From Simple Searches to Guided Experiences

Why Companies Should Guide Customers Through Personalized Digital Journeys

Robert Hogervorst

The ways in which people find and interact with information continue to evolve. Consumers now crave personalization in their digital experiences and want to be guided through their journey. They also get increasingly flustered when these expectations aren’t met. Personalization keeps visitors happy (42% of people get frustrated without it), and helps drive business as well (80% of prospects are more likely to convert when experiences are individually tailored).

To enhance the customer journey, organizations must embrace this change and strive to adapt site search that gives people the relevance they desire.

Cutting edge companies must leverage data and AI to achieve truly personalized, guided experiences.

Progressing Toward Guided Experiences

Early navigation gave people the ability to look up keywords or website titles to find what they needed. But this required incredibly specific searches (and some luck) to return results that were relevant to consumers. More recent search functionality progressed toward better personalization, serving content that answers queries while accounting for what personas and groups a person interacts with.  

However, these searches still yielded disconnected, isolated and often irrelevant results. These stagnant personas resulted in dumps of generic or group-based content that lacked true relevance and personalization. To make users’ experiences more individualized, companies had to make manual adjustments, taking up time and resources that could be better applied elsewhere.

Now, technological advances like machine learning and data-driven personas have started to change the way that content gets delivered to users. The goal for companies now should be to take that next step to highly personalized, tailor-made experiences that guide users from the start of their query to information discovery. But what exactly do these guided experiences look like?

Identifying Guided Experiences

The two overarching characteristics of a guided experience are personalization and relevance. Consumers need to access content that is directly relevant to what they’re looking for while appearing as if their experience has been curated personally for them.

This approach is no longer just an option; it is becoming a necessity. By next year, research shows that 51% of consumers and 75% of business buyers will expect companies to anticipate their individual needs and offer relevant solutions. On top of that, consumers need to be able to find the content they want on their own; 80% of people in 2018 preferred using self-service and expected a single search to provide assistance for whatever query they want answered.

These guided experiences also require delivering the right content at the right time. Offering relevant content leads visitors to engage more actively and increases the odds that they’ll convert. Roughly 96% of customers are not ready to purchase right away, but relevant content goes a long way toward increasing their chances of buying.

The tricky part here is making the distinction between catering to someone based on their persona and providing a truly individualized experience. Previous eras of online search have taken into account things like time of day and location to yield contextual results. Guided experiences, leveraging data and AI, still incorporate these persona-based factors, but combine that with a holistic look at individuals to lead them to content that meets their specific needs. 

So to summarize, guided experiences take place when content is personalized, easily accessible and highly relevant to individuals. But how can organizations effectively reach that level of individualization?

The answer is to embrace the role that machine learning and artificial intelligence play in curating content that is tailored specifically for individuals. Machine learning allows search engines to predict exactly what someone is looking for based on their individual history as well as the tendencies their collective personas might exhibit. 

From an individual perspective, AI learns from past queries in order to enhance future ones. It analyzes your behavior instantly, making adjustments in real time so that each new search you make is more personalized than the last. Which links did you click on? Did you leave that page right away or spend more time on it? Did you visit multiple pages or share things on social media? The answers to these questions allow AI to recommend future content to deliver a person-centric experience, leading companies to more business value.

These guided experiences provide measurable benefits for the organizations that implement them. Personalization means less noise for consumers, saving them time from perusing irrelevant content. The option to explore remains available, but items that are shown more prominently are those that matter most based on an individual’s data-driven persona. And for organizations, leveraging this technology means that time and resources aren’t wasted on manually adjusting search tendencies based on group trends. These benefits help drive engagement, leading to stronger partnerships when content is personalized and relevant.  

Arriving at truly guided experiences is not a perfect process. Organizations must adapt a philosophy of “Build, Measure, Learn” to better understand the ways in which their customer experiences can be enhanced. Machine learning and artificial intelligence help acquire data and track insights, which an effective company will then use to adjust their strategy going forward. Guided experiences lead directly to better prospect conversion and higher customer satisfaction levels, while the automated tools that create these journeys save time and resources compared to previous methods of customizing user experiences. 

By remaining flexible and understanding the importance of tailoring digital journeys, organizations help the evolution of site search continue on the path toward guided experiences.

Robert Hogervorst is a Senior Director with 7Summits. Rob has more than two decades of experience helping clients uncover business results using transformational digital business solutions.

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