Personalization 2.0 & The Dawn of the Singular Customer Experience
Introduction: Personalization as Principle
Personalization has long been a driving force in businesses’ efforts to engage and retain customers. Before the Internet, before personal computers, before even the automobile, savvy business leaders found ways to tailor their products and services to better suit the unique wants and needs of individual customers.
Restaurateurs remembered regulars’ favorite dishes and preferred table arrangements. Clever barbers took note of which customers enjoyed small talk and which ones preferred the silence. And in all cases, they did so to ensure the best possible experience for each customer—inspiring return visits, nurturing loyalty, and giving them good reason to recommend the business to others
Modern personalization—one that leverages data, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML)—looks and feels a bit different. Nowadays, we plop down on the couch, hit the “Order Again” button on GrubHub, and take it for granted when Netflix opens to a literal mosaic of personalized content recommendations—determined by an elaborate calculus of past viewing habits, personal reviews, and a sprawling constellation of personal data and information not known even to ourselves.
Different as these experiences may seem at first, beneath the surface, they’re both driven by the same fundamental purpose: to tailor your service to the unique needs of each customer.
The Stellar Take
Modern personalization is not just about technology. It is about leveraging the right technology and data to predict the next best thing for the customer—and making it happen instantaneously.
Predictive personalization, for instance, uses AI-driven analytics to predict individual customer preferences and behaviors, enabling personalized product and service marketing experiences. Take another example: customer journey orchestration analyzes and optimizes every touchpoint along the customer journey, ensuring that each interaction is tailored to what the customer needs at that exact moment in time.
The "best next experience" or "best next action" in product development and marketing is about optimizing steps to align customer needs with your business goals. Personalization places the customer at the center of all decision-making, simplifying and reducing the surface area of your business to focus on the things that particular customers need.
It’s about providing your customers with the best experience—across products, channels, and support functions—for every customer, at any time, at scale.
From the Exception to the Expected
From good old-fashioned segmentation to AI-driven predictive analytics, the quest to deliver a truly tailored customer experience has come a long way over the years. Traditionally associated with things like product recommendations and targeted advertisements, personalization now reaches far beyond the bounds of advertising, extending into the realms of design, marketing, product development, customer service, and more.
Ultimately, wherever there is an opportunity for a business to tailor its operations to the unique preferences of a given customer, then there is an opportunity for personalization. And today’s business leaders need to seize as many of those opportunities as possible—in hopes of differentiating themselves from the competition and inspiring loyalty in a consumer base that is more volatile and open to change than ever before.
- 71%of consumers now expect companies to deliver personalized experiences.
However, the more widespread personalization becomes, the more consumers seem to take it for granted. In fact, a recent survey found that 71% of consumers now expect companies to deliver personalized experiences, and 76% percent say they get frustrated when companies fail to do so. What was once a “nice to have'' is now a necessity, and businesses know it — with 75% of executives now describing personalization as “table stakes.”
Keeping Up with Climbing Customer Expectations
But that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Today’s consumers are upping the ante on what constitutes an ideal customer experience, and businesses are struggling to keep up. Nearly three-quarters of consumers expect businesses they buy from to not only offer personalized experiences but to “recognize them as individuals and know their interests.”
Unfortunately, there’s a stark contrast between a company’s perception of its CX and the customer's reality: only 34% of customers are very satisfied with companies meeting their expectations, while 80% of business leaders believe they are meeting these expectations.
So, what’s driving this growing divide? For many organizations, it’s a matter of inadequate integration and context-deaf data. As personalization becomes more complex and far-reaching—encompassing more and more aspects of your business—it becomes increasingly difficult for businesses to successfully implement a coherent, unified strategy across all of their operations.
When a disconnect occurs, it leads to frustrated customers—they perceive their engagements with a business to be part of a fluid, continuous experience between just two entities—themselves and the business; not themselves and six different departments.
For example, customers don't see your contact center as an isolated experience. They expect the context to carry through if they are transferred to various lines of support. Yet, we all know that, whether you are dealing with your mobile provider or healthcare organizations, we often have to repeat our troubles many times over with each new agent we speak with. It’s incredibly frustrating.
The bottom line? This disconnect impacts your service and the experience your customers have. For example, 71% of financial service leaders blame lackluster service on inadequate customer feedback and 67% of healthcare leaders attribute widening gaps to insufficient personalization efforts. But it can also impact your bottom line. Gartner reports that poor personalization can cost brands up to 38% of their customers.
Personalization 2.0: The Age of Unmatched Context
The core of this disconnect lies in a disjointed understanding of the customer and their unique journey. The only way to achieve this level of orchestration is with the right customer intelligence. This is where Personalization 2.0 comes in.
Personalization 2.0 is about being predictive and contextual. It’s about anticipating customers' needs, scaling this across all of your business functions, and delivering the best experience, powered by modern technology; using AI-driven analytics to predict individual preferences and behaviors, and then optimizing the entire customer journey to deliver personalized recommendations and tailor each interaction.
Conventional personalization only seeks to understand the customer’s identity—name, age, race, marital status, geographical location, tax bracket, religious affiliation, educational attainment, favorite musical genre, dietary restrictions, etc, etc. Personalization 2.0, on the other hand, isn’t interested solely in who the customer is—it is interested in the customer's real-time situation. Details like: Where is the customer right now? What are they feeling? What device are they using to shop? What were they doing just before? What are they likely to do next?
Personalization 2.0 encompasses:
Real-time personalization to drive experiences that change based on context such as time of day, GPS location, or device.
Contextual personalization to deliver experiences that are unique to customers’ language, location, and defined or inferred interests.
Predictive personalization to deliver personalized experiences before a user requests them (or even knows to desire such an experience).
Emotional personalization that considers customers’ emotional states based on analysis of behavior, social sentiment analysis, or biometric data.
By drawing on vast pools of data, you can create a “segment of one”—or a category of one’s own—which powers more accurate, tailored, and connected experiences for each customer at that given point in time.
Bringing Personalization 2.0 to Life
Let’s consider how one category of business—regional banks—can leverage the power of Personalization 2.0.
Banks house a lot of data (customer profile data, transaction data, and even third-party data). They can take this data and create a digital version of a relationship manager, all from the convenience of the user’s mobile phone. This implementation of Personalization 2.0 helps banks address and mitigate the following customer service challenges:
Loss of customer share of wallet and lifetime value (LTV) to megabanks, fintechs, and neobanks
Recapture wallet share and LTV with digital experiences that augment loyalty and assert primacy
Failure to adopt competitive accelerators such as AI and ML
Seize new market opportunities through tech adoption that allows delivery acceleration
Conflicting agendas slow agile, coordinated action
Bring lines of business together on cross-channel experiences
Lagging team capabilities and resource constraints
Up-skill teams and practice ruthless prioritization to ensure resources are being deployed as efficiently as possible
Lack of preparedness for evolution due to legacy technology and compliance constraints
Become an agile, learning organization that competently de-risks innovation efforts
Here’s another example of how a major brand has nailed it:
“American Express is a great example of Personalization 2.0," says Nick Vrana, Stellar Elements Global Director of Telco Technology & AI Platforms. "Whenever I fly into a new country and use my card, I immediately get an email from American Express. It's like, hey, it looks like you landed in Brussels—here are some things based off of your previous activities that we think you would enjoy. It's an example of really cool personalization and the next best action. But what I like most about it, is it's not trying to drive me to an American Express product. It feels very organic to what I am experiencing at that very moment in time.”
Critical Success Factors for Personalization 2.0 Success
To successfully implement Personalization 2.0, CX and EX leaders require a deep, intimate understanding of the customer and their journey. When, where, why, and how do your customers interact with your products or services? By digging into this data, you can extract meaningful opportunities instantaneously and personalize on the fly—not only meeting customers where they’re at but exceeding their expectations.
To succeed at Personalization 2.0, it's critical first to get a unified, contextual view of the customer journey. Data on how any particular customer is interacting with your business across any product or service via any channel or device. This unified, granular customer data is gold.
“Mapping the customer/employee journey provides a great framework for establishing personalized experiences,” says Mike Blakesley, Stellar Elements Head of Experience Design, Financial Services. “The goal of truly personalized experiences is about meeting the user where they are—anytime, anywhere, and on any channel. So, unless the experience team has clarity and insight about the user’s journey, there will be gaps in the experience that diminish the surprise and delight of a personalized experience.”
Start by visualizing historical customer behavioral data across your entire business via customer journey mapping to derive insights from the natural progression of the customer and the needs to address. Ask guiding questions to help refine your personalization approach:
How hard was it for the customer to accomplish the things that they started?
How many of your customers are going through the same journey where they get stuck?
How often is that happening?
How can you make sure they don't get stuck?
How do you get the right information in front of them?
Then, take it a step further with customer journey analytics to get a clear picture of each customer and analyze what effect each interaction has on their decisions.
While journey mapping visualizes crucial customer paths and journey analytics delivers insights, customer journey orchestration makes communications more engaging and measures the impact for continuous improvement. Adding GenAI into the mix turns journey orchestration from marketing-led to customer-led. It lets you connect the dots across all customer interactions to move from guessing what your customer needs next to intelligently predicting those needs instantaneously. This real-time personalization makes the customer journey as effortless and delightful as possible while vastly improving customer loyalty.
Beyond the Stack: Architectural Considerations for Personalization
The ideal personalization stack is not a singular entity, but rather a harmonious integration of various systems. There isn’t one solution that would work best for every organization, nor is there a single, digital experience platform capable of satisfying every team’s needs and successfully mapping the appropriate data across every step of the customer journey.
When you do this, you're essentially asking a single platform to be so flexible that it can support your CS agents, customers, mobile apps, marketing journeys, and more. Rather than hold out for such a pipe dream, organizations should instead create a “personalization layer”—a kind of platform engineering-inspired, unified surface for customer experiences that allows teams to avoid the pitfalls of an omnichannel approach, and instead focus on flexibility, integration, rapid iteration, adaptation, and change.
Get It Right. Every Time.
Personalization 2.0—powered by customer insights—paves the way for more focused, meaningful experiences.
It's about crafting a shared, comprehensive understanding of who your customers are and what they aim to achieve, regardless of where they are in their journey. It is integrating journey orchestration and personalization at scale, transcending traditional channels. It goes beyond offering the best experience to anticipate and fulfill customer needs with precision. And, it’s not just personalization for the few; it's about scaling to understand and meet the needs of thousands, swiftly and efficiently.
These experiences move past basic demographic or behavioral data to be predictive or anticipatory according to explicit and inferred behavior.
“Leveraging unified customer data, AI, and ML, the future includes a more multi-dimensional kind of personalization that incorporates predictive, real-time, contextual, and emotional characteristics,” says Ross A. McIntyre, Stellar Elements Principal Innovation Strategist. “By embracing Personalization 2.0, organizations will deliver on the promise of ‘the right offer at the right time’—to the right customer, every single time.”
Reimagining your own organization’s personalization strategy begins with a clear vision of your current customer experience.
But increasingly, businesses are losing sight of their own customer expectations. Check out our latest study on the growing CX gap and learn strategies for identifying and addressing your own organization’s CX blind spots.Read the Report