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Measuring customer journeys across online and offline channels can be done!

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29th Feb 2012
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The single view of the customer as they move across channels isn't easy - but it is possible, says Steve Dalgleish.  

The modern customer is a cross-channel customer. While there is evidence that different demographics have their particular favourites, by and large customers these days are channel agnostic – using the channel and touchpoint that is most appropriate to them at any given time. That much we know is true.
What we also know is that marketers are struggling to keep pace with the cross-channel interactions of customers. A study by Forrester last year revealed that 48% of marketing executives rank understanding customers’ cross-channel interactions as one of the top challenges facing them today.
But in addition to being a challenge, it is also a great opportunity - the volume of data that can be collected presents a chance to get single view of the customer as they move between channels. And this provides the opportunity to improve the journey from ‘not known’ to a customer, explains Steve Dalgleish, director of web analytics consultancy Lynchpin.
“If you can figure out the best methodology of picking up the user, the interested person who’s not become anything yet, and taking them through to becoming the customer and tracking that journey, that’s gold dust.” he says. “Because at the moment there is a huge disconnect in terms of capturing the online persona – it can be done, but it’s tricky because there are so many different systems.
“Any CRM system is very good in reporting once you have the customer – knowing what they do and their preferences, etc. And online data can be collected and reported on by web analysis tools. What we need is the joining of the break between online and offline.”
The online silo
A single view of the customer data would enable businesses to have greater understanding of their customers, improve the service that they deliver to them and also target more relevant marketing to individuals. But Dalgleish believes that the disconnect between online and offline has made this difficult to achieve – and the vendors are not necessarily helping to solve the issue.
“It’s important to understand the interaction between your customer and your organisation – from initial touchpoint or enquiry right through to being a customer, and returning to do other things,” he explains. “However, online has tended to be siloed instantaneously, so you have separate tools for it, such as Google Analytics, WebTrends, Adobe Site Catalyst and also the specific tools used for measuring search engine marketing channels (affiliates, PPC, banners and emails). And there instantly became a disconnect with the offline systems that were in place before. There was a definite break between online and offline.
“But that silo should not exist. If you really think about it, it’s just information, management information and business information. We should be picking up the data from online but that should be mixed into our existing reporting/analysis platforms. Companies have got analysts looking at CRM data, MI and BI – why are these analysts not having the same data coming in from online and treating it the same way?”
It makes sense to try and bridge the gap that exists between online and offline, but this is easier said than done.
In a report last year from Econsultancy and Lynchpin, businesses were asked about the barriers hampering them from measuring customer journeys across online and offline channels, with three main obstacles emerging – lack of resources, lack of buy-in from senior management (and lack of understanding of the importance of the relationship between online and offline and what can be gained from it) and lack of quality data.
Database and reporting options
Dalgleish believes there are two options open to businesses at this point – neither of which are necessarily easy in light of the aforementioned barriers, but both are possible. There is a database option and a reporting option available.
“The database solution is incredibly complex - trying to bring together various database sources and into one solid database warehouse. That’s a natural instinct, especially for CRM managers or database administrators because that’s comfortable - it feels as though that should be right. You can go that way so then your barriers are off – resource, cost and management willingness is certainly already there.”
But there is a stumbling block with this approach. 
Dalgleish continues: “If you went to the management and said you would like to do with the online and offline data, it’s going to probably need new hardware, it’s going to take months, and it’ll cost tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds (depending on the size of the organisation of course). This, all to have the data in one place. Then we will need something to report equally across it. All of a sudden the management is going to say ‘get lost - this is just so we can tie in online and we don’t even think online is that great a thing!’”
The other solution is the reporting option, bringing together reporting data from different systems and displaying it underneath the umbrella of a single tool.
“So rather than bringing in the line-by-line of the data, you take the report from your Google Analytics, CRM system, SalesForce and your 26 excel spread sheets (which you still do because that’s what you trust) and you feed those into one tool.
“All you need is one shared dimension. This can be anything that is shared across the multiple reporting data sources; time, campaign, product name, country. Really, anything as long as each of those sources has one shared dimension, in which most cases it is time.
“For example, a company has data coming in from SiteCatalyst, Excel Spreadsheets and SalesForce. All these sources have a common dimension (in this example time, day and month) then we can report on: The changes in the number of incoming calls, online visits/conversions and existing customers logging on every time a TV advert is broadcast over a calendar month. In addition, once the customer has logged on we can correlate their online activity with their offline actions. If he sees this advert, he does this online and he is more likely to buy/do this.”
The added benefit of this ‘melded’ reporting approach is that management buy-in is easier – “You’re not asking them to buy a new tool, to retag webpages, build new servers or do anything internal. All you are asking is them to feed existing data sources into the ‘melded’ reporting system and pay a bit of money for the delivery of the combined reports,” says Dalgleish.
Choose your methodology
And so these are the two options at this juncture (“or not do anything, is a third” adds Dalgleish).
But with more and more organisations wanting a view of the customer journey across online and offline, there is a rising demand to be able to bridge the gap between the data siloes. Businesses are increasingly asking why this isn’t possible.
Dalgleish concludes: “We’re seeing more and more businesses saying ‘Can we take the data out of the siloed software providers and bring it straight into our internal systems’. The simple answer is yes you can, but you’ll need to choose your methodology and then pay for it.
“We now have a number of clients who have grasped this particular nettle, the majority going for the “melded” reporting approach, and are now reaping the benefits. It has taken time, effort and money to get there but the best insight is always the most difficult to achieve.”

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By alanweaser
01st Mar 2012 11:59

I agree totally that the value of multi-channel knowledge is essential.  Automated multi-channel customer feedback has existed for some time with survey solutions such as ours (www.virtuatel.com) and the value of feedback across all customer touch-points is huge.

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