The Digital Experience and Personalisation Dinner took place on the 30th of January at the South Place Hotel. It provided a forum for members to network, relax, and discuss some of the latent opportunities and thornier problems with digital customer experience and personalisation.
The dinner was conducted in partnership with Optimizely. Optimizely is a leading experimentation platform, which enables business to deliver continuous experimentation and personalisation across channels.
2018 is a period of immense change. Technology may be the driver; but the results are cultural. One cultural change is a new relationship between customers and businesses.
The tech changes in this area are further ahead. Customer-facing parts of the business are moving to different interfaces. Data collection enables a more personalised relationship with users. The cultural changes are less obvious. When businesses can go entirely online, will customers still want physical spaces to access the service? What level of personalisation does a customer want, and is appropriate? When does it become creepy?
To find metaphors for what the new relationship might be like, it can be tempting to reach to the past.
Village Shop Keepers
A common rhetorical example for great customer experience is the local owner of a village shop. Customers may form a decades-long relationship with the owner; they may even invite him to their wedding. Major brands sometimes express a desire to emulate the relationship via personalisation.
But a close look at the differences in the treatment of data shows why the two are not similar. Data is not data when the local shop owner collects it. “How are you, how are the kids” – a data exchange, but not really. In the context of a brand, it becomes data collection. The data is an asset: the law will soon treat it as an asset, and businesses treat it as an asset. Customers may not mind this; but do perceive it in terms of value exchange. The most successful means of collecting data are explicit forms of exchange.
Friends, acquaintances, do make “personal” comments, but they must exercise tact, and not overstep their station. It is possible for people to make faux pas in this area. It is much easier for a business to commit a faux pas. Showing a customer that you know an obscure piece of data about them is not a convincing simulation of a friendship.
The other side of this is that a village shopkeeper is not the ideal outcome. The village shop keeper is expensive, and the future must be cheap. The village shopkeeper is generalist, and the customer may wish to access something specific. The village shopkeeper knows you; nice sometimes, but not always. The village shop keeper is inconsistent: and members whose businesses have worked to empower people on the front line to make judgements have seen numbers of complaints go up. “I got away with this last time…”
Overall, the kind of relationship that individuals have with the village shop keeper is neither possible nor desirable; but that there are several desirable things about the relationship and the “personal” elements of it. More helpful, perhaps, to isolate the useful elements to emulate one by one.
For too many large companies, going to customer service feels like warfare. The main weapon of the enemy is slipperiness. Each person tells you someone else is responsible, like birds evading a predator. Going through multiple representatives, one by one, explaining the problem with the same energy and determination, is debilitating. The predator slows down, and finally gives up.
And in a sense, this is what some businesses want. It means they don’t have to solve the problem, which may have cost them money; perversely, badly designed metric systems may mean that complaints are less likely to be recorded. Complaints are markers both of problems, and an infrastructure to solve them.
Pleasingly, with a village shop keeper, the buck stops with him. Perhaps brands should find ways of demonstrating accountability that isn’t written in legalese. In a longwinded resolution process, why not have two classes of rep: the specialists, and the individual responsible for managing a problem?
The higher-value the exchange, the more important it is that individual accountability is demonstrated from the start. It’s important in a shop; it’s vital in the context of moving a large amount of money. The bedrock of trust is accountability.
The exchange of data is the most visible way customer relationships have changed.
A great deal has been written and said about the collection of data. Less is said about the data companies give away. With shop keepers, facial expression, conversational tone, all contribute to the trust that customers can place in that individual.
The data that brands convey to customers feels either like marketing or legal, depending on whether the brand is on the attack or defence in terms of the value exchange. Customers promptly zone out, for both.
Highly personalised offerings can make marketing material more directly relevant and therefore less irritating. But businesses must be mindful that it is still marketing. Brevity, relevance, pith, might be exercised here.
On the legalese side, personalisation makes it possible to identify how individuals could benefit the most from your relationship, including areas which will cost you money. Consider telling them. If it costs you money, it will be the best way to show the advice is impartial.
Is there data that you have on them that they would like to see? Part of the service challenger banks such as Monzo outperform their larger competitors on involves data visualisation. All their information there, in an intuitive interface. Is there a parallel service to this which is applicable to your business?
This is where the threat from platforms and disintermediation come from. If somebody wishes to access your service, they may do so via a platform, which will impartially rank service and price. Transportable data threatens third parties acting as platforms to provide this information. We would all like a personal wealth adviser and manager, even if we are not rich enough to afford one.
Can you provide this information as part of your service? If so, how can you provide it in such a way that shows it is not just a form of marketing; and such a way that customers want to read it?
The most basic tenet of brands’ desire to be like a village shop keeper is that the customer will be commercially loyal on the back of a friendship. But friendships occur without the expectation of commercial reward. This is the keystone of the friendship that big bands wish to simulate, and the piece they aren’t interested in.
However, there are some inexpensive things a brand can do to show goodwill. Small things: can people charge their phone, use the bathroom, access the wifi, in your physical stores?
Then there is not taking advantage of customers. The main characteristic of the data settlement is a greater asymmetry in terms of how much information the two participants go into a value exchange with. It is vital that businesses go out of their way to demonstrate they are not abusing this.
If you miss your pre-booked train, and there is no other way to get home, a system may recognise the extra leverage the train company has. An insidious form of personalisation would be to press that advantage and triple the price of the fare. Not doing this comes at the cost of the extra fare; doing this shatters the illusion of the friendship.
Data consent takes business in lines with the law. How can businesses do personalisation in a way that is in line with what customers feel is good?
Partners, not friends
On the back of this, there are several ways that a brand can personalise effectively.
- Corresponds closely to the immediate desires of the customer, with a strong primacy of “immediate” information over “intimate” information. What clues are customers giving that can identify what they’re looking for then and there?
- Does not presume on the relationship between the customer and the brand by being unctuous or ingratiating against the desires of the customer.
- Shows messages on behalf of the brand which are relevant, intuitive, brief; and helpful to the customer’s desired outcome.
- Also shows information which is helpful to the customer and is shown to be impartial.
The culture will soon change in line with the technology. The new settlement has the power to revolutionise the relationships that customers hold with businesses. The result will be excellent for both customers and businesses; and the winning businesses will be those who can make it excellent for both.