Personalized customer service, and a personalized customer experience, means that a business 1) knows its customers and their needs, and 2) is willing and able to provide them as efficiently as possible. This is sometimes called personalization at scale: where software solutions help provide the context necessary for assisting customers in need or pointing them efficiently to what they want. Data provided by these solutions allows teams to follow the customer journey and make more personalized recommendations for items of interest. This could mean knowing whether the customer already bought a shower curtain and ensuring it isn’t offered up as something they might want.

There is a bevy of upsides for personalizing your customer service, but implementing processes to support it can be a tightrope walk, according to Zendesk Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Titterton, speaking at the CX Exchange conference for Retail, Travel and Hospitality in 2019. For example, consumers are rightly more aware of and concerned about how their personal data is being used, but they are willing to give you some of that data to enhance your understanding of their needs. They don’t want to be spammed, but they do seek and accept well-timed, appropriate messages sent through their preferred channels, be it email, text, preferred messaging app, or some combination thereof.

There are two key ways to walk the tightrope and help you provide personalized customer experience at scale:

  • Be responsible with data
  • Deliver a context-rich, omnichannel support experience

Be responsible with data

Personalization should balance technology with the human touch. As with any technology solution, relying solely on data without interpreting it thoughtfully in context can result in annoying or embarrassing missteps. For example, there’s no good reason to use personalization-enabling technology to unload sale items on customers if they haven’t expressed interest in them—think of those end-of-season inventory clearance deals, according to a presentation, “The selfless retailer: Winning customers in the age of disloyalty,” at the 2019 National Retail Federation Big Show. On the more personal end of the spectrum, consider every unwanted algorithm-driven memory that pops up in your social media accounts.

Using data well, on the other hand, means anticipating customers’ needs and making it feel like magic. Take the MyMagic+ wristband, technology that provides Disney World employees, or cast members as they’re called, with the information to create memorable, personalized experiences for which the brand is known. If someone is wearing a Disney MagicBand and has made a reservation for dinner, a host will greet them by name when they arrive. What the family doesn’t know is that the hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was a few paces away, prompting the kitchen to start queuing up their food order. When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The human server knew what they ordered before they approached the restaurant and then knew where they were sitting. And from the customers’ point of view, it’s seamless magic.

Experiences like these are more common as customer data is more readily available, which means it’s that much more important to use those powers for the good of the customer. Always ask yourself, “Would I be creeped out by this?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it, Titterton advises. Be honest about why you’re capturing data in the first place, too. If you need the information to create more memorable, personalized experiences, great. If you’re using it to sell ads, perhaps rethink the approach.

Delivering a context-rich, omnichannel support experience

Connecting with customers on a personal level during support interactions is possible—and increasingly necessary; customer service could be the reason a company stands apart from a competitor. An omnichannel support experience, which gives teams a 360-degree view of customer data, can assist companies in providing a personal touch, even as they grow.

Omnichannel support solutions help ensure that personalizing context is preserved, even if a customer jumps from one support channel to another. For example, if they started an interaction via email but decided to open a chat window for more immediate service, it greatly improves the experience for all involved when the agent knows that this is the second time they made contact in the same day.

In reality, many support teams have little insight into the customer journey when they start a conversation about a customer’s issue or need. Any opportunity to provide context within a support interaction—such as whether previous interactions were rough and why—improves and personalizes the customer’s experience, paving the way for even better ones in the future.

Whatever your solution for enabling personalized customer service, centering customers is key. As was said at another panel, “The relation between data and the customer experience” at the 2019 Big Show: “Customer experience is a journey, not a destination. Even with a clear vision and strategy, you still have to experiment, measure, and learn from what worked and what didn’t to continuously adapt to customers’ evolving expectations.”