Search Discovery on how experience optimization can kickstart digital transformation
Search Discovery’s Optimization Director, Valerie Kroll, and Data Analyst, Julie Shallman, discuss how their clients are using experience optimization to support their customers in a post-COVID-19 world.
Valerie Kroll and Julie Shallman know a thing or two about adjusting plans on the fly. Like many of us, they are feeling the effects of COVID-19 intensely in their day-to-day, learning how to roll with the punches and pivot so they can continue helping organizations drive measurable business impact. An often-loaded term, data is the star at Search Discovery, whose team uses data with purpose to create executable strategies for brands in a breadth of industries, including the travel, hospitality, and healthcare sectors.
Valerie and Julie, however, don’t simply rely on data; they lean on personalization and experimentation to help them lay out short-and long-term business plans for companies looking to adjust to the new normal and transform successfully. I caught up with both, learning more about their different backgrounds, as well as their operational and analytic perspectives for a digital-first world.
Dynamic Yield: We know the travel and hospitality industries were hit pretty hard by COVID-19. How has this shifted the way companies think about the customer experience, and what are these brands anticipating in the near-term future?
Julie Shallman: Many of our travel and hospitality clients were hit pretty hard by COVID, forcing them to pause spending on certain projects, such as marketing and advertising. Also, investment projects, such as upgrading testing tools, have also been put on hold. Now, as they work to prepare for re-entry, I believe many will pivot back and re-prioritize previously planned projects and workstreams.
Valerie Kroll: A pretty common use case across hotel and airline companies has been figuring out how to decrease call volumes. Many travel brands had previously been using experience targeting for the messages and banners sitting in the fixed header of their sites. For travelers trying to understand whether they were able to cancel a flight, these banners could direct them to the relevant pages with this information. Travel center agents only want to deal with calls if it’s regarding something urgent, say concern about plans within the next 48 hours, so a lot of these testing tools have helped our travel clients quickly deploy messages tailored to each site visitor, ensuring their team could better operationally handle the volume of calls they were receiving.
With Dynamic Yield, leading travel brands can now deliver personalized customer experiences at scale, across any channel.
DY: In a similar vein, I’m curious about the work Search Discovery has been doing with its healthcare clients. What new challenges have these organizations been facing and how has experience optimization been used to overcome them?
JS: For healthcare, it was interesting because two of our clients made a big push to centralize their efforts and pulled in members of senior management. They built specific COVID Task Forces within their organizations to help make quick pivots with the necessary blessings and budgets, despite their deviations from their original 2020 plans. As the situation unfolded, they realized this top-down approach couldn’t appreciate or account for a number of differences, such as physician specialty or geography. In order to become more agile, they de-centralized the COVID Task Forces and started to empower individual teams to nimbly react to the specific needs of the unique audiences they service.
DY: Given that COVID-19 has inspired an entirely new wave of digital transformation, what is the first piece of advice you give to clients when they are getting started with tailoring consumer experiences?
JS: I think one of the first pieces of advice is to remember that it’s not the sole responsibility of the optimization team to dig a company out of the rut that COVID has caused. They should have a seat at the table with the decision-makers to help them ideate on how the business could pivot and how that intersects with new and evolving customer needs. Then, the goal should be to illustrate how you can use experimentation to identify the best path forward using data and measurement. Testing can inform decision making, and it’s even more important during a crisis.
And I also encourage brands to listen to their customers! Voice of customer data has never been more important because, the reality is, nothing is business as usual anymore and historical data can no longer be used as a proxy for future performance. We’ve heard experts in the testing space advise CEOs to listen to sales calls. The takeaway here for me is, no matter where you sit within your organization, it’s critical to understand what your end users need, what their pain points are, and where opportunities exist.
DY: What does an experimentation or optimization team look like in your experience?
VK: The CRO industry has matured over the years, and we’ve seen businesses come to acknowledge the power of experimentation. More organizations now embrace testing and use it to decrease risk when handling new opportunities and deliver real business impact, I think they’re really being pulled out into more of their own silos. Less often will you find optimization teams housed in an IT or marketing department; rather, they tend to be part of a customer experience team or a centralized analytics function. This allows them to easily partner with groups all across the organization, leveraging standardized processes and gaining access to the full stack of resources needed from design, development, and designated legal/risk/compliance partners.
DY: Talk to us a little bit more about the intricacies of personalization within the Healthcare space. Ecommerce brands get all the glory but there seems to be so much opportunity in this sector.
VK: Healthcare is obviously very nuanced and highly regulated, and there’s a lot of messaging that has to be very tightly controlled. There are many legal compliance considerations. But one of the things that I actually think makes it easier for the clients that Julie and I work on, is that there’s actually so much you can learn about where the physician or healthcare provider practices, or how they choose to practice.
So for example, the persona of an oncologist that looks at slices of cells using microscopes has a very different reason for wanting to be a doctor than, let’s say, a pediatrician who prioritizes face-to-face interaction with patients and has a great bedside manner. I think, in this particular space, and similar to B2B in general, the kind of the demographics or firmographics of the person can actually tell you a lot about the way that they likely want to be talked to or which messages will resonate. This becomes a great starting place for formulating test ideas and personalization opportunities. And just like eCommerce, these companies (and companies across a number of industries, really) now must personalize their sites to help inform and service new customers engaging digitally.
DY: Data is, of course, the nexus of highly-tailored customer experiences, irrespective of industry, but I’m assuming even more so for healthcare. Are there any important considerations in this regard that brands getting into personalization should think about?
JS: Healthcare, as Valerie mentioned, is highly regulated, which needs to be taken into account when planning any strategy, content, or functionality changes. The necessary approval processes need to be baked into testing timelines, which tends to slow down the pace of digital transformation and maturity compared to other industries.
One regulatory item we have seen specifically in healthcare is the requirement to include safety information within pop-ups, which can sometimes take up the majority of space on a user’s screen. While it’s to be likely flagged as a less-than-optimal UX experience, legally marketers’ hands are tied. And this is just one of the many examples of how the industry isn’t as flexible as other sectors, stunting the ability for more classic optimizations.
VK: I would also add, in some of the processes we build for our clients, we suggest very early on in the planning phase, to bring in people who can sign off on the content, the assets, or the messaging. In some cases, we even give them official roles, perhaps making them members of an Experimentation Steering Committee, which can expedite the time-to-launch and ensure the program is operationally efficient.
If you want to get in touch with Search Discovery, visit their site and get in touch with Valerie and Julie on LinkedIn. And to learn more about our growing partner ecosystem and the limitless possibilities to expand your marketing services and increase business growth, visit our partner page.