broken nameplate necklace
PHOTO: Sarah-Rose

Personalization isn't new. Twenty years ago it was front and center in some of my work, along with unified communications, or what is now called omnichannel. But what exactly do we mean by personalization? Personalization means offering customers experiences that are tailored specifically to keep them engaged, and in the 2020s, it’s no longer a “nice to have.” Customers expect it. No, they demand it. Not only does personalization show up in the top design trends for 2021 (a clear indicator we haven’t yet assimilated this into a “typical” experience), but over a third of customers who abandon business relationships do so because personalization is lacking.

Personalization is part and parcel of the customer experience and customer engagement, but we clearly have room to improve. So where do we start?

1. Use Personalized Greetings

Get the basics right, starting with greetings. A prime example of basic personalization is the insertion of your name in the greeting in an email or newsletter. This type of personalization has been around for decades. Yet, we’re still not getting it right. My last name has a space in it, which is not unusual in last names in Belgium. Yet automated systems, to this day, are not equipped to deal with this, and will parse the last part of the last name as the last name, and move the first part into the first name field. Seeing “Hello, Inge De” only reminds me that a machine tried to personalize, not a human. It doesn’t instill any positive sentiment at all, and it doesn’t keep me engaged.

Another example of greetings gone wrong are smart speakers. Alexa smart speakers use names as part of an attempt at personalizing greetings, but can address the speaker with the wrong name unless they are trained properly. We have a handful of smart speakers in our home and multiple people, but for the longest time, all smart speakers were addressing my son. This made me roll my eyes every single time. Alexa finally started to ask whether they were addressing the correct person, and took other users through the utterance collection. I just hope that they will revert to a generic greeting in cases where speaker recognition confidence is low.

Related Article: What Do We Mean by Personalization?

2. Improve Recommendations Systems

Learn from the organizations doing content recommendations right. Personalization is often used as a synonym to recommendation. After all, content is key to users, and serving up content that is deemed suitable is important. Spotify is often touted as a prime example of personalization done right. And across the board, we’re getting there with content recommendations. Amazon has been making recommendations based on prior purchases for decades, as well as Netflix, and while those recommendations sometimes don’t lead to perfect results, progress is being made.

Related Article: The Perfect Storm Propels Personalization Into Must-Have Status

3. Make It Easy to Switch Between Channels

Personalize across the customer journey. Today’s user expects to utilize various channels in a single interaction with the brand. A person may use your chatbot or they may call customer service. The average user is also using various devices and switches between them. Think of someone who starts a product search on their desktop but later switches to mobile as they are waiting to pick up their child. In some cases, ease of use dictates which device is leveraged. Think of searching for a product using a smart speaker, and then switching to a mobile phone to view the image before possibly switching back to the smart speaker to purchase the item. Context, preferences and other aspects of the experience need to be carried from device to device, to the extent that it makes sense for the user experience, of course.

None of the items above are novel. In fact they have been around for a very long time. Yet, it’s important that we nail the basics. Personalization needs to make the user’s life easier, but at the same time, the onus shouldn't be on the user to improve their customer experience. Software should be smart enough to suggest things and make it easy for the user to accept or reject a suggestion. Customers want meaningful interactions every time they engage with a brand. It’s on CX professionals to enable this.