Is a personalised customer experience always necessary?

Anyone working in marketing, sales, customer service or customer success will be familiar with the modern mantra about making every experience delivered to client and customer must be personal.  Social media giants perpetuate this message, with Google, Facebook and Apple all extolling the virtues of a personal customer experience.  Many small business worry that they do not have the financial means to deliver a personalised journey.  Traditional corporates are nervously questioning where to start on such a dramatic change from their “one size fits all” approach.  And other business are in complete denial, persisting in sending important communication through the post, or starting emails with “Dear {first_name} {last_name}”.  But does personalisation really matter?

When Joe Public are asked who deliver the best service, who delivers most delight or where is the most memorable experience, the first response is often a local retailer.  Whether it’s you local fish and chip shop, the local pub for Sunday lunch, the coffee barrista on the way to work, the cobbler next to the station, or your favourite hairdresser, these businesses, often independent or sole traders need you custom, and they know they need to get it right over time.

They have an opportunity to get to know you, your likes and your dislikes.  They can often literally personalise your experience – seeing you face to face allows then to get to know your name.  They know that the big retailers are waiting to swallow up their customers, so they take every opportunity when they see you to make it memorable and impressionable.  It makes commercial sense and drives loyalty.  Even when the generic coffee chain opens up a few doors away, so many customer will still stay loyal to the local barrista, rather than sell out to the faceless big brand. So these experiences are, by and large experiential (“I don’t need this, but I really want it“).  In experiential customer experiences, the personal makes you feel good / special / great / values / noticed, which matters when you don’t actually need to pay for this experience.  But what about transactional (“I don’t want this, but I need it“)?

Interestingly, many business that deliver transactional customer experiences are also keen to deliver a personal experience.  Think about your bank, utility provider or insurance company.  It’s clunky and a little strange, but at least they are trying, right? WRONG!  What customers need in a transactional experience is not personalisation, the want clarity, effective communication, targeted messages.  Remember, in a transactional experience, “I don’t want it, but I need it“, so be quick, be simple, then be gone!  In fact, let me put it another way, in a transactional customer experience, your goal should be to strip out EVERY message that is not relevant, so the steps of your customer journey are pruned to the bare minimum.

So transactional experiences need not be personal, but the mistake many traditional industries are making is around the emotions.  In order to be releavnt, even more so in transactional customer experiences, we need to understand the customer emotion first & foremost.  A bank telling a customer about a new loan offer whilst that customer is worrying about getting into debt will annoy the customer, reducing future engagement.  So rather than worrying about personalisation, smart businesses should focus on gathering customer emotional data that drive behaviour, not just what objective data tells us!

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