We all know that speed – how fast you can get new products to market, how fast you can personalize, how quickly you can resolve an issue – is one of the biggest competitive differentiators today. For many organizations trying to gain an edge over the competition, it can be the key deciding factor as to who comes out on top. Customer expectations are at an all-time high while patience is at an all-time low. To meet customer demands, every experience and every interaction a customer has with a brand must be spot on and delivered at the exact moment of need. When you think about global organizations with tens of millions of customers, the scale and importance of customer experience becomes enormous. How can companies keep up and consistently deliver? The answer is real-time decisioning.
Real-time decisioning has many different definitions, depending on who you talk to. As a refresher, Pega defines it as the ability to analyze each customer’s context using predictive models and business logic to deliver the next best action to that person in-channel – all while the customer interaction is actively taking place. For Pega, this takes less than 200 milliseconds. But when you look at use cases across customer experience and how real-time decisioning is being defined, how fast does it really need to be? Does it always need to be less than a second? Or would the industry standard of 20 to 60 minutes – what we call “near real time” suffice in some cases? Let’s look at where speed has the biggest impacts on customer experience.
Real time for inbound and outbound channels
There are several instances where real-time decisioning can take an organization’s customer experience to the next level. Inbound digital channels, for example, provide the best use cases for real-time decisioning. A recent Pega study on real-time decisioning showed that the top three use cases for organizations surveyed were website optimization (#1), mobile application optimization (#2), and triggered email messages (#3).
Website and mobile app optimization are both high-priority, highly interactive inbound channels. They yield a high volume of traffic that has historically been under-optimized and could easily be monetized if an organization could stimulate engagement and improve conversion. They also provide a great source of behavioral data that can be used to power real-time initiatives across the entire engagement program.
Real-time capabilities are absolutely critical in these channels because of their interactive nature; organizations are provided the opportunity to adapt a customer’s experience in the moment, reading and reacting to their behavior as they navigate their site or app. While the typical “static” experience generally fails to inspire anyone, brands that can “re-decision” a customer and adapt their experience click-by-click gain a massive advantage. These organizations can showcase offers and messages that are relevant to the needs of the customer, even as those needs shift with each action they take. This approach has led to a 5x increase in engagement and a 3x increase in conversion for companies that implement it.
Outbound channels (like email) work slightly differently, but the real-time use cases are no less powerful. While traditional programs typically select an offer and then build a campaign around it, in a real-time model the email is sent well before the message is selected. In fact, it isn’t until “open-time” that the decision on what to present is actually made – when the customer opens the email to read it, a decision engine analyzes the customer record, calculates their propensities, and decides what offer or message to present to that individual, at that moment. Open-time capabilities ensure that the decision is made with the most current data possible and increase open rates significantly – again by 3 to 5x.
Unfortunately, a common trap is that many organizations want to start their real-time journey with email instead of implementing an inbound channel, because they see massive potential in the ability of outbound programs to stimulate growth. But putting outbound-before-inbound is like putting the cart before the horse. Trigger-based programs require a strong source of real-time behavioral data to perform well, and that’s only available when channels like web and mobile are already connected. Otherwise, trigger programs don’t have the context they need to “sense” moments of customer opportunity.
The reality of real-time adoption
While real-time decisioning seems like the perfect solution to both the speed and customer experience challenges organizations are facing today, many organizations haven’t taken the plunge. The real-time decisioning study found that while 88% of practitioners said that real time was critical to the customer experience only 39% were investing in it. This discrepancy represents the gap between what practitioners want to have vs. what they actually have in terms of technology and capabilities.
As Mark Davies, senior director for business excellence at Pega, stated in a recent webinar:
“Many practitioners don’t believe that [real-time decisioning] is possible with current technology, and most of the technology in the market backs up that misunderstanding. Most solutions can only calculate the recommendation ahead of time, or don’t include real-time contextual information, or don’t instantly re-decision based on customer responses, or they try and push customers down preset pathways or journeys. If those are the only tools that you know about, then you might put off implementing a real-time solution because it’s perceived as being too difficult or requiring too much investment.”
Just because the technology can move fast doesn’t mean businesses can. Organizations need to walk before they can run when it comes to real-time decisioning. This means making fundamental changes to support real time, such as switching from batch messaging or segment-based marketing approaches to true one-to-one engagement. That alone can be a monumental task. When you factor in other challenges around organizational structure, existing technology investments, and budget, it’s easy to see why investment in this type of technology is still ramping up. However, if your organization is looking to truly get ahead and deliver the experiences customers demand, it’s time to get up to speed on real time. It doesn’t need to happen all at once; every customer experience practitioner out there knows these types of multichannel, multi-team initiatives take time. But the time to get started is now.