Addressing the individual
Addressing customers by name if you know them and asking to be introduced if not seems to be a well-understood aspect of personalization. There are still issues here and there—the name on my credit card may not be the name I prefer to use—but for the most part, companies are getting this right.
If everyone in the seller’s organization knows the customer’s name, they can use it, whether they’re communicating in real life or through digital channels. Make sure everyone in the organization who needs to know the customer’s name. Even better, ask customers how they would like to be addressed and make that the default.
Anticipating needs without knowing more than is necessary
A big part of addressing the individual is connecting the name with preferences and expectations. The shop associate has the ability to observe the customer walking through the door and, based on experience, make some assumptions.
In the digital world, we increasingly have the same ability. The combination of first-hand information (first-party data) we already have about that individual and external, anonymous (third-party) data gives us some hints about whether the individual we’re meeting might be similar to other customers we know more about. That’s the basis for assuming what may be of interest.
Consolidating all channels of communication into a single platform makes gathering and managing these insights far easier and more effective.
Taking these assumptions too far or communicating them too directly is where things get creepy. An algorithm may be equally as accurate as the shop associate in anticipating what interests the customer, but the shop associate avoids creepiness by testing that assumption with questions rather than acting on assumption or inference alone. These questions also help cater to the expectations of that specific instance—not just presuming that all interactions will be the same.
Enabling customers to dictate the experience by testing understanding
The insight, inferences, and assumptions you have about your customers are most valuable when they frame the questions and choices you offer them. Carefully testing an understanding of your customer’s preferences or priorities avoids interactions that feel invasive or overly personal. More importantly, they put customers in charge of determining how interactions, conversations, and transactions unfold.
Testing assumptions isn’t a one-time action. It should be an ongoing effort, across any communication channel and every interaction.
On some days, I’m open to suggestions that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Some I like, others I might not. But on other occasions, I’m laser-focused on the one thing that I really need and don’t want to waste time on anything else. My favorite associates can tell which mode I’m in—typically because they ask. I answer because it benefits me.
Creating organizational memory
While I’ve been lucky enough to have real humans, who know me and my needs, the real magic is when their colleagues have that same knowledge. Not only do the associates I see most often know me well enough to help me better and more quickly, but the whole team also seems to. They have a sort of shared organizational memory with the right communication tools to share it widely.
Remembering a customer—not just by name, but by their preferences and priorities—is a foundation of personalization. It’s even more important in the digital world, where many different employees (as well as a few algorithms and even some chatbots) are involved in supporting my journey.
People who know a customer personally from working directly with them—whether they’re brick-and-mortar shop associates, salespeople or agents who work primarily by phone, or account managers who spend time on-site with customers—have the advantage of remembering those interactions. Getting the continuity of experiences right requires extending that memory to any other person in the organization.
Increasing the scale of personalization across a larger number of customers requires the same capability. Communication tools can provide appropriate guidance to any employee or automated system to ‘remember’ the relevant points about that customer to serve them well in any given moment or context.