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Getting Personal One Key to Effective Communications

Last time, we discussed the how important it is to use customer history to shape communications planning. This time, we go a step further and explore the technique of personalization, which looks at behaviors beyond just buying history and, properly done, can cement your customer relationships.

The first thing to know is that personalization cuts two ways: first, it permits us to send customers communications that greet them by name and include references to individualized local interest. Second, it allows them to customize the whole interaction to suit their needs and preferences.

Taken together, these two attributes make it clear that this was prepared with you in mind, and utilizing the techniques properly has been shown to improve engagement by as much as 30-50%.

Serve the “Me” Generation
“Dear Steve” are two of the most powerful words in a marketer’s lexicon, as are others like “You may also be interested in” – as long as I am actually “Steve” and have actually expressed interest in things that relate to the items you think I might care about. Otherwise, it’s clear it’s a robot at work, and you’ve lost me forever.

Research consistently validates the power of doing this correctly. For instance, a study last year by the University of Amsterdam suggested that identifying a recipient by name “has the highest ability to make the message feel personal and hence bring positive effects.” Organizations “should also take person-related factors into account,” it concluded – as did, for a slightly different reason, a separate study by the CEB Marketing Leadership Council, which found that a significant minority of respondents now expect some degree of personalization as a matter of course, and a fair number of others don’t expect it but would be pleased to see it.

Whether you choose to embrace simple mail-merge techniques or provide personalized URLs and landing pages for people to click through to, the evidence is compelling that they want this kind of attention, and feel liked by you when they get it. So it would appear, then, that there’s no good excuse for withholding it!

Give Control to the Control Freaks

As noted, the flip side of the personalization coin involves letting people control the way they interact with you. Especially potent online, this ranges from allowing visitors to modify your Web interface to suit their preference (e.g., by arranging the placing of widgets in a portal, or changing color schemes) to permitting them to retrieve, manipulate, and analyze their account information so they can better engage with you (e.g., by buying something more, paying a bill, inquiring about another offering).

This control is important because it leaves customers feeling as if they’re driving the relationship they have with you, rather than the other way around. Without getting lost in the depths of human psychology, suffice to say that this speaks to the way people are physically wired, and a little flexibility on your part can go a very long way.

Giving your constituents some control is especially valuable when trying to get them to migrate off their beloved pieces of paper (i.e., printed documents) and onto their screens (tablets, PCs, etc.). Getting them to do more things online is great for you since it can save piles of money and throw off all kinds of other benefits. But your customers don’t care about that; they want to know what’s in it for them. In this case, the answer is “the ability to do what you need to do in the way you want to do it,” and that can be a very powerful incentive to make such a fundamental change.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that the case for personalizing your communications is compelling, in both of the ways we just talked about. But care must be taken to ensure that this personalization is meaningful, or you risk having it blow up in your face. Simply including recipients’ first names in your communications is not enough; no, it must be buttressed by messages that read as if they were crafted with each intended person in mind and not merely assembled by a database.

At the same time, each of these people must feel he or she controls his or her own destiny when it comes to taking the next step in your relationship. As it is written, “if you love something, set it free” – and in this case, this means by loosening the interface bonds that have so long complicated the access to and presentation of the information they most desire.

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