual is actually looking at and purchasing today, organisations will struggle to achieve a truly relevant and personal experience.

So how can organisations rapidly exploit this increasingly rich customer data set to improve segmentation, identify underperforming customer groups and deliver a personal experience in real-time that will make a measurable difference? The answer is by adding context - and by turning the focus around: if the objective is delivering real-time personalisation, this can only be achieved by enhancing traditional offline data with real-time contextual data collected from the session.

To deliver effective personalisation in real-time, decisions must be made in the personalisation layer itself, not in off-line systems that do not have a complete view of a visitor's current behaviour. CRM data can provide a good basis for personalisation but ultimately, unless all available data, including that from Data Management Platforms (DMP), other in-session sources and session data are used within a single, rich, visitor profile, an organisation cannot provide an experience that is relevant to the visitor's current activity. To do this, you need an open technology stack that allows multiple data sources to be brought together in real time.

Increasing the Impact of Personalisation
At the heart of this process is the ability to make real-time decisions based on multiple real-time and historic attributes. Using online behavioural activity to improve the speed and accuracy of the segmentation process clearly enables the company to transform the customer experience in real-time. It also provides truly accurate insight into the performance of different real-time customer segments, rapidly revealing interesting groups of visitors and enabling marketing to prioritise personalisation activity accordingly.

This depth of online and offline information also reveals that a customer journey varies both by customer segment and product. For example, a retailer may differentiate the message for shoes based on gender; but will that still work for umbrellas or is there a different segmentation? In the appliance marketplace for example, there is a clear difference in the way individuals buy home cinemas when compared to fridge freezers. The latter sale requires no more than simple size facts; the former demands in depth product information.

The use of real-time session data in analytics will show that it's not just about products, it's really about the visitor; different customers have different approaches - some are 'feature rich' purchasers and some are not. Using this insight, the company can target feature rich content at the right customer group for the right product type - and drive up conversions as a result.

Creating the Personal Journey
Organisations need to recognise that personalisation is about providing customers with an experience that works for them at the time they are using it and that means providing relevant and personalised journeys, not just messages. And that might even mean encouraging a customer toward different channels. For example, by measuring error rates and the time spent on each page, a company can identify in real-time that a customer is struggling to complete an online insurance form. At this stage, the customer can be offered access to live chat to help him through the process - creating a truly personal experience based on contextual data about the customer's current activity and one that is beneficial to the company as well.

This customer journey simply cannot be delivered by off-line CRM data alone. While historical data is clearly useful it cannot reveal the primary driver for a customer's behaviour or activity at this precise moment. And when it comes to creating the experience, it is what a customer is doing right now that is undoubtedly most important.

Without contextual online interaction data to drive personalisation, organisations cannot respond to Forrester's call to move beyond basic, reactive processes. It is by combining real-time online with historic offline data that organisations can drive valuable actions from this mass of customer information. It is this real-time perspective that provides the insight required to identify underperforming groups and then proactively deliver the personalised online experience in real-time to drive measurable improvement in both engagement and conversion.