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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beyond the Preference Center

I normally consider myself a "crafty" person. I like to take things apart and understand how they work, and can usually do so while minimizing household fires and danger to small animals. So when the time came to fix a broken thermostat, I was sure that I had the situation well in hand.

Little did I know, I was in for a bit more than swapping out a couple of batteries. After a couple of hours spent trying to discern the proper configuration of wires to a new thermostat, followed by a trip through the crawlspace under the house to look at the heating unit, I came to realize just how much I had underestimated my "simple" task - and how little I knew about home improvement.

I have the privilege of working with well-known companies to implement preference management solutions.  Many come to us thinking preference management is merely a preference center that collects consumer communication, just like I thought fixing a thermostat was easy to do, but implementing preference management is farther reaching than most companies expect.

A preference center is the central interface to manage preferred methods of communication for your customers and prospects.

For smaller businesses with a limited customer base it can be relatively simple to set up a preference center and it probably makes sense for it to "live" within one of the existing customer touch point systems.

For larger enterprises with customers interacting with numerous brands and products across multiple touch points, it’s essential to have a preference center that can handle the complexity that exists.

At a minimum, companies need a preference center that meets compliance regulations and reduces the risk of customer complaints and subsequent fines. Too many companies make the mistake in the implementation of a preference center by approaching it as an all-or-nothing proposition where customers are either given only the options to wholesale "opt in" or “opt out” of communication. Building a more complex preference center allows customers to instead ‘opt down’ via multiple choices for communicating with the company.

Some areas to consider if you are implementing a preference management solution include:

Integration Points

How do your customers interact with your company? Is it through a bricks-and-mortar location (retail, restaurant, hotel, etc.), via your website, on the phone, via mobile device or perhaps a combination of those?  Multiple touch points present challenges for managing your preference center. Every point must collect data and share it across other touch points, and preference data must be documented should a complaint or problem arise.

Customers interact differently based on the touch point. At a retail location a customer may browse for an extended period, but wish to remain anonymous. A customer doing research on your website may be willing to create a profile to gain deeper access to information. On the other hand, interaction via mobile is often a tighter experience, requiring the customer to provide personal data will be a barrier.

Use of Preference Data

Customer data can be invaluable to your marketing campaigns, but it’s important to manage those campaigns with preference compliance in mind. When building a target list for a campaign it may take several rounds of running lists and reducing the customer pool based on preferences before you get a clean list. With a robust preference center you can reduce your time to market because the data is already clean and ready to use.

Consider the Context

When building a preference center, be mindful of what data you want from your customers. Consider that customers have limits on what they’re willing to provide, and those limits may be situational.

For example, a customer may not want to provide his phone number or email address at a retail checkout counter. In that situation the information request may seem intrusive. Yet that same customer may be more than willing to provide deeper and more valuable information during a website purchase, such as his address, basic demographic data and interests in specific products.

Getting Started

At a minimum, your preference center will want to capture an email address and contact preferences from customers. The next level would be to capture the customer’s name and country of residence to help determine if local regulations impact compliance regulation. At a deeper level you may be able to collect more descriptive information such as demographic data and specific lifestyle or product interests. Bottom line, make it easy for customers to state their preferences and make sure they see the value in of providing the information without becoming so intrusive that you risk losing the customer altogether via a total opt out.

Just as I thought it would be easy to fix that thermostat, companies need to consider the above complexities when undertaking a preference management project.  It takes much more than merely creating a preference center to be truly successful.

About the Author: 
Mike Madison is the Director of Product Architecture at PossibleNOW.

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