How do personalized digital content experiences help us develop trust in each other?

There’s a wonderful song called “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – sung by Teddy Pendergrass, later covered by Simply Red. The song starts out with the lyrics:

All the things that we’ve been through
You should understand me…
Like I understand you…

It’s a wonderful metaphor for where businesses are with developing customer experiences through digital content channels. It seems so easy for our visitors to research us, and understand us – but so hard for us to understand them.  If only we could understand each other better – wouldn’t we be able to deliver a better, more valuable experience?

If You Don’t Know Me By Now…

Some of the best customer experiences are the ones that the customer doesn’t even realize they are having, until they are over.  Think about it – what you really remember are the worst customer experiences you’ve had.  They are usually the ones where you realize you’re being “handed off” to some other level.

Think of buying a car for example. You might have a pleasant enough experience researching, and even walking around the dealership and test-driving the vehicle. And then, as soon as you start to have the conversation about purchase, the pleasant sales person has to bring in “the manager” in order to have “the negotiation”. Suddenly the pleasantness goes out the window and you’re just wondering to yourself what you can do to get out of there as fast as possible.

You May Never Ever Know Me….

Most of today’s digital content experiences are similar. Browsing content can be pleasant enough, and perhaps you even subscribe to the thought leadership blog. And then, maybe you even register for a webinar. Maybe it’s slightly annoying because it’s asking for similar information. But then, you go to download a white paper, and yet another registration form comes up and asks you for the same information yet again.  And then, abruptly, you start getting a barrage of heavily personalized emails from (through marketing automation software) focusing on the ONE thing you signed up for and the big sales pitch.

Yes – it’s relevant and personalized (they call you by your first name) – but it’s hardly personable. And perhaps it’s even annoying.

Snapping out of the seamless digital experience

This “snap” to marketing reality is a big #Fail when it comes to creating a compelling customer experience.  And it usually happens in two ways.

1. When there’s not ENOUGH personalization. For example – if customers have to look through a list of store locations on a mobile device – that’s calling attention to the experience. The system should just be able to recommend the stores that are closest to the viewers current location.  Or, as in the above example, if the customer has to sign up multiple times with the same information because different Websites don’t “know” them.

or…..

2.  The personalization is too broad or heavy handed. For example, customer experiences can fail if the content is targeted to the user based specifically on assumptions made by their demographics, as opposed to behavior. For example, one shipper’s Web site assumed that because I was surfing from Canada that I need to ship a box from there.  When, in actuality, I was trying to track a package that I’d sent the previous week. There was actually no way to navigate to a way to track the package because I couldn’t get out of the Canadian site.

It’s these kinds of “snaps” that call attention to the “experience” and create roadblocks for customers. And, interestingly studies have shown these roadblocks actually do more to annoy customers than going over the top with great content. A Corporate Executive Board study found that “delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort – the work they must do to get their problem solved – does.”

Just Trust In Me… Like I Trust In You…

Ultimately, it’s the right balance of personalization and relevant content that wins the customer experience.  It needs to be appropriate AND personable.  As Dr. Tim Walters, Senior Analyst with Digital Clarity Group said in his “ 2015 Prescriptions” post: “personalization isn’t really about the customer, it’s about you. Focus on being personable, by offering timely, relevant and discrete assistance.

We were fascinated enough by this topic that we actually funded our own research project to understand some of the best practices around using data to drive more relevant customer experiences.  One of our biggest findings was how many believe it’s a good idea – but how few actually have done anything about it.

Our research: Using Big Data to Target Online Content is available. And in it, we discovered a number of the best ways to make optimizing digital experiences for relevance not only easier to actually accomplish, but also create those seamless experiences that (to quote that famous song one more time) “ get the trust in me, like I trust in you…

It should be easy to do…

Creating personalized digital experiences requires agility, and constant innovation. Unfortunately, too many organizations get themselves stuck in predefined and hard to change marketing suites. Consumers have come to expect  data-driven, optimized experiences  that are personable and seamless across devices, as well as being relevant to a consumer’s location, interests, and preferences. For this, the customer experience needs open standards.

This article originally appears on the Hippo CMS blog