Renato Quaroni
Mar 24, 2017

Personalisation: Taking small-business service levels to the digital realm

Chatbots and other tech for personalising customer experience are no longer out of reach for even smaller brands.

Renato Quaroni
Renato Quaroni

Know that feeling when your favourite coffee place remembers your order? Or when a local shop owner asks whether your kid likes their new backpack? Oddly enough, it’s often these small gestures and thoughtful remarks that shape and strengthen our relationships with a business. How can we apply these small business smarts online?

People love recognition. Being recognised makes us feel special; or at least important enough to be serviced with consideration of our interests.

But while personal relations are great for establishing preference and retaining customers, this type of personalisation has traditionally been exclusive to small local businesses. Person-to-person relationships don’t scale well. One can only remember so many mustaches and coffee blends.

Three ways for brands to personalise their service

Personalised experiences are anything but new. Recommendation systems have been around since before Amazon, and almost every algorithm from Google’s search engine to Facebook’s news feed takes into account user specifics to establish what you see and where.

So how can lesser giants personalise their experience to further their business on both a creative and conversion level?

1. Chatbots and conversational UIs

Thanks to new innovations and APIs (application programming interfaces), chatbots and conversational interfaces are becoming more prevalent and accessible. Just a couple years ago, making a chatbot was hard and had to be done from scratch. This often produced poor linear experiences, with decision-making trees pretending to be smart.

But the field has evolved. Computers can now understand natural language with increasingly high accuracy, and more and more businesses are tapping into the opportunities this affords. (Though making an eloquent chatbot still is a painstaking process.)

Instead of having to retrieve your flight number in order to look up your flight’s details, consumers can now simply ask their airline ‘when’s my flight’ in a way very similar to asking a friend or human travel agent. Or even better, the airline tells you where you need to go as soon as you arrive at the airport. No need to ask.

With a bit of data and intelligent design, businesses can anticipate a particular user’s needs and use this as a starting point. When a user is flying that day, they’re probably more interested in the status of their flight than new deals and promotions. Interfaces can prioritise this information to better serve their users’ needs.

Local businesses do this all the time. Restaurants, for example, will ask whether you’d like something to drink, see the menu, or maybe want a dessert based on your current ‘status’. It’s not a stretch to say these businesses are essentially personalizing their service based on what they know about you. This is even more true for return customers, who can get a better experience based on their known preferences.

2.  Programmatic advertising

While person-to-person relationships don’t scale well, personalisation doesn’t have to involve people. With programmatic advertising, brands can automatically—no, programmatically—tailor their message at the individual level. Based on anonymous persona profiles, Google’s ad-serving subsidiary DoubleClick has enabled advertisers to serve different creatives based on individual’s specific interests.

Where in the past, advertisers had to rely on adwords to assume their audience’s interests, brands can now target members of their target audience much more directly.

The level of personalisation doesn’t have to be particularly high to be meaningful. Knowing what kind of films a user likes, over the basic fact that they like movies, already helps brands such as Netflix to serve personally relevant ads.

You can also get a lot more creative as programmatic advertising allows you to cater banner creatives to context. Like a flesh-and-bones business owner, a programmatic banner ad may play to current weather or known-interests to connect with a person. It not only shows you Better Call Saul because you like Breaking Bad; it advertises the show in a way that speaks to you as an individual by programmatically playing to another of your interests, such as fashion or gaming.

All of this has been possible for a while, but the promise of programmatic is that any brand can now do this at scale in a cost-effective way. You literally program the banner to account for all relevant variables, including formats. Speaking the language of the person watching your ad doesn’t require the production of separate ads. All you need is localised copy and your banner is good to go everywhere.

3. Personalised interfaces

You can personalise information, but with today’s technology you can also personalise the entire experience. The new US Air Force recruitment site presents a good case in point.

With literally thousands of roles to choose from and an even larger number of pages, airforce.com is at risk of being overwhelming. It’s a restaurant with a 1000-items thick menu where you need to find a dish you like, only you’re probably not qualified to eat most of the dishes, and the dish is your career.

Since the experience potential candidates have is so important, the US Air Force employs recruitment officers to help and enlist people for the right role in a very direct and personal way. To achieve a similar kind of personalisation online, airforce.com prioritises the jobs and content it shows in accord with the user’s profile.

Through a conversational UI, the site learns about the user’s preferences and professional qualifications. Airforce.com uses this information to help narrow down the choices by tailoring the content to jobs and branches of the USAF the user would be a good fit for—mimicking the work of a real-life recruiter. The personalised redesign increased the site’s conversion rate with almost 50 percent, resulting in 37 percent more applications that were also of better quality.

One size frustrates all

By serving the right content at the right time in the right way using the latest digital technologies, brands and businesses can cater the experience they offer to the audience. Sites don’t have to be one size, and neither does your service.

We’ve grown accustomed to creating more or less similar experiences for all users, but we don’t have to anymore. Agencies and brands that are thinking about personalisation today will have head start tomorrow, or whenever the future arrives.

Renato Quaroni is a Creative Director at MediaMonks, a global creative production company that specialises in crafting amazing digital work for the world’s leading agencies and their brands.

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