Every single day, the average person is exposed to 5,000 – 10,000 advertising messages, 121 emails, and 94 texts.

To cope with this never-ending torrent of information, the human brain is equipped with a smart “spam filter.”

That’s great news, unless… You need to pass through that filter and get to your customers.

What does get through? Personalized information.

That’s the reason why people tend to enjoy website personalization more than non-personalized experiences and they are more likely to interact with personalized advertising.

In addition, case studies and surveys among B2B customers and consumers suggest that personalization influences the entire customer journey. Namely, it helps:

  • Attract new customers. 73% of consumers choose to buy from brands that take into account their personal information.
  • Increase conversions, e.g. The team at Proof has been able to achieve a 50.77% increase in demo registrations & 31.44% increase in new trials thanks to personalization.
  • Boost sales. 76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and 84% say that “being treated like a person” is how a brand can win them over.

Could personalization have the same effect post-purchase? Could personalized customer service increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty?

The link between personalization and customer service

When it comes to customer service, it might seem that speed is the most important factor. However, personalization might be even more important.

A recent survey revealed that customers now value personalization more than speed when it comes to customer service—59% voted for personalization, while 53% voted for speed. And this is just one unexpected discovery.

Here’s another.

A study by Wunderman suggests there is a link between personalization and loyalty. 56% of consumers said there were loyal to brands that truly understand their priorities and preferences. What’s more interesting is that the lack of personalization can actually hurt your customer loyalty programs.

What is personalized customer service?

Delivering personalized customer service isn’t new. It’s when you ask the receptionist at a hotel to wake you up at 7:00 AM and he remembers to call, remembers your name and even offers a complimentary cup of coffee to jump-start your day. It’s also when you walk into your local Chipotle restaurant, the cashier recognizes you and offers you a veggie burrito because she knows this is what you usually order.

Whether your business is in the physical or the digital world, personalized customer service is about tailoring the experience to the needs of the individual customer and reducing the effort on their side.

First steps to effective personalized customer service

1. Pre-answer questions

Modern customers are internet-savvy and they are not afraid to solve problems on their own.

In fact, according to Nuana,  67% of customers prefer to use self-service over speaking to a company representative and 91% would use a knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs. Another study by Forrester indicated that, among all self-service tools, customers make the most frequent use of knowledge bases.

So, yes, having a knowledge base is essential these days.

But how do you go about building one? And how can you personalize the experience?

The key to an effective personalized self-service experience lies in planning and organizing your content. Analyze your past support requests and interview your agents to determine the most relevant topics to cover.

To illustrate how this is done, let’s have a look at the Adobe Illustrator Knowledge Base. The content is tailored to several use cases. For instance, the Get Started section helps users move up the initial learning curve, while the Tutorials section is focused on mastering the software. There is also a Troubleshooting section for users who are looking to quickly fix a problem.  

Creating a knowledge base is not simply a way to reduce support requests and assist customers with helping themselves. It also gives you valuable customer data—who they are, what they use your solution for, what features or content they are looking for. Customer data paves the way to more personalized customer service and experience.

2. Make use of customer data

“Through data and predictive analytics, a company can spot trends, but more importantly spot an individual customer’s buying patterns. This information gives the company the chance to give their customers what they want and when they want it.”

Shep Hyken, best-selling author of “Amaze Every Customer Every Time”

Data gives you the power to make your customer experience personalized, relevant and effortless. If you know a specific customer’s interests and goals, you could proactively send them maintenance reminders, suggestions and tips on getting the most of your products or services. You could also tailor your marketing and sales content.

Proof is an example of a site using customer data to personalize the experience. If you decide you want to watch a demo, the platform will first ask you about your business.

When you select an answer, you will see a tailored landing page. If you select “SaaS,” you’ll see this page:

The headline speaks to SaaS businesses, the testimonial logos show only SaaS companies and even the small notification in the left-hand corner is tailored for SaaS marketers.

Existing loyal customers also enjoy a personalized experience. Instead of the default home page, they see a headline that speaks to them and, for convenience, the “Start Free Trial” button is replaced with “Login”.

It’s a small personal touch, but it helps delight the customer and show them they are important.

All of this might seem like small touches but, in the background, Proof collects and processes tons of customer data to be able to provide this kind of experience. The end goal is a seamless experience for the customer, anywhere, at any time.

Speaking of this…

3. Unify your communication channels

As we saw in the previous examples, collecting data such as location, behavior and demographics help you segment your customers and personalize their experience. The next step to a seamless experience is to start doing this at scale and across all of your communication channels — a.k.a. omnichannel customer experience (CX).

A big warning sign here! Omnichannel CX isn’t about sending the same canned message across all channels. Take a look at this faux pas from HP.   

Responding isn’t the same as providing support. Don’t do this. Source: Twitter

Omnichannel customer experiences are already something that retail brands are doing well, so we can learn from them. Here’s how a modern retailer could do it.

(Image Source)

OK, this looks like a ton of work… Where do you even start?

When in doubt, start at the beginning. 🙂

What we’re saying is that don’t have to create an omnichannel CX today but you can take the first step in this direction by, say, the end of the week. And it can be a baby step, not a quantum leap. Start one step at a time.

All you really need is context.

Take Apple for example. Named Best Brand In The World more than once, Apple has an ingenious way of making it easier for both customers and support agents to solve problems on the phone.

Source: PC Mag

Customers can provide details about their issue and select the best time to be called. When Apple’s support agent rings, they don’t have to ask routine questions and they will be prepared with potential solutions. Happy customers and smaller support costs for the company. All it takes is a simple form on their website!

Of course, personalization across channels can be a much more complex and costly endeavor. Big companies like H&M and Sephora use AI technology to create a tailored shopping experience. H&M, in particular, has launched a chatbot that serves as a virtual personal stylist. The bot asks a number of questions and comes up with shopping recommendations based on the customer’s preferences.

This bot is smarter than most of its cousins out there. It captures the data you provide and appends it to all other data H&M has about you—website browsing history, email communication, purchase history, and more. The goal is to create a personal profile so that you can get better suggestions next time. While this kind of technology might be out of reach for smaller companies today, it might be common in the near future.

Now that we mentioned chatbots, we need to spend some more time talking about them because they can be a great asset for your business.

4. Make friends with robots

AI-powered might sound like the opposite of personalized, but, if you use chatbots with care, they can actually improve your customer service and cut down your customer service costs by 30%. Also, customers actually prefer to use chatbots to communicate with companies instead of branded apps.  

So, yes, a chatbot can be a valuable addition to your customer service toolset.

But how do you find the silver lining between automation and personalization?

The answer lies, yet again, in customer service data. By analyzing your existing data and customer behavior, you can come up with use cases where chatbots would be appropriate. For instance, a first-time customer might need more assistance when making a purchase and want to speak to a human, but a returning customer might simply want to complete the purchase as fast as possible.

Car-sharing company YouDrive implemented the above advice IRL. The developer team built a support bot that helps customers complete routine tasks. To decide what could be handled by a bot, they examined past support tickets and created scenarios. At the time of this writing, YouDrive’s bot can notify customers of any issues with their car or rent and suggest quick solutions to the most common issues.

Even if you don’t have the time to analyze all of your support requests right now, you can still use a chatbot to speed up your live chat support (and reduce ticket load by 20-40%). A bot can easily replace humans in greeting the customer and answering FAQs while passing more complex support issues to human agents via live chat (which we’ll get into below).  

Source: Hackernoon

You can also use chatbots to make form filling less boring (Finally!)

5. Make use of live chat

Chatbots are ideal for companies that don’t have the bandwidth or have representatives available to actually engage with their individual customers one-on-one in real time as well as to handle simple requests.

However, when it comes to more complex issues, you should consider making use of a human component which is where live chat software comes into play.

Live chat technology allows you to provide highly-tailored, as-deep-as-necessary service to your customers by making use of human support agents while making it easy and instantaneous for customers to get the support they need — when they need it.

Take a look at the following example from Nordstrom which allows customers to connect with a variety of departments, for a variety of purposes, using live chat technology:

Source: Nordstrom

Live chat can also be used in a more proactive manner such as in the following example from Betterment.

Source: HubSpot

Betterment uses live chat to improve the onboarding process by allowing their client managers to reach out to a newly signed up customer and provide assistance if needed.

Now, there’s both a “short” and “long” game to using live chat software for providing personalized service.

On the short-term side, the focus is on the actual, individual conversations you have with your customers on a daily basis, and how you can use these conversations as well as any other data on hand to make small tweaks to personalizing the support provided to customers.

On the other hand, the long game is more about the ongoing conversation you have with your customers that allows your business to make major improvements to your approach to doing business. Here, it’s not about any single comment or question a customer has—it’s more about what you’ve learned about your customer base as a whole through the conversations you’ve had with them over time.

(Note: This is where having a knowledge management solution comes in handy so that knowledge from your various agents can easily be shared and utilized for making improvements to your overall customer service program – however that’s a topic for another time).

In either case, the key to making live chat more personal is to listen to what your customers are saying—and pay attention to any other information they may be providing when speaking with you—and use what you learn to improve their experience with your brand.

6. Collect customer feedback

Customers like to be listened to and there is even research that suggests that nearly every customer is more likely to be loyal to a brand that implements his or her feedback. Besides, feedback data, like other customer-related data, can be especially helpful in personalizing the experience.

So, how can you collect feedback and use it to turn your customers into brand advocates?

Try an NPS survey. This is one of the quickest and most effective ways to understand how your customers experience your products and services. It’s quite easy to implement, too. All you have to do is ask a single question and let customers rate their answer on a 0-10 scale.

Source: Hotjar

Once the answers  are in, sort your customers in 3 buckets—“Detractors,” “Passives,” and “Promoters.”

0 – 6: Detractors – Not particularly satisfied or unhappy

7 – 8: Neutrals – Somewhat happy but susceptible to competitor offerings

9-10: Promoters – Your brand’s evangelists

Armed with this data, you can segment your customers and personalize the follow-up communication, e.g.

  • Detractors: Acknowledge their problem, ask them for more details about the issues and reassure them that you want to reach a solution.
  • Neutrals: Ask what they liked and disliked about your product and, if appropriate, send them a special offer.

Source: Hotjar

  • Promoters: They can help you uncover sales messages. Ask them what they would say if they had to recommend your product or service to a friend.

And there you have it! A quick and effective way to reach out to your customers proactively and personally. Not only do you get invaluable insights, but you also show them that you care. It’s a win-win.

Your customers expect personalization

Personalization is not nice-to-have these days. It’s a must-have at all stages of the customer journey because it can help drive leads, attract customers and even retain customers for longer.

When it comes to customer service, creating a personalized experience is about reducing friction. To achieve this you can use one of the solutions that we’ve suggested above or you can come up with your own. In the end, what’s important is to reduce the effort for the customer.

Emil Hajric is the founder and CEO of Helpjuice – a powerful knowledge management software company. Emil is an organizational learning expert & author of Knowledge Management: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Knowledge Management in Your Organization.