Lucy Campbell-Woodward
Lucy Campbell-Woodward 8 February 2021

Invisible Personalization for Great Customer Experience

What is great personalization? Should it fly completely under your customer's radar? The definition tends to vary depending on who you talk to. Some would say it’s an endeavour to ‘delight’ the customer as part of the customer experience - although you might take issue with whether or not buying bathroom bleach is ever going to be ‘delightful’. Others might speak for seamless transitions across platforms and channels, or effortless interactions with a customer service representative.

It’s certainly rare to hear that great personalization should play an ‘invisible’ role within the customer’s overall experience, but that’s exactly the point of view put forward by experts cited in: Personalization: Good Practice, Bad Habits And The Effect On Customer Experience, a market insight ebook.

Of the many elements that make up the customer experience, the practice of personalization remains a core aspect. Yes, there are often opportunities to surprise and delight the customer, but the foundation of an excellent, personalized customer experience is that it should be largely invisible to the customer experiencing it.

Personalization is a valuable tool for every brand – yes, even if you sell bathroom bleach. For some interactions, the value of personalization is overt. Following the customer journey for buying insurance, for example, is made altogether easier if communications respond to cues from customer behaviour. Not having to repeat the make and model of the car being insured is a small step that removes significant inconvenience. That’s the sort of personalization a person notices – and values.

But even more subtle is the personalization that understands and responds to an unasked need. Back to our bleach. Invisible personalization in a story appearing in the social media feed of a new parent, covering tips for washing baby clothes and guidelines for safe concentrations of detergent - and bleach – is invaluable information arriving at just the right time.

And yet even these campaigns only fall into the ‘nice to have’ category, one which can rapidly become the ‘nasty to have’ section if companies fail to deliver on the basics. Because, at its most basic, good personalization is getting the product and service right.

"There’s a hierarchy of needs in personalization. You’ve got to get the functional right before the emotional"
- Cathy Thomson, Global Head of Customer Experience, Hostelworld Group*

For brands considering investing in personalization, their first port of call is a long hard look at themselves. Is my product fit for purpose? Is my service getting in the customer's way? It can be tempting when faced with the promises of technology and automation to fall headlong into new, jazzy solutions. But first, cleaning your house (not to overdo it on the bleach analogy!) should be top priority.

So what does that mean for brands on the first rung of personalization? A lot of behind the scenes maintenance and not a lot of sexy front of house action to start with, as explained by digital asset management expert Theresa Regli in her latest paper. Up to date and clean information on your product(s) , associated content, and your customers, easily accessible by relevant shareholders and centrally managed, is a basic building block which is too often overlooked.

But something as simple as avoiding the mistake of asking a customer the same question twice could mean a fair amount of internal reshuffling – the integration of internal systems, the breaking down of informational and departmental silos, the restructuring of processes and the retraining of staff according to new standards of collaboration – it’s a lot of effort to go unnoticed. But without this solid base you might be risking your customers’ loyalty.

And then, once you’re confident of these foundations, you can focus on the creation of a solid customer experience which does not scream try hard but instead oozes confidence. You can progress, on point, to delivering a higher level of personalization - targeted ads or bespoke offers at the moment before purchase - but always with the caveat that great personalization is seamless to the point of invisibility. An offer that suits a customer’s needs is useful. Following them round the web with increasingly shrill demands to use it is creepy at best.

It can be tempting to over simplify the work involved in great personalization and to over complicate the act of personalization itself. But get the basics right and the rest could be breezier than you might have ever imagined.

*Cited in MARKET INSIGHT – Global CX Leaders Debate Personalization , page 6

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