Personalize Customer Service without being creepy

True customer service must be at a certain level and also that customers expect companies to personalize customer service. But how much personalization becomes too much and exhibits that companies are getting carried away and stepping over the fine line of professionalism to being creepy and overwhelming? This is a question that all companies and customer service teams must continually ask themselves. It is true that customers are providing information about themselves since they want service tailored to themselves and with highly specialized technology customer service teams are able to provide personalized service. However, privacy is also a major concern for customers and companies must tread lightly to personalize customer service without being creepy. So how much is too much then? It becomes even more difficult to answer this question as customer reactions can vary from case to case.

It seems that customers are saying that companies have access to data on them like what they have recently bought, which sites they most visit, interests based on profile and this is within acceptable limits. However, trying to access bank accounts, medical history of the customer and their family that would be where customers would draw the line and be extremely vexed if it was crossed. Personalize customer service to an extent where it remains relevant. A customer would love it if the store they often visit knows their name, buying patterns and preference of brands. However, if they also knew things like the customer was at a party last night or just visited a relative this level of personalization is clearly creepy. The information has no relevance to the customer’s relationship with the store and does nothing to better the service provided to the customer.

Personalize customer service in such a way that it is helpful to the customer, adds value to them, makes them feel special and connected to the brand without being intrusive. A post on social media site allows a company to know that a person has moved town or locality and can offer their services to the customer in the new place. This is great customer service and remains within its boundaries and is not creepy. However, at all times companies must remember to let the customer know how they got hold of information on them. Even though customers know that it is relatively simple for companies to know their location, it becomes a creepy feeling of being watched if customers are not informed. Customers would immediately be wary and distrustful of such a company and probably leave the company.

Is there a way of knowing when the line is crossed? Is there really a clear line which defines personalization as opposed to being creepy? Different customer segments would have different views of what they deem appropriate or inappropriate. It is a major challenge for companies who are trying to personalize customer service. We think that this line would be based on a company’s customer base and the brand they promote. Customers should have the option of providing as much or as little data as they deem appropriate. When companies seek customer information, customers prefer that the company they are doing business with has access to the data. Customers are uncomfortable when this task is conducted by a third party as the information is accessible to people they are directly doing business with. Misuse and abuse of that data becomes a genuine concern. So what should companies do? How should they personalize customer service and yet not be intruding in to the customer’s space and privacy?

– Remain aware of and follow privacy laws. As obvious as it may seem, collecting and protecting huge amounts of customer data is by no means an easy task and many companies struggle with it. The companies that fail to maintain the sacredness of this data will infringe on privacy and they could have to pay a heavy price depending on the guidelines of a country.

– Protecting customer data must come with a zero trust and zero tolerance policy. Huge amounts of data and ‘secure’ information has been hacked in to causing significant damage and losses to customers and companies.

– Collecting and having access to data from the plethora of channels available, does not necessarily mean that all the data must be used especially if it is not relevant to business and the customer’s relationship with your company. This data must only be used to understand the customer’s behavior and personalize customer service to an acceptable point.

– Provide feedback portions in every possible communication channel and let the customer decide their preferences. It allows for easier and more relevant customization, is transparent and customers will have more trust on a company that uses only information that customer’s want used.
– It is always better to test your customized programs with a few loyal and long standing customers. This would give the company an idea of what could be considered personalized and what is spilling over to ‘creepy’. It may not be conclusive, given that every customer has a different view point but it is still better than not having any benchmarks at all.

This is not an exhaustive list and companies need to know their customers well enough to decide how much personalization is enough. However, there are things that will be common for all customers and companies. Companies must let customers know that the data being collected is to ensure a more customized and personal experience and provide the customers with the option of how much they want to share and how much personalization is optimum for them.

Personalize customer service without being creepy by ensuring that there is transparency, relevance and customer intent in mind while personalizing. When these factors are kept in mind the resultant communication would serve to foster trust and loyalty in the mind of the customer significantly boosting sales and the company’s reputation.

Personalization by its very meaning entails personal. Companies must allow enough flexibility, in their programs and methods of customization, for customers to be able to edit any data provided earlier. Allowing customers to build their profile and control what goes in to it, is extremely beneficial to the process of customization and keeps a company’s mind off possible privacy infringement. They will have a choice of receiving communication on topics that interest them and stop what they find irrelevant. Companies need to monitor customer behavior so as not to treat past behavior as a predictor for the future. For example – a customer may be buying loads of diapers now but will not need them in a couple of years and if the company continues to send them communication on the subject, they will clearly be off the mark. Another example of being creepy is when a friend had been browsing bulge removal products and started receiving mailers from companies dealing in adult diapers, extension belts, remedies for incontinence and the likes – all assuming that these products would naturally be required. She clearly did not need them and they were an invasion of her space and privacy.

Remember always that customization is for the customer. Therefore, anything being offered must have a strong and actual benefit for the customer and definitely override the negative impact if being sent merely as promotional. This shows the customer that the effort is towards engagement rather than a company trying to make a sale under the garb of customization. This will be unforgivable and the customer may swear off your company for good. The key asset of personalization is knowing the customer – what their preferences or choices are and what kind of customization would be acceptable to them. Both factors have to be taken in to account.

Access to incredible amounts of customer data and a myriad exciting ideas of how to use them, does not give a company the right to be creepy. Companies that have used this data judiciously, exercised restraint and shown respect for the customer’s information have been able to significantly elevate customer experiences and personalize customer service without being creepy. Adding personalization through the use of this data in smaller yet more meaningful ways serves to increase customer comfort, trust, and loyalty levels over time. Keep it personal but keep it simple!

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