Once upon a time, customers were accustomed to one-size-fits-all experiences. When they walked into a store, read a newspaper, or got into a cab, they expected to be treated as a consumer, just like everyone else. Then the internet came along and sameness was subsumed by multiplicity. Today’s customers don’t want to be treated like everyone else—they want to be treated as individuals—and this is transforming the way businesses approach customer experience strategy.
Consider the evolution of a company like Starbucks. In some ways, it’s the epitome of “sameness;” the company has thousands of stores across the US that all follow the same basic template, but its commitment to giving customers as much choice and control as possible in customizing drinks has been critical to its success. Starbucks has positioned its drinks as expressions of self (What Your Favorite Starbucks Drink Says About You), and the world, literally, drank up this approach.
The Internet of Me
IT and technology businesses can learn a lot from this example. The key to creating an effective, engaging customer experience strategy is striking a balance between personalization and automation.
Consumer preferences have quickly evolved toward personalization, ushering in an era that consulting firm Accenture has dubbed “The Internet Of Me.” The internet, mobile devices, wearables, and IoT devices make it possible for businesses to gain more information about their customers than ever before. Digitization provides unprecedented insight into who customers are, what they want, and how they behave. People who grew up as digital natives, who embrace diversity and have a highly developed sense of self, seek out experiences, whether online or offline, that reflect their individuality. They want to feel unique.
Every business that wants to stay competitive and relevant in today’s market needs a customer experience strategy that has personalization baked in. According to a study from Olapic and Movable Ink, conversion rates are 5.5 times higher when customers click a personalized recommendation. Personalization is also a powerful force in driving loyalty, which has been elusive with millennial consumers. Hotels have taken a hit and struggled to retain loyal customers, particularly with the emergence of price comparison engines and alternatives like Airbnb. But, according to Facebook’s global head of travel Lee McCabe, “Personalization equals loyalty.”
Personalizing your customer experience strategy
Personalization is not only about making smart product recommendations or greeting a hotel guest by name when they walk in, but also about engaging in two-way dialogues. Customers want to interact with the brands they patronize and feel that the brands are listening and responsive, especially on the platforms customers are already engaging on (like Snapchat and Twitter). “More than other generations, millennials desire opportunities to interact with brands, to be listened to anywhere and anytime, and to have personal, timely, and straightforward communication about their concerns and experiences,” according to a report published by Boston Consulting Group.
Mass personalization (a seeming paradox) used to be out of the realm of possibility. Custom experiences were elite and expensive, and automation was associated with mass production. Now the customer experience landscape is shifting as data and automation enable personalization across nearly all variables. In response, customer experience strategy needs to shift to avoid disruption.
Because digital technologies are able to collect an abundance of data, businesses can use analytical tools to glean insights about their customers and automatically trigger a personalized interaction. This might be a product suggestion based on a customer’s buying history, or a thermostat that knows the ideal temperature you want in your home at every hour of the day. It might be an ad campaign that only delivers content to customers who are likely to be interested in that product, a bottle of soda with your name on it, a fitness band that analyzes your daily activity, or a lightweight sensor that monitors your sleep.
The opportunities are endless, but all the above examples share one key thing in common: they leverage digital technology and big data to automatically personalize customer experiences at scale. As Motivated, Inc CEO Donna Peeples put it, “[Personalization and digitization] are going to continue to move forward, but the velocity of change is only going to increase.”
Know thy user
When jumping aboard the personalization train, it’s important not to take things too far. At a certain point, personalization can cross a line and turn off customers. It’s also important to remember that human beings can still do things that technology can’t. Rather than automating everything, only automate the aspects of operations and workflows that involve friction or are tedious, while reserving higher-touch processes for people. A business might be able to automate certain aspects of the customer support process—whether it’s through chat, a robust FAQ, or a smart ticket routing system—but ultimately, customers want to talk to an actual human to resolve their problems.
The intelligent combination of personalization and automation technology in a customer experience strategy will enable businesses of all kinds to cultivate long-lasting, lucrative relationships with their consumers—whether they sell lattes or Dev Ops software.