Five Ways to Make 2017 the Year of the Customer

Patrick Salyer
by Patrick Salyer 03 Feb, 2017

Just when you thought articles predicting technology trends in 2017 were on the wane, we've got one more for you.

This article is one we hope you can actually use to plan your customer strategy - especially if your company recognizes customer identity as an indispensable tool to deliver a unified, secure and engaging customer experience. Following are five trends predicted to pop this year, and how organizations should respond.

1. Customer identity management (CIM) will become central to the marketing technology stack.

Don't look now, but your customer profiles may be fragmented. When you store and manage individual sets of customer data in customer relationship management (CRM) software, a content management system (CMS), a data management platform (DMP) or other solutions that are siloed, your customers' identities end up scattered throughout your marketing stack in small chunks, preventing you from building consistent user profiles. Because of this, you are unable to engage customers across channels (online and off) in a consistent and relevant manner, or ensure that they give consent for the data collected and retain control of its use. The result is a broken experience for customers and some well-deserved mistrust. 

Customer-obsessed organizations will move away from "DIY" systems to manage customer data, and they will place customer identity at the center of their system with a CIM hub. By doing this, organizations will have more accurate and complete user profiles that can be built and managed over time. Also, connecting marketing systems to a centralized platform enables marketers to gain deeper customer insights and deliver personalized content. Meanwhile, your customers experience transparency, consistency, and a sense of control over their profiles and preferences.

2. Customer identity will be built progressively.

A trending strategy for winning and keeping more customers can be summed up simply: When first engaging with consumers, less is more.

To be competitive in the digital world, you must establish direct relationships with your customers, which traditionally has meant coaxing consumers into filling out forms for online accounts or subscriptions. But people don't like friction in their mobile and online experiences. And, they are increasingly wary of divulging personal information. 

Businesses will incentivize users to sign up for accounts with simple value propositions and the smallest ask. A single piece of information is all that's needed to get the ball rolling - an email address, mobile number or permission to use someone's existing social media credentials.

With contact established, you can then move the conversation forward by using behavioral insights about individuals to offer something of value to encourage their return. When they do, there's a new opportunity for you to exchange value for information. A free trial for a social referral, points for joining a loyalty program - the possibilities are endless. This gradual collection of permission-based information is called "progressive profiling." Just remember that, as the relationship grows, customers must feel confident that their information is secure and won't be abused.

3. Permission-based marketing will help eliminate the creepiness in personalization.

Have you ever bought something at an ecommerce site, only to have that brand follow you around the Internet for weeks, surfacing ads for a product you already own? 

This kind of "personalization" has traditionally been driven by marketers using browser cookies and mobile IDs to track behavior, or with third-party lists purchased from data brokers. But this is changing fast. Most people like having their individual interests catered to, but nobody likes being "stalked." Increasingly, consumers are driving a trend away from the cookie and toward the login. 

Besides the growing cost of consumer mistrust, concerns over individuals' right to privacy are driving more stringent consumer data privacy and protection regulations. This combination - the massive opportunity to leverage first-party identity data to bring focus to personalization in the customer experience, combined with strict new data privacy regulations - is driving a radical shift in many businesses' digital strategies.

In 2017, brands that rely on anonymous third-party data and see privacy compliance only as a cost center will lose ground to companies that design the core of their digital architecture around user privacy, consent and control. Tell your customers what information you are asking for and what you intend to do with it, and you'll benefit from customer insights and loyalty while staying on the right side of the law.

4. The European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will matter to everyone.

In May 2018, GDPR will take effect and bring about massive changes in how personal data is handled. GDPR promises more stringent rules protecting EU customers' data. But it also poses challenges for businesses in how they balance regulatory requirements with meeting consumer demands and expectations in the Digital Age. And, non-compliance carries heavy fines - reaching up to 20 million euros or 4 percent of global turnover, whichever is greater.

In 2017, organizations will begin to prepare for GDPR, in part by naming or hiring pricey data protection officers to shore up their privacy practices. Many IT and business leaders will also realize the need for a central repository for storing and managing consumer data that is currently scattered in myriad systems around the company.

5. Businesses will begin helping customers help themselves to avoid breaches.

Cybercriminals have realized the value of consumers' online accounts and have focused their efforts on hijacking them. Unfortunately, consumers often make it much too easy for them. A recent Intel security poll found that the average person in 2016 had 27 discrete logins for which they must create and remember passwords. So, it should come as no surprise that most consumers use the same password for multiple online accounts. It's a cybercriminal's dream. 

To help, organizations will adopt stronger authentication methods. The authentication flow begins with a password, then adds one or more additional factors, like a token or mobile phone, or a biometric element such as a fingerprint or voice recognition. The key is that these other factors aren't reusable or replicable and can't be pilfered on the internet.

Now that you see what's coming this year, you'll know which technologies and processes to adopt within your customer identity solutions that will make 2017 the year of the customer. The most successful organizations will blend transformational customer experiences with data and privacy protection. As a result, they'll see a spike in customer loyalty, and overall business success.

About the Author

Patrick Salyer is the CEO of Gigya, the leading Customer Identity Management platform with more than 700 clients, including Fox, Forbes and ASOS.