It is fast becoming very clear for financial services companies that as the focus switches from acquisition to retention, personalisation will be a key differentiator in 2015 and beyond. However, many organisations are still extremely wary of personalisation, understandably fearing the risk of disengaging consumers by over-stepping the mark - and the potential of a media backlash that could affect the entire brand. But personalisation is both essential and achievable with the right approach, according to Nick Fleetwood, head of financial services (EMEA) for Maxymiser, who here explains the importance of optimisation in enabling successful personalisation for financial services companies. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

There has recently been a definite shift in focus for financial services as companies looked to build an emotional connection with the consumer through delivering more relevant products, services and messaging. As a result personalisation is fast become the number one priority for the financial services industry. But when does personalisation become too personal? When does the great customer offer segue into the over familiar communication that has a detrimental effect on the relationship?

The benefits of good personalisation are clear. Starting with targeted product messaging and the use of customer profiles to drive more personalised communication with the financial provider; and evolving to the development of intelligent rewards programmes for customers based on previous activity. Relevant, timely engagement with a known and accessible customer audience base has the potential to transform both retention and cross-selling. Personalisation should also pave the way for a shift from the traditional 'product features' sell toward the 'product value' model that customers increasingly desire.

Hesitant Approach
Given the clear benefits of personalisation, why are so many financial services companies holding back? This market has a huge advantage over many others - such as retail - due to the depth of consumer data that has to be collected through a product application. However, while this data is very useful to support risk decisions it is undoubtedly tough for companies to determine which elements of this deep customer profile actually influence behaviour. Using that insight to identify the right piece of content or differentiating experience to support, rather than undermine, that long term relationship has, to date, been something of an ad hoc and high risk exercise.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There are five key stages that companies can follow to successfully achieve personalisation:

  1. Identify. Capture all the data potentially required to understand how to personalise and segment content, from online data capture to CRM information.
  2. Optimise. A strong optimisation programme is fundamental to getting the right level of personalised experience. De-risking the approach by optimising a new offer or journey on a subset of the audience is key to determining the viability and value of the approach.
  3. Discover. Optimisation then plays a key role in refining segments by providing understanding into different customer responses to personalised experiences.
  4. Profile. As segmentation becomes more sophisticated, companies can confidently create personas that reflect customer needs and requirements, using optimisation to validate behavioural hypotheses and continually improve the experience.
  5. Personalisation. With an identifiable, addressable audience a company can now create highly personalised journeys - throughout this process it is essential to continue to use optimisation to assess the value and response to each new aspect of the personalised experience.

The opportunities for creating a personalised customer experience are potentially overwhelming. Indeed, personalisation is not just about messaging, promotions and products; it is about the entire customer journey and experience. And that is why it is essential to follow a strict process and continually assess and validate the experience with a subset of users.

"No company can afford to risk the deployment of a new personalisation initiative across the entire customer base without understanding how it will be received - that really would be playing fast and loose with the customer base," concluded Fleetwood. "By optimising that experience on a subset of the audience - from personalised offers and content or a segment specific customer journey - a company can immediately determine the viability and value of the approach and confidently begin to meet consumer expectations of a more personal and relevant experience."