Comment: what does personalisation mean to customer service?
Personalisation may be the latest trend exercising marketing and customer service leaders but as a concept it is hardly new... By The Institute of Customer Service
Our grandparents would often expect and receive personalised service from their local store, dealing with someone who knew their preferences and interests, what time they were likely to call and what products should be recommended.
So what has changed?
Three factors are driving the current personalisation agenda – data, speed and channels. The explosion in data has expanded choice and possibilities, but can also cause confusion and overload. Customers are looking for ways of finding what they want and need more easily and their expectations of speed and responsiveness have increased.
Many customers expect organisations to know about their preferences and previous purchases and increasingly their activity with others including competitors. They are prepared to share information about themselves with organisations they trust, in a growing number of situations customers are looking for opportunities to co-create services with organisations they feel particularly connected to.
At the same time, advances in data integration, processing and analytics have released deeper and more sophisticated information about customers allowing organisations to develop tailored services.
Much of the current personalisation debate focuses, understandably, on optimising the online customer experience. Customers are increasingly using a growing mix of channels, often moving between online, in store or in person. As a result, personalised service in more traditional contexts has increasing impact and importance – just as it was for our grandparents.
Many organisations are talking about the potential benefits of personalisation, but relatively few are genuinely putting it into practice and realising the tangible business benefits that are available.
This is due to a number of significant challenges
Personalisation requires the capability to store, process and analyse data from multiple sources, originating both from within and outside of the organisation. It also relies on delivering smooth and intuitive customer journeys, based either on insight about a customer or the presentation of options to help them find what they need.
Personalisation implies a deeper unspoken accord between customers and organisations whereby customers give information about themselves on the understanding that it will be used appropriately. This two way agreement allows better customer experiences and the ability for organisations to recommend relevant and attractive services.
Personalisation needs to be not just a data-driven sales tool, but based on intuitive and emotional understanding. If a customer buys a product they like, they might be open to further suggestions and recommendations – but not to repeated emails encouraging them to buy more and more of the same product.
In the last year, levels of customer satisfaction and trust in organisations - which the Institute of Customer Service tracks through the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) - have fallen. The research shows marked differences between organisations, but those with higher satisfaction also command superior levels of trust, suggesting that organisations need to win the trust of customers first in order to earn the right to offer personalised service.
More recently, growing complexity, technological change, the decline in trust and economic pressures has served to heighten customers’ emotional needs and make it more critical for organisations to find authentic ways of connecting with them.
Our research shows that where employees are perceived to be helpful, engaged and genuinely interested in meeting needs, customers are much more likely to repurchase and recommend an organisation. Conversely, where employees are perceived to be bored or disengaged, customers are more likely to avoid an organisation in the future. For this reason, many organisations are starting to see employee engagement as a natural part of customer satisfaction. The organisations that focus on achieving consistent standards with friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff, who are empowered to make appropriate decisions to resolve customers’ problems quickly are showing improving customer satisfaction results.
Personalisation requires a dynamic blend of traditional and new business virtues. Its foundation is trust but in the online world, effective personalisation needs a heightened set of capabilities to ensure data analysis and insight leveraged through multiple data sets provides usable knowledge. Like customer behaviour, personalised service cuts across channels. It demands not just a mastery of data, but a focus on emotional intelligence and authentic employee engagement.
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