Personalization walks a fine line. Nobody blinks when Spotify suggests the exact song you might want to listen to. Why? Because, although Spotify has used data gathered by tracking your behavior in the app, the recommendation objectively enhances your experience. The more often their recommendations hit the mark, the more you want them to do it.
Now, imagine you take an Uber to work every day at roughly the same time. A notification or a prompt at that time reminding you to request a ride would be welcomed. However looking out of your window around that time and seeing a driver already waiting for you, before you’ve even had a chance to open the app, that’s where personalization can cross from convenience to creepy.
For most companies, customer experience is the new battlefield, and the so-called “creep factor” is a concerning issue. In 2018, just 24% of customers believed that ads they were shown were relevant, and three-fourths of those believed they were “creepy.” As companies move their personalized targeting to all channels, not just ads, it is even more important to ensure they don’t cross the creepy line.
The Direct-to-Consumer Advantage
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) models give companies a lot of control over the interactions consumers have with their brands. Frankly, selling through a third-party retailer greatly limits your ability to get to know and influence your customers, particularly when it comes to controlling or managing the experience the consumer has when actually purchasing your products.
By contrast, because direct-to-consumer brands own many of their critical customer touchpoints, they can collect an enormous amount of customer data. This accomplishes two things: it allows you to create bespoke experiences for customers, experiences tailored to their specific needs and preferences.
And, as it turns out, there are huge gains to be had when this level of personalization works well – 44% of consumers say they’re likely to make repeat purchases after a personalized experience. What’s more, data shows that consumers will spend more on brands that provide them with “integrated” experiences compared to more traditional outbound marketing and customer service.
Avoiding the “creep factor”
Of course, DTC brands can’t control every customer touchpoint. Your customers will, at times, connect with your brand on properties you don’t own or control. This means that you have to have an omnichannel personalization strategy. The trick is extending the level of personalization you can manage on your owned channels to all channels without creeping your customers out.
You can accomplish that by focusing on the following three rules of thumb:
- Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: If something would seem creepy to you, it will seem creepy to them. Think back to the hypothetical Uber example above and how that would make you feel. Remember, you can surprise and delight customers by exceeding their expectations, and use (with their permission) the data you have on them to do so. But you also have to ask yourself, “If a brand did this to me, would I be delighted, or would I cringe?.”
- Don’t over-personalize: Most customers connect with your brand around one particular product or service. The personalizations you serve up should focus on and enhance that relationship. If a support rep from a phone company mentioned that your teenager could upgrade their plan, that’s appropriate. If they said they wanted to wish your teenager ‘Happy Birthday,’ that’s creepy.
- Be transparent: A customer should never wonder, “How do they know that?
Everyone has heard the example of the father who found out his teen daughter was pregnant when she started getting ads for prenatal vitamins based off an algorithm. If you are going to make a personalized recommendation, for example, let the customer know why you are making it.
Don’t Stop Personalizing!
Concerns about creepiness aside, customers still want tailored experiences. Unfortunately, many companies aren’t delivering: Fifty-five percent of U.S. consumers report signing up for personalization programs, but 36% say the messages they are getting still feel like mass marketing.
When a customer navigates a personalized experience with your brand, one of two things should happen: they’ll either be delighted or they won’t notice. For example, you send a customer a text message with a special offer after they’ve visited one of your brick and mortar locations or filled out a survey on your website – that’s an interaction that, while maybe unexpected, brings value to the consumer. It’s delivered in the context of that consumer’s overall journey with your brand, and will elicit a positive reaction.
On the flip side, say a customer enters your store after visiting your website and researching a specific product. If an in-store associate can understand that history and context, they can provide better assistance to that customer, smoothly extending that customer journey from online to in-store. Under those circumstances, the customer shouldn’t notice the cross-channel integration – it should feel seamless, and cohesive, and, most importantly, helpful.
Context is the key to effective personalization, as well as the antidote to creepiness. Every interaction should be done in the context of the journey that customer has already taken with your brand. Direct-to-consumer retailers already have all the ingredients they need for meaningful CX: multiple owned touchpoints, and the data collected across all stages and channels. Brands need to pull that data into a single repository in order to put it to good use.
And that “good use” requires empathy, focus, and transparency. What it doesn’t require is creepiness.
Mark Smith is President of Kitewheel