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Personalization: Think Big and Small

AcxiomJuly 28, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about my expectations for brands when they engage me, especially on a personalized level. I’ve come to realize that my expectations are vastly different when it comes to small, local brands versus big, corporate ones.

For example, I called a local restaurant to place a pick up order. The guy who answered asked for my phone number, entered it into the computer and said, “Is this Carmella?” Yes. “Would you like the same thing you ordered last time or will you be trying something different today?”

I dug it. It didn’t feel weird or creepy. It was personal and provided immediate value to me because, well, my orders are usually complicated. All I had to say was, “Yes, I’d like what I ordered last time, please.” The experience drives loyalty, as I have less interest in exploring a competing pizza place. Besides having darn-good pizza, they have simplified my complicated order placement.

To further add to my delight and reinforce my loyalty, after placing a few pickup orders, they automatically gave me a $5 discount for being a loyal customer. I didn’t have to sign up for a complicated program. I didn’t have to use their branded credit card and I didn’t have to remember to bring a coupon. The offer was relevant, timely and simple to redeem.

Similarly, I called a chain restaurant to place a pick up order. The girl who answered greeted me with, “Hello, Carmella! Are you calling to order the XYZ minus onions, add extra peas and carrots with the sauce on the side?” I freaked out a little.  It took me completely off guard.

How was this different than the interaction with the local, mom & pop place? The local place asked for my phone number before addressing me in a personalized way.  Like the chain store, the local pizza place likely has the software connected to their computer to bring up my information. But by asking for my phone number, they demonstrated the importance of permissioning when engaging customers in a highly personalized interaction.

Takeaway: It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission EXCEPT when it comes to personalized marketing. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Always ask for permission.

After letting her know that what just happened was weird, I confirmed that I wanted to order the XYZ just as she had offered. In retrospect, I got the same value from this interaction as the local place, but it felt very different. It was more technologically savvy, yes, but instead of feeling warm and fuzzy it felt a little invasive.

Takeaway: After asking for permission, build trust by making the value exchange of personalization apparent.

A few weeks later I called the chain restaurant expecting to be greeted by name and asked if I’d like to order my usual complicated mess. Instead there was no personalization. No mention of my usual, complicated order. I had to spout if all off from scratch as if I was a first time customer. This erodes my brand affinity for the chain. Based on my previous experience, I thought I knew what to expect and was looking forward to the value provided. What the heck happened?

After that interaction I decided to start placing my pick up orders via their website. It turned out to be much more effective. Each time I enter in my personal information (via login), it gives me the option to bring up my favorites (that I previously entered) and I even get coupons sent to my inbox after placing a specified number of orders. Maybe they will take a note from the local establishment, and start automatically applying those at checkout. Baby steps.

Takeaway: Inconsistent experiences are frustrating to customers – especially loyal ones. Preference centers are an excellent way to ask for permission, to communicate the value exchange and to consistently interact in a timely, relevant and valuable manner.

Personalization, like my pickup orders, is complicated. Smaller, local brands have an advantage in building trust. I expect warm, fuzzy interactions with my local brands, and I’m delighted when they incorporate technology to better serve me. On the flip side, I expect technologically savvy interactions with bigger brands. I’m delighted when they use that savvy to evoke similar warm, fuzzy feelings in addition to improving my overall customer experience. Their challenge is to do this without evoking creep factor. Permission, apparent value exchange, and consistently relevant interactions are the keys to effective personalization, for both big, established brands and smaller, local ones.