Data drives decisions: how building more engaging customer experiences relies on real time data

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It’s no secret we’re becoming a society that thrives on instant gratification, but the extent to which many of us are willing to go to achieve it is quite surprising. A recent global study by Harris Interactive and DataStax found that nearly 70 per cent of those questioned are prepared to spend extra money if it means reducing their wait time for services they care about. How much more? An average of 21 per cent over the asking price, rising to 40 per cent amongst US millennials. That’s quite a premium for the same service, just delivered faster.

The impact of personalisation on consumer relationships

In the research, customers stated they were happy to pay extra to avoid waiting times. However, money isn’t the only thing consumers are happy to trade in exchange for a better online experience. 53 per cent of adults in the United States and 43 per cent in the UK are willing to share more of their personal data with a company that will personalise its services and/or products for them, based on that data. Furthermore, over half of all international adults questioned said personalisation is now somewhat or very important to them across every scenario provided in the study. This covered multiple markets including banking (66 per cent), grocery shopping (58 per cent), airline travel (52 per cent) and electronics retail shopping (49 per cent).

The ability to provide this kind of fast, personalised service is starting to become both a competitive differentiator and a deciding factor in the long-term future of many enterprises. After all, just because consumers are willing to exchange money or data for a more intimate experience, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to provide this in practice.

A truly personalised service is about much more than just knowing a customer’s name and their order history. It should help them to make more informed purchasing decisions, guide their thinking, make accurate recommendations and create opportunities for further engagement in the future. Perhaps most importantly, it should be able to do these things in real-time, not weeks or months later via a marketing email, when the customer has long since forgotten what they were looking at in the first place.

Consumers are becoming increasingly unforgiving

Consumers in today’s ‘right-now’ economy demand five key things from their online experiences; personal relevancy, continuous availability, real-time responsiveness, boundless accessibility and constant engagement across the digital ecosystem. These elements can be hard to achieve, particularly for larger enterprises built on ageing infrastructure. Businesses of all sizes are now expected to be just as flexible and agile as start-ups, but without the right technology in place it can be next to impossible to deliver on these expectations. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that those who have embraced cloud across their organisation are outperforming their competition, while those who haven’t increasingly find themselves on a downward trajectory.  

However, while cloud platforms do offer virtually limitless resources, it’s not as simple as just moving existing data to the cloud. Instead, you have to look at the whole cloud application model and how these new services are designed. In fact, many cloud applications are now struggling to handle the rapidly increasing volume and complexity of data being collected every day by users.

Making use of this data means getting closer to the moment when customers are making decisions, which can be difficult. To add to the challenge, these applications need to be always on, run in real-time and be globally distributed. Even the slightest hiccup can cost both revenue and customers.

Key characteristics of an effective cloud application model

As more businesses move towards the cloud application model, it’s critical to evaluate the five characteristics these applications have. Only by doing this will you be able to deliver the levels of service expected. These five characteristics are as follows:

1) Context

The data flowing through cloud applications is complex, ever-changing, large in volume, and highly connected. Effectively using this data to show relationships is essential if you want to provide contextual, real-time insights. Thinking about context early enables you to create the instant, highly personalised experiences that modern customers now demand online.

2) Always-on

Today’s cloud applications require continuous availability. An unavailable cloud application, even if it is down just for a few minutes, can miss out on thousands or millions of potential visitors. This can quickly result in customers switching to a more available competitor, never to be seen again.

3) Real-time

Real-time access to data is a prerequisite for building engaging customer experiences and is often the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. After all, a new offer is unlikely to entice a customer if it comes hours, days or even weeks after they abandoned their online shopping basket.

4) Distributed

Modern online customers want access 24/7, regardless of their location. To meet this requirement, data platforms need to be built from the ground up to handle widely distributed data. In practice, this means supporting data that can be accessed and synchronised across multiple data centres and cloud providers all at the same time.

5) Scalable

A big part of a cloud application’s success depends on its ability to quickly scale in line with the data volume or number of users at any given time. This flexible scalability helps enterprises to deliver a consistent customer experience at all times, including through seasonal peaks where a large or unexpected influx of users can otherwise cause significant issues.

As we have seen above, the modern consumer expects fast, accessible and highly personalised experiences whenever they shop online. They’re increasingly willing to exchange either money or data in return for high quality of service. This presents a significant opportunity to enterprises that can offer that kind of experience, but poses a major challenge to those that can’t.

For large enterprises built on legacy infrastructure, the need to quickly transform is particularly urgent and for many, the answer lies in the cloud. To ensure good performance, modern applications are increasingly being deployed in hybrid cloud environments. Having a ‘cloud everywhere’ approach involves providing a consistent data fabric between on-premises and public clouds, enabling enterprises to effortlessly accelerate their hybrid and multi cloud deployments. Alongside this, companies can use a mix of cloud services that suits them, rather than being committed to a specific cloud provider.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cloud applications – what suits one company will not provide the experience that another business requires. Any cloud implementation requires careful consideration and planning if it’s to be successful. However, looking at the five key characteristics laid out above can help you design and build the right strategy for implementing better personalisation and customer experience. Using a cloud application model, you should be able to deliver the personal, available, responsive, accessible and engaging experience that customers now demand.

Evanna Kearins, Vice President, Global Field Marketing, DataStax
Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock