Personalization: What It Is and How It Improves the Customer Journey
Picture the best customer service experience you’ve had in the past few days.
A barista at your favorite coffee shop remembered that you’d like a 16-ounce French roast and knew to leave room for cream. An attentive restaurant server knew to bring you only nut-free dessert options because you mentioned you were allergic to peanuts. Amazon suggested a great, new true-crime novel and offered you reduced price shipping for adding it to your shopping cart. A clothing brand you love sent you an email newsletter with luggage and accessory suggestions and included a discount code.
What Is Personalization Anyway?
These personal touches made you feel like an individual instead of a nameless customer. Each of the businesses specifically tailored a customer journey just for you. That experience is what ultimately made the brand or the product memorable.
For the businesses involved, this experience and its result was by design. All of the aforementioned examples demonstrate an old tenet of customer service: personalization.
In a June 2018 Forbes article, “Personalization and Omnichannel: Bringing Retail Customer Experience Full Circle (And Then Some),” customer engagement thought leader Micah Solomon wrote, “There are two reasons that a personalized customer experience is so powerful: practicality — the empirical value to the customer of having an experience tailored to who they are and what they’re looking for — and psychology: the warm feeling that flows over a customer when they are properly recognized and catered to as an individual, rather than as part of the teeming mass of consumers.”
Fundamentally, customers do not care about the needs of your business’ other customers. They also do not care about your business’ priorities. Rather, they believe their experience as a customer is centered around their wants and needs, a kind of narcissism Solomon calls the Red Bench Principle.
The Red Bench Principle: Your Customers Are Self-Interested and That’s Okay
Solomon claims that the essence of providing excellent customer service is supporting and maintaining your customer’s unabashed self-interest.
In his Red Bench Principle, the author compares the customer to a child attending pre-school. Every day before school, he and his wife would wait on a red bench outside the classroom for their daughter’s preschool teacher to arrive and usher their child inside. At the end of every school day, their daughter would leave the classroom with her preschool teacher and discover her parents on that same red bench.
Though clearly her parents weren’t sitting all day outside her classroom, the consistency of their appearance on the red bench made her think they were. It bolstered the belief that she was being cared for, paid attention to, and most importantly, loved. She expected them to be there. She didn’t even remotely consider what her parents’ obligations or day-to-day activities were. Her parents world revolved around her, and their actions supported that self-interested belief.
Your customers are similarly oblivious to the inner workings of your business, your staff’s duties, and your inventory — and they should be. They are interacting with your business in order to pay for products, not to empathize. To provide them with an impactful customer journey, your business must make each individual customer feel like the world revolves around them and no one else.
In Solomon’s approach to the customer journey, the next generation of customer experiences won’t include all the frills and fuss of the red carpet. It will feature the seemingly near-constant awareness of a parent sitting on the red bench.
How Businesses Utilize Personalized Customer Experiences for Long-Term Customer Retention
In previous eras, personalized shopping experiences were reserved for high-end retailers. Sales associates operating on commission would go the extra mile to fill a wine class as their clients tried on a new suit or dress. Personalized experiences were also the luxury of long-term customers of a local business, in which the staff learned their customers buying preferences over countless sales.
In other words, the ROI from the high value or volume of the products sold justified a more personalized customer journey.
However, due to the convenience, speed, and choice shoppers have in the digital age, personalization is now expected. According to a customer experience report by the data-driven marketing firm, Accenture, more than 80 percent of shoppers want brands to better understand them, including when they do and do not want to be approached.
Because of this expectation, online retailers and marketers rely on automated tools of personalization, such as machine learning and predictive analytics, to track and then predict their customers’ buying behavior.
Why? You will refer that coffee shop, that restaurant, that book title, or that clothing brand to someone else. You will be more likely to engage with those brands in person, on their website, and on social media. This engagement will facilitate loyalty, making you more likely to become a repeat customer.
Your personalized customer experience may even be more important than how much you paid and which product you chose to buy. It will also inform which brands you choose to buy from. Industry reports from the growth consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, indicate that by 2020, the customer journey will be the key brand differentiator, more so than price or product.
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