Customer experience is inseparable from personalization.

The most recent guest on our podcast was Kim Williams-Czopek, VP of Digital at Lilly Pulitzer. Kim has decades of experience in customer experience, and in her episode of The Marketing Executive, she defined the term and talked about the intimate relationship between customer experience and personalization.

This post hits the highlights of that interview.

Defining “Customer Experience”

Since customer experience is such a broad concept, how does someone with Kim’s experience define it?

Very early in her career, one of the first things she did (without knowing what she was doing) was organize a usability test. That was the real beginning of her career’s focus on the customer experience.

Back then, she asked simple, practical questions such as “Does this button work when the customer presses it?” Her thinking has now expanded to include a much more encompassing question: “What does the customer expect, and how can we give it to her?”

Kim’s attitude is analogous to how Lilly Pulitzer thinks of customer experience already. They always start with the customer: what she wants, what she needs, and when she needs it. Their entire distribution marketing delivery strategy revolves around making her happy.

How Do You Know if You’re Succeeding at Customer Experience?

There’s both an analytical answer and a qualitative answer to this question.

The analytical answer is that Kim’s team has a variety of systems that they use to track quantitative measures of success. They have their KPIs, as you would expect.

Then they have more qualitative measures: talking to customers, doing usability studies, and asking about their experience end-to-end. They bring all the information together to understand if they improved somewhere, and if so, what the key components of that improvement were.

It’s an art and a science. They take measurement seriously, as many organizations do, but they put a special emphasis on learning from those measurements and, in all conversations, asking where they can apply those learnings in the next week, quarter, and year. They make sure that every customer interaction in their history is contributing to a better experience for a customer in the future.

How Kim’s Background in Design Informs Her Approach to Retail

Customer experience is a buzzword right now, but Kim’s background in design and user experience was always about how to empathize with customers and understand what’s best for them.

Customers often don’t behave like designers: when design teams ask themselves how they personally would behave in a given situation, it can lead to solutions that aren’t optimal for the end user.  Executives and others may approach a problem by saying, “I do this when I go into a store,” but it’s easy for Kim to point to data that shows that  “that’s not what our customers are doing.”

Kim’s experience has taught her that “we need to walk a mile in our customer’s shoes. We can’t just assume they are going to behave the way we want them to.”

The Relationship Between Customer Experience and Personalization

Kim thinks that customer experience and personalization are synonymous, if you want to acquire and retain customers—which you probably do.

Increasingly, we’re seeing that customers expect greater relevance than ever before, and you can only be relevant to a customer if you personalize their experience.

How a Distinct Design Affects Lilly Pulitzer’s Personalization Efforts

You can spot a Lilly Pulitzer design across the room. How does having such a distinct design help or complicate their approach to personalization?

Kims says that it does both. It helps because they understand what the customer likes, in terms of patterns, silhouettes, etc.

But because it’s so distinct, sometimes they might overthink how to introduce the customer to new products because they’re so vastly different. If she likes one print or pattern, how do they know if she’ll like a different one?

For Lilly, it’s all about experimentation. They’re doing a lot more in the machine learning world to try and let science inform and scale the work. Many companies have great teams of marketers, but they’re people who can’t come up with millions of variations in their head—let alone get them onto a site and into an experience.

Kim has great hope that AI will help them not worry about the complications and get to that customer experience, giving the customer what she wants, when she wants it. And when they don’t get the timing right, Kim believes quick feedback from AI will help them pivot easily.

Staying Up-to-Date on Tech

The marketing technology space is busy. We asked Kim: “How do you stay informed of the latest trends in technology?”

She feels like she never has enough time to learn as much as she would like. But she does do a fair amount of reading, research, trying demos, and talking to other retailers in the space. When she  examines what the current offerings are in her research or at a conference, she tends to think outside the box and consider  what it would look like if they were to deploy it across channels or differently later.

It sounds like an easy answer, but it’s really about being able to think critically about tech. For example, virtual reality seems really cool, and a lot of retailers would say, “We need this or that VR app.” In some cases, that may be true, but Kim’s strategy is to start instead with the the customer experience that she’s going for, and then seek whatever can help her achieve that experience.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Kim Williams-Czopek from Lilly Pulitzer. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Marketing Executive.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.