Your End Of The Personalization Equation

The ninth annual Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey estimates that 51% of U.S. consumers switched from one brand to another this year (up 5%) as a result of poor customer service, putting about $5.9 trillion of revenue up for grabs for companies globally ($1.3 trillion in the U.S. alone). Consumers switched most among retailers, cable and satellite providers and retail banks, with about 9 out of 10 frustrated because they had to contact a company multiple times for the same reason; or were put on hold for a long time; or had to repeat their issue to multiple representatives. 

Okay -- so customer service still sucks. Need only to walk into a P.C. Richards, CVS or Macy's to know that firsthand. But another result caught my eye: "The gap between the use of digital technologies and the ability of companies to use them to improve customer experiences is highlighted by the survey's findings that, among the 10 industries covered by the report, none made noticeable progress in providing customers with a tailored experience in 2013. In the utilities industry, only 18 percent of customers agreed their provider offered them a tailored experience. Even in industries, such as hotels and lodging and retail banking that are perceived to be leading in creating more personalized interactions, only 36 percent of customers acknowledge receiving a tailored experience, respectively."



Oh, so "a tailored experience" is important to keep customers happy? How then do we deal with the very next paragraph in the release from Accenture:

Yet, while social media and online are regarded as important sources of information, one of the greatest frustrations customers have with companies is the perceived risk to privacy. Eighty-two percent of U.S. customers report that they feel companies they buy from cannot be trusted on how they use personal information provided to them.

Aside from consumers thinking that they have a right to free content even if they block or ignore ad-supported media, this notion that custom experiences can be provided by company Web sites without gathering data is one of the great intellectual disconnects in our digital world today. Scared by "privacy experts" (whose very livelihoods depend on such fear-mongering), consumers are convinced that any data gleaned about them while online is somehow bad for them and good only for pushing out more advertising (and identity theft).

Here's the deal, folks. We live in a world where you willingly (Facebook) or unwillingly (NSA) throw out "signals" of your interests each and every time you go online (yes, even from your precious little iPhone too). These signals are used by the Web sites you visit to determine why you are there, what you like and how you like it, so they can give you more of it each time you come. This is their way of giving you "a tailored content experience." This is good if you always want more of the same old, same old. But know that in the long term your perspectives will narrow and you will be exposed to fewer and fewer new ideas. (I am sure by now that you know even Google "personalizes" your search results, and they are different from the guy next door who enters the exact same search term).

If you expect a "a tailored experience" on ecommerce sites, you have to understand that it will only happen as a result of collecting many of those same "signals" that content providers do. By storing data about you, the store knows it's you when you come back and can help you narrow your aisle-browsing by showing you new iterations of items they know you have liked in the past. Or perhaps give you a "loyalty" offer that others won't get because they can associate your past purchases with your log-in data. If you want more personalized customer service, you are going to have to yield up that much more data.

This is not to say that lack of customer data is an excuse for the kind of crappy service cited by survey respondents in the top paragraph. And nobody is faster than me to kick some management ass when the troops on the front line get it wrong. But you simply cannot expect a more personalized online experience (with anyone about nearly anything) without granting them the use of your data.

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