How organizations address and engage their audiences is critical to how they are perceived. And if you can make that experience as personalized as possible, people will feel drawn to your brand.
This ultimate guide is for anyone interested in promoting a personal experience for your customers and audiences. But it’s particularly suited to marketing professionals wrestling with creating and managing these experiences to demonstrably support business goals.
What is a personal experience?
In a business context, ‘personal experience’ is shorthand for ‘personalized experience,’ i.e., an experience engineered by an organization to reflect the personal circumstances, preferences, and expectations of the individual it engages. In doing so, organizations must scale this effort across entire audience groups.
A personal experience can be from the briefest and most fleeting to the most protracted and immersive. Individuals subject to numerous personalized interactions with a brand will, over time, typically regard this as a singular experience rather than a series of unconnected events.
Personal experiences are distinct from impersonal experiences. An impersonal experience is one where the individual is not addressed or considered based on their unique characteristics. The majority of current marketing practices occupy the gray area in-between ‘personal’ and ‘impersonal’: identifying specific shared characteristics to target audience segments rather than treating each individual differently.
Why is personal experience important for customers?
Customers value personalized service. A GBH Insights/Epsilon study found that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. What’s true of consumers is also borne out in the B2B sphere. According to Salesforce research, three-quarters of business buyers expect that the companies they purchase from will provide a personalized experience.
Looking more closely at why customers feel this way, here are six primary reasons:
It’s about fundamental human dignity
At the root of personal well-being is society’s affirmation of who you are as an individual. Whatever your race, gender, sexuality, age, or favorite football team – each human is entitled to the dignity of being treated as an individual, in sole charge of their personal destiny, and empowered to act however they see fit. This is very important to understanding why personal experience is important for customers.
The other related aspect is that experiences are experiential. In other words, they require us to be present and demand our participation. They are expressive, dynamic, and immersive. Experiences contribute to ‘the human experience’, i.e., what it is to be alive. Without getting too deep and intellectual on this, the idea of a personal experience is significantly more appealing to a person than the idea of an impersonal transaction.
Repeating yourself is exhausting
Imagine an office worker, Martha, who visits a cafe each lunch break to buy a sandwich. The servers on the sandwich counter work alternate days. If it’s Server A’s shift, Martha waits in line and orders her regular: tuna salad and turkey on sourdough with mustard mayo. On Server B’s days, she gets asked, “Martha, the usual?” before she’s even got to the counter, and then receives it fresh just the way she likes it. Both servers recognize Martha by sight, but only Server B knows she just got a promotion at work, drives a Honda, and is spending the holidays in Florida.
A lot is going on here, but one thing that sticks out is the frustration and inefficiency of repeating yourself. Knowing the customer’s name and what sandwich they typically order is 99% of what the shop needs to offer a personalized experience.
A personalized address cuts through the noise
Receiving a letter marked "Homeowner" or "Occupier" or getting an email that begins "Dear Customer" are sure signs that the proposition they carry might not be suitable for you. The context for personal experiences is simply that every individual is inundated with communications and needs help prioritizing what to give attention to. Something generic is, by definition, only likely to fit an individual's unique requirements by chance.
Even the promise of something that appears personalized can help customers cut through the noise and give them time to focus on specific offers and messages.
Customers can be confident that what happens next will be relevant
A personal experience is a positive experience because it feels appropriate to what the individual wants and needs. If an organization can drive enough ‘micro-experiences’ (one-off engagements and interactions), then the individual perceives this as a seamless experience of that organization’s brand.
From here, it’s evident to the individual that it’s worth sticking around to see what happens next; continuing to purchase or try new products and services. This leads to higher customer retention rates for the business, and the cycle continues. The more of the experience the customer gets, the more they are inclined to stay. What’s crucial is ensuring that the personalization of the experience keeps pace with change. Customers change, so personalized experiences have to change with them.
There's a clear purpose for giving up your data
It's not rocket science for consumers to work out that brands can provide personal experiences by harnessing personal data. The classic example is someone browsing their social media feed and seeing offers and messages pop up based on recent online behavior. This has become the norm to such an extent that it's noticeable when it doesn't work. Who hasn't muttered, "there's a glitch in The Matrix" or "must be something with the algorithm" when personalization goes wrong?
This state of affairs is grudgingly accepted by the many customers who don't feel great about giving up so much personal data unless there's a good reason. According to Accenture, 83% of consumers are happy to share their personal data to enable a personalized experience. Brands can smooth away these concerns by demonstrating their commitment to delivering great personal experiences as a direct consequence of disclosing data.
Upfront reassurance in case something goes wrong
Hearing individual stories about personal experiences can be very illuminating. People will often rave about a great customer experience in terms of personal service, attentiveness, consideration, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and so on. When you dig deeper, the impactful stories are ones where customers were initially anxious or trepidatious about purchasing a product or taking out a service.
Imagine how much better you’d feel – and potentially how much you’d want to be a return customer and tell all your friends – having a personal experience in connection to any of these scenarios:
How to offer a personalized experience
A concerted and strategic attempt to deliver good, personalized experiences requires some planning. Here are nine things to consider when creating personal experiences for your customers.
Put aside time and budget
Accept that personal experiences are more than the product of being more thoughtful and ‘nicer’ to customers. These things cost money and require time to organize and deliver. The key will be to achieve the perception among customers that you’ve oriented your entire business around them and can scale this same commitment to every single other customer you have.
Personalization is about anticipation
As providers of products and services, brands know what’s coming next in the customer journey. This enables them to anticipate planned steps and be accustomed to dealing with certain unplanned events. This is an excellent platform for providing personal experiences; using an understanding of the overall customer experience, and applying knowledge about each person to make each one unique.
Personal experiences start with personal data
Customers should be treated as individuals with specific needs and preferences. Before you get to that point, establish your foundations with accurate records of simple personal data: name, contact information, purchase history, etc. How do they like to be addressed: sir, madam, first name? How do they prefer to be contacted, and does this change according to context or timing? What special instructions or preferences have they expressed in the past? Begin pulling a framework together for the basic data you’ll need to personalize their experience of you.
Then set an objective to get to know individual customers better than just the personal data you can easily harvest. For example, for B2B customers, what are their deadlines and internal processes around procurement? And at a more human level, what do individual customers like doing in their spare time?
Harness digital technology
Have you seen those sepia-tinged images of 1920s Main St with shopkeepers doffing their hats, knowing every customer by name, and attending to every need? It’s not that customer experience can’t work like that anymore; it’s extremely expensive and almost impossible to scale without digital technology.
Get to grips with all the digital channels and touchpoints available to you. Utilize channels that give you a personal edge but may not have been considered like email signatures. Stay abreast of technologies like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and cryptocurrencies. Examine opportunities around data analytics too, using historic customer behavior patterns – for example – to develop personalized recommendations.
Develop a customer-centric culture
We’ve set out how necessary time and budget are to this challenge – but personal experiences won’t come sustainably or efficiently without a cultural change.
Make personal customer experiences the responsibility of everyone in your organization and truly put the customer at the center of everything. There are two main threads: how you structure your business and empower your people. Start by conducting a comprehensive review of the customer journey, using customer journey maps to visualize and detail each point of customer interaction. These points of contact are your opportunities to influence the personal experience.
Then, with the people inside your business, bring them together to understand why personal experiences are essential, reward them when they achieve them, and encourage individuals to contribute to best practice. Training will be critical here, especially around collecting customer data, so this can be continually fed back into delivering personal experiences.
Become a beacon of exceptional customer service
Customer service is among the biggest influences on personal experience. This is because customers use customer service when they need help.
As such, dealing with customer service or support departments can be particularly stressful when you have to repeat yourself or aren't treated as an individual in line with your stated preferences. It's a make-or-break moment where the customer's decision to remain loyal or go elsewhere can come down to how well you've delivered a personalized experience.
Measure customer metrics
You can only provide an excellent personal experience by listening to what each person says about the experience you’re giving them. A fast, accurate, and efficient way of doing this is to collect regular customer metrics via customer surveys.
Things you can measure include:
Metrics are good because they don’t burden customers with filling out lengthy questionnaires. Long customer surveys are a surefire way to diminish the personal customer experience! And in any case, people generally ignore or delete them. Far higher response rates are achievable via simple 1-click surveys – often with a simple question.
Brilliant basics and magic touches
An excellent way to think about the composition of personal experiences is as memories. Experiences are memorable when they are particularly remarkable or unpleasant. All the stuff in the middle is largely forgettable. Therefore, businesses' primary objective is not to be memorable for the wrong reasons. A forgettable experience is better than a memorably bad one. Ideally, customers will be suitably delighted that they will remember the experience and why they liked it.
The way to actually address this comes in two parts. The first is getting the basics right. Looking at the journey, you put your customers through and actively questioning where you can improve it. You can research and apply these changes through customer feedback metrics, focus groups, or merely by 'mystery shopping' your customer journey by walking in their footsteps. Look for friction, delay, and extraneous effort – and make changes to remove these wherever possible.
The second, and most exciting part, is the magic you can sprinkle on top. These are the eye-catching initiatives organizations contrive to make their personal experiences stand out. For example, a free coffee and donut on your birthday or a surprise hamper in the hotel room after the manager finds out it's your anniversary.
However, there are two things to bear in mind about these magic touches. The first is that, without the basics in place, they can seem like gimmicks. So what if the hotel gives you a free hamper if, on arrival, your requested check-in time wasn't honored and there's no room left in the parking garage? Second, it's often the surprise that makes it memorable rather than if it's simply in the terms and conditions of the loyalty card scheme that you, for example, receive a complimentary beverage once a year.
Continuously collect and act upon customer feedback
As well as metrics, collecting all sorts of customer feedback throughout the customer journey is vital. Fresh feedback highlights what’s working and what isn’t – and what’s liked and disliked – in the here and now. The whole purpose of gathering all this feedback is to act upon it, both directly if a customer has a problem you can rush to (thereby delivering a great personal experience) or indirectly in using that data input to inform how you develop the personal experience in the future.
Feedback should always be a continuous process because people, products, services, contexts, and requirements are constantly changing.
Creating a personal experience is the key to building loyal relationships and retaining customers for the long term. If customers believe you're willing to go out of your way for their needs, they'll continue coming back again and again.
Whether you want to start small or make significant changes in your business, personalization can be easily added to any business model. And one of the best ways to do this is through business email, specifically professional email signatures.
Why email signatures? Well, you can use them for targeted marketing campaigns, increasing your social presence, and increasing your brand awareness without making life difficult for your IT department.
To learn more, get a copy of our white paper, The Untapped Potential of Corporate Emails. Alternatively, get your free Email Signatures for Dummies guide to use your email signature for promotions, social media, and brand management.
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