Mastering personalisation: Tailoring customer experiences – PODCAST

In this insightful podcast, Simon and Tom explore the art of personalisation, emphasising experimentation, customer understanding, and the value of genuine, tailored experiences.

Mastering personalisation: Tailoring customer experiences – PODCAST

In this insightful podcast, Simon and Tom explore the art of personalisation, emphasising experimentation, customer understanding, and the value of genuine, tailored experiences.


Meet the authors

Tom Carpenter

Principal Consultant

Simon Blosse

Principal Consultant

Personalisation is a hot topic, but what does it mean, what are the benefits and what should organisations consider to master the art?

In this episode of CX Talks, hosts and customer experience experts Simon Blosse and Tom Carpenter delve into the world of personalisation, unravelling the fine line between customisation and cost-effectiveness. Discover their insights on achieving impactful tailored experiences and the pivotal role of experimentation.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.

Simon Blosse: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of CX Talks with Clarasys. I’m here again with Tom Carpenter and myself, Simon Blosse and thank you for joining us today.

Simon Blosse: We wanted to talk about a topic that’s quite exciting, we believe, in terms of the future of customer experiences, but also how you can really build revenue and grow your customer base. And that’s personalisation.

Simon Blosse: Now personalisation at its core has a lot of factors to it, and that’s what we’re hoping to explore today. So the idea is we’re going to be challenging each other with some ideas about what personalisation means, and also how to make it actually come to fruition when it comes to revenue, profitability, and not just a huge spend. Tom, any thoughts on personalisation to kick us off?

The importance of understanding your customers

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, well I guess firstly personalisation has obviously evolved as time has evolved so from maybe things like having your initials embossed onto something being personalisation to now, AI tools adaptively trying to work out what you would or wouldn’t be interested in based on your past experiences or things that you’ve done or things about you.

Tom Carpenter: So there’s a whole range of what we would mean by personalisation. But I think before we get into what personalisation as a solution could be and how it could help, I think there’s one thing which all organisations really need to do, which is understand what their customers do, who they are and how they behave. Now you can do that obviously, by AI learning a little bit about them. In order for the AI to learn intuitively, it needs to know some things. So, you could kind of start to think about some typical kind of, if this then that, type moments that customers would do, but really you need to start from the basics. So that’s understanding who your customers are, creating personas of those customers, what will people do in certain scenarios and then taking those personas through typical journeys of what you would want them to do, and how they would interact with your products and what things might be connected together. So let’s say, for example, I’m a garden appliances firm and someone is browsing my site and they’re interested in lawnmowers. It might make sense to me to therefore share different lawnmowers with them or different grass-cutting instruments. Showing them something completely different, such as a drill, for example, which might be something you stock, could be interesting to them, but you’ve not learned enough about them to know that actually it’s interesting.

Tom Carpenter: So you often see in a B2C sense people just pushing content towards you because it’s like, well, you looked at this thing, and this other thing is by the same company, or it’s a similar category, and therefore they’re showing it to you. For me, that isn’t personalisation. That is guesswork. And we’re just trying to work out if someone looked at one appliance, they might be interested in another one, but we’re not thinking about what they’re actually trying to do and the actions that they’re trying to undertake. I mean, a great example of that, for example, is like maybe I’m looking at an engagement ring. Maybe I’m a male person, and maybe it’s clear that I’m marrying a female person. Is it likely that I’m also going to be interested in wedding dresses? Probably not. But you need to know a few things about me to work that out. So if you could work out that I’m a man buying something for a lady, then I probably wouldn’t be interested in wedding dress. But if you knew enough about me that you could work out that maybe I’m a lady looking for a wedding ring and I would be interested therefore, in a wedding dress. Or there’s certain things about me that I know And that’s where we get into personalisation. Needing to kind of help drive you to further decision making and understand what decision making that is, rather than it being pure guesswork. And the only way I think that we can really do that is to understand the kinds of typical actions and journeys that your consumers would go through.

Simon Blosse: I think that’s really valid. So just to kind of explore that example of the lawnmower – is the want, therefore, for us to be recommending a hedge trimmer on the back of that, or is it more around the fact that we want to recommend there to be a longer term, I suppose, sales relationship with that particular customer.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, so potentially, both of those things are true. So you could do something like for every lawnmower purchase within the next three months, 80% of those customers return to buy a hedge trimmer. Firstly, it’ll be interesting to know how many organisations could actually work that out, so having this customer identity or record where you could relate that back, and using enough historical data to work out that’s true. But I think what I’m getting to is although that might be the case, it’s working out what is likely to be a set of actions that relate to each other. So if I’m buying a lawnmower, yeah I might be actually doing a whole garden refurb, and maybe I’m looking at other things, but if there’s information I could gather from what the customer’s doing or things I know about them to inform that, I should do it, as in I should personalise if I know things about it.

Tom Carpenter: I think the danger is people are just like, let’s just try throwing a load of stuff at people, and that’s when personalisation becomes unhelpful, more than anything.

What data should businesses use to drive personalisation?

Simon Blosse: So what data do you think businesses should be trying to use to drive personalisation. So when we say knowing your customer, what do we actually mean by that? Is it just a case of age, gender, interests, or is it more around location? I don’t want to sort of put words in your mouth, but I’m just curious, what do we actually recommend as being the foundations of personalisation?

Tom Carpenter: I think historically when people were putting together personas, and a lot of people… Personas could now be seen as kind of like a bad tool because what would happen is you’d be like, well I’m Tony I’m a 40 year old white male from the Midlands and therefore I’m exactly this person. And we’re individuals so it’s completely unfounded to categorise someone by demographic things. Some of that does help you’re basically trying to work out are you likely to be more affluent and frivolous therefore you’re spending or spend more or spend less and often you see the persona types therefore go through they’re kind of like yeah, you’re well researched, tight pocketed, effective efficient buyer versus your emotive on a whim, it’s because it’s something I really just want, type of buyer. And it’s trying to work out based on behavioural things, mostly. That’s when personalisation is really powerful. Either basing it on behavioural actions or on cumulative historic things. So you know that when 80-90% of people do one thing, it’s very likely that they do this other thing. And less so necessarily about these demographics. The only thing I would say about demographics is you can filter stuff out of personalisation for some of those reasons. Like I was making the point about a dress for example. Now obviously there are men who might wear dresses. So it would be completely unfair to say you could rule it out for that reason. But you could logically assume that it would be more risky to offer a man a dress than not a dress in that example. So you can use things which is like based on historical what people do, what are they most likely to therefore do next or not do next, based on some demographics. But I think it is a bit dangerous just to assume that, you know, every 40 year old man who might be called Tony in the Midlands is going to do a certain set of actions. That’s the danger of using demographic information for, to personalise.

Simon Blosse: So I suppose the danger is one thing. Before we go further into this world of personalisation, is it really all worth it? I mean, I think you and I both believe it is, but I suppose just for our listeners being clear about why is personalisation worthwhile? Because it does take a lot of effort, it does take a lot of energy. There are companies I’ve worked for who have got it wrong and have spent a lot of money and not got the benefit but then there are those who have got it right and seen benefits. I don’t know if you’ve got any examples of sort of the benefits that happens when you do personalise and what the benefit of that is?

What are the benefits of personalisation?

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I think, so we’ve got some examples of the, on a B2B buying journey, where people are struggling to understand the products. And, the particular example I would use is it’s a it’s a financial insights product on individuals, so it’s kind of like a know your customer type project. You’re trying to find out about them, and there are different use cases under which people would use this product. So you might have insurers, for example. You might have people who are taking people through financial checks for renting a house or others, and the product is really configurable. It could be used for lots of different things. But in that buying journey, by understanding what persona is trying to buy, you would understand what they’re interested in. So they’re looking at certain features about your product. You then show them something which relates more to those features because it seems like they’re more interested in that use case. And then that is driving a higher funneling a higher conversion to people talking to salespeople. So we saw for one of our clients there that they, there was a significant increase in the amount of people who were navigating the website once we personalised some of the journeys on the website, who then followed through to actually talking to a sales rep about the products.

Simon Blosse: Yeah. And that relates, I think, to a previous client I was working with in terms of publications. Similarly, there is no point in advertising the wrong kind of scientific material to a particular scientist who’s interested in let’s say neuroscience. Seeing anatomy is one thing, but then seeing something that’s very related to medical profession rather than the brain or nervous systems or the latest journals on that did not make sense. and I suppose that is personalisation from a service offering. I think in other worlds that I’ve seen it work really well is admittedly in B2C. So to consumers or customers, is that kind of offering that you find yourself probably in, in most day to day shopping experiences that we are all in, but when it works well, it works really well. And when it works bad, it works really badly and, and, and it’s, it’s almost as it’s the extremes. But when you know that you’re somebody who buys as a, as a business, if they know that you’re somebody who buys you know, summer shorts in the summertime, and then you have a certain colour, colour that you like, showing you that kind of advertising material, getting you to buy that kind of product is surprisingly easy when it works well. But if, for example, as you say, you’ve bought a birthday present for someone who’s not you and then you get offered a very different style or get offered like  shoes that you never normally buy or a suit you never normally buy just because of the one off last year, you kind of feel a bit like oh yeah, you’re just using an algorithm. And I think that’s the challenge with personalisation overall is that when it works… It converts very quickly, it drives huge revenue increase, and that’s why, that’s that golden chalice, almost, of companies going after it, because when it works, you get basically customer satisfaction, you get customer loyalty, and you get purchases and through that you get revenue, obviously. With the business to business world, you get a sense of, this business knows us, and therefore we should be working with them, and so you don’t feel like you’re wasting money as a business working with another business. But when the moment it goes wrong it can be very obvious when it goes wrong.

Tom Carpenter: Well yeah, you’re getting onto an interesting topic here as well, I’d say. I quite like it when things are personalised to me because it takes out an element of deep thinking about things. It’s just like, yeah, I was looking at that type of clothing and you’re now recommending a very similar thing. And I quite like that. So you’ve just skipped out a whole bunch of me researching. So I quite like it. I think it’s quite cool sometimes. But there is a growing collective of individuals, who would see it as like really weird and creepy and like, are you listening to me? And you know, what’s going on? What’s your view on how do you try and balance that it’s helpful and it’s useful versus that it’s weird that you might know something and it’s a bit big brothery.

Personalisation: Creepy vs cool

Simon Blosse: Yeah. but I think that’s that classic scenario of the creepy versus cool issue, right? So that moment when you feel like it’s encroaching, on like, ooh, you know a bit too much about me and you’re assuming too much, you get that creepiness. That’s when you kind of see customers and consumers and businesses going ‘no, sorry, no, this is not comfortable’. That balance line is really, really powerful because if you get that right, then it’s not creepy, it’s kind of cool. And and you’re kind of like, oh yeah, actually, it saved me hours of searching through this. I think the thing about the creepy versus cool syndrome is that you have to think about, the opting in versus the automatic focus. So, for those companies that have got the, kind of, coolness working, if you think about companies like Stitch, you think about companies that have ultimately got a bit of a, a bit of a selection option. And that applies to businesses as well, you know, please provide us with curated offerings of, information, curated offerings of services, of books, of journals, or in the case of fashion, curated wardrobe, please. And when you’re kind of opting into that, you kind of know what you’re doing, and then the coolness kind of outweighs the creepiness. It’s when you surprise people with the personalisation that sometimes it can be a win, but often it can creep people out, because, you know, there’s nothing… I mean, the best example I ever got given for this, actually, was, if you imagine you walked into, like, your, your supermarket Tesco’s, Asda’s, Sainsbury’s, whoever they are, and you walked in, they were like, oh, you know what Simon, you know, I saw you had four burgers last week, maybe you should have a salad this week. And you’re like, thanks for that.  yeah, exactly. It’s like, but you filled in the option form saying you wanted to be healthy. But it’s, it’s weird, when you kind of get that kind of push of things that might make you feel uncomfortable. I know that’s an extreme example, but then the variances of that can be quite nuanced. And so like someone pushing you a new product all the time because you need it can get very annoying even if you do need it. Right. And so I think there is that ultimate moment to avoid creepiness. My recommendations, I suppose are to enable and it feels a bit like they’re kind of a cookie scenario, but it’s real in terms of personalisation. If you are getting too many suggestions, give your customers the option to opt out. But also give them the option to curate them a little bit more. Give them the way to make it more, as you were saying Tom, helpful. Rather than just being a, we know you best, and therefore, we are going to push you this. And I think that’s really important, It’s, and I think every client I’ve worked with to drive a personalisation strategy, it’s almost been one of our biggest mantras is, are we being too creepy, or are we being cool. And even that sentence is just a helpful mantra to apply to your team of marketing, apply to your team of product development, apply to your customer support, whoever it is that you are working with to drive your personalisation strategy, just have that in your head. Like, are we being a bit creepy?

Tom Carpenter: Mm hmm. I think you raise a good point as well.

Tom Carpenter: Obviously we have things like GDPR and the California Privacy Act as well, which forces organisations to ask about opt in and opt out. But it doesn’t necessarily obligate them to ask consumers about the personalisation service that they’re getting… And you see it on social media sites quite a lot, right, where they tell you why you’re getting this ad. And you can see a bit of information about why they think it’s relevant to you. And you can say, no, you were wrong, and you can change this. And I like that, because I think part of the reason why many people might perceive it as creepy is because it’s completely out of their control. You just get this stuff shoved in your face and you don’t want it. And as a organisation who is doing personalisation, it might be difficult to get it right all the time, but the way to avoid everyone then running away from the ability to market to them because they do opt out and giving them more information so they can decide maybe they just don’t want certain things but they’re okay with other things means it’s not a all in or all out kind of situation as well. But yeah you’re absolutely right I think the the balancing, thinking about whether someone will perceive it’s creepy is really critical when you’re designing the personalisation because you can’t be like oh this is so amazing this is so cool that we’re telling them all this stuff that they want. Which, as the people creating this personalised thing, is natural to think. But yeah, you’ve got to think about it from the other perspective of who’s receiving that, too.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, and just to close that off, I do think there is an element as well of people are quite willing to opt in if they see a benefit. And that applies not just into the B2C world but also B2B as well. Okay, do we want to have personalised offerings? Do we want to get that benefit. Yes. Okay. so therefore we are going to be giving more data. And we’ll probably come to this a bit later, but I think the data point is critical to that fair exchange of information to make it meaningful is because I’m seeing a benefit and I feel okay with that. Because actually, it saves me time. You know, so me telling a stylist what kind of clothes I like to wear and then them providing me a curated list of recommended clothes is really helpful, right? Because it saves time. You don’t have to worry about going around hundreds of shops to try and find that. But then some people may hate that. So it’s about the balancing act of there are some people who will be willing to give you more information and then making sure it’s really crystal clear that by doing that you then get this.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I think that’s really important as well. ‘Cause a lot of people could see personalisation and how things are targeted to you as purely more money for the company. And probably for when we think about the reasons to do personalisation, that will be to drive revenue. But you’re trying to educate those consumers about the products. And obviously we could be talking about in a B2B sense as well here. So let’s go back to the financial services organisation I was talking about. We’re trying to drive more educated individuals to speak to a salesperson. So they really understand the product, the use cases, how it can be used. And they’re like I’m ready. I want to talk to you now. And that limits the amount of time that they kind of have to spend talking to an actual human being in that scenario, which is more time for the consumer, and it also does help the business. And I think it’s okay to be more open about that that’s the fact. Like we’re trying to help you choose a product. So let’s say you’re not spending three hours a day, as my partner commonly does, scrolling through ASOS, because there are thousands of clothes which some people enjoy doing. But others of us, me, are like, I’m fine with them telling me what things I should be ordering, right? So like yes, fine they are forcing me down a route of you should buy this thing because they want me to buy the thing, but I need clothes, and I can’t be bothered to scroll for hours, so I’m okay with it and it’s clear that there’s that value exchange there. And I think for some like that scenario, for me, I am okay with it, but working out others where it’s like they don’t think they’re getting it, then maybe you need to try and work out those people who, they already spend lots of time searching for what they need. And gradually therefore giving them a bit more direction rather than suddenly trying to be like, buy this thing, buy this thing.

Simon Blosse: Well, I think you’ve touched upon something that’s really critical here, right? So, in that example, there are people who would like to spend hours searching and then there are people who don’t. And if you spend the same amount of energy and money on the people who would like to search, you’re wasting your time. Whereas, actually, if we find Tom and we’re like, you know what? We’ve got a perfect scenario for you. You don’t have to spend four hours on ASOS, you can actually, genuinely get a curated wardrobe. But that’s a great example of how targeting the right type of person or persona, if you want to be specific, is really crucial to making personalisation fruitful. Both in terms of revenue, but also in terms of the cost you can spend, because I think that’s one thing I have seen and previously has hurt a few projects that I’ve worked on when it comes to personalisation is it’s not cheap to do and if you get it wrong you spend a lot of money on pretty much just maintaining a status quo, and I think that’s something I’d like to talk about it a little bit because to really work out is the effort worth the return of personalisation, you have to, but first of all, be comfortable and confident on the basis of what we were saying around, have we got the right data in the first place to actually personalise? Because personalising the wrong way just turns customers away, but also it costs a lot of money to personalise and you have to do a lot of multivariant testing, you have to try and build up these scenarios that are not as easy as you may expect. And therefore trying to maintain a focus on revenue generation at the profitability level is a crucial factor to think about with personalisation that I found a lot of clients sometimes forget. They get very caught up on the dream state, you know, like the perfect storm of, oh we’ve got a Tom who wants basically to have a curated styled wardrobe and he’s going to buy it. And it’ll be like one day and doom, done. Versus someone else who actually isn’t quite up for that and would rather have a bit more of their own input into it and therefore doesn’t buy and then you spent the same amount of money on that person. And equally, with a curated list from information services or legal documents or whatever it is that your business is serving, you can sometimes spend so much energy and time trying to create what you think personalisation should be for your people, or your customers, and actually they don’t really need it. And I’m not trying to undermine the whole purpose of this podcast, but at the same time, I think there is a really important balancing act to be played here.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I think you’re right. And like personalisation can be a whole spectrum of things. and you don’t have to start from like the super snazzy AI driven models which you would assume you just switch on and they work but they need to know a lot of information about consumers to be effective. And we will talk about that a little bit more, like how you make sure you’ve got the right information but I just wanted to round off what you were saying there as well. Yeah, I think starting small, working on things where there’s an obvious need for personalisation, so if we go back to the financial services scenario again, where we know that there are different types of buyer, and we need to make sure that we’ve understood their different use cases. You could do something as simple as trying to create two to three different journeys, and at some point you’re trying to fork these people through journeys. All of that content already exists. All you’re doing is making a decision point. We’re saying, we think you might be more interested in this. and that won’t be very costly to do. And then you can measure the kind of conversion rates of that immediately and then you can try and layer on some other things.

Tom Carpenter: I think the other thing that is really difficult, I worked with a technology research organisation. So this is like you’re looking into how semiconductors are being manufactured and what technologies are going into TVs.

Simon Blosse: Right.

Tom Carpenter: And we wanted to personalise the experience of finding that research depending on who you were and how you found it. And we got to the point where they built an algorithm over multiple years and it was so unclear why some piece of content was being recommended. Because it was like, well, if this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this. And the algorithm just became way too complicated to understand. And it just wasn’t offering it. So we just stripped it right back. And were like, we’re going to do it based on topics they’ve told us they’re interested in. We’re going to do it based on the industry they’re in and the kind of role that they’re in and therefore it’s not going to be hyper hyper personalised, but it’s going to narrow down 10, 000 articles in a random order to 50 to 100 that are most relevant. And we immediately started seeing higher click through rates onto those articles just by using those three or four different factors rather than the thousand variables that we had before where it just became too difficult to work out what was really relevant to them.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, and it’s interesting you saying that because it reminds me of, I worked with a retailer on their online personalisation for their retail store. This is sort of probably in about 10 years ago, so I know that it’s advanced a little bit more, but when we were doing the personalisation of the engine that ultimately showed you products. There was almost what we called a  a dead end row, or dead end aisle I should say. And the reason that was happening was because the personalisation engine was taking all of the previous purchases, using that to then show others, and then resulted in basically the same stuff being shown. And I know that sounds quite basic, but it’s a good example of, I, and I’ve seen this repeated in a number of clients, where you kind of rely on the fact that previous purchases is what that person’s coming back for, or previous services is what the person’s coming back for. And unless you throw in the wild cards or unless you throw in the, kind of variances, that would be normally, if you imagine walking in the supermarket, you know, you get to see, like, oh, that random, like candle on the side, just because you bought a photo frame that happens to be sitting next to the candle, you might buy the candle. But then if you only ever saw candles, you’d never see the photo frame scenario. Now, I know that’s a bit a bit simplistic, but it applies to a lot of product personalisation, but also service personalisation that you end up assuming that the customers or consumers of your products only want the same thing again.

Tom Carpenter: Mm-hmm.

Simon Blosse: And so it’s really important when you are personalising to also think about how you drive that variance and you drive that randomness at the same time is also providing a bit of a tailored service.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, that’s true. I think this gets us onto another good topic, which is there are multiple ways of doing personalisation. We’ve got the one where it’s based on, your behaviours and what you’re doing. So you looked at this before, you clicked on that before, and that you might be interested in this. And some of that is driven by what we think they will be interested in, and some of that could be completely automated, AI driven, based on volumes of what other people are doing. We then have the one of asking them specifically what they’re interested in and giving them some topics, like, would you like this? Would you like that? And once they’ve done that, we then have tailored whatever service or set of products offered to them based on their choices. And then we have the third one, which is trying to work out more information about them.

Tom Carpenter: So that’s one where you’re saying like, you’re almost like offering these little, like does this interest you? Does that interest you? And it’s not necessarily trying to put them in boxes you’re right it’s trying to make them be a bit more expansive. And I think in order to do personalisation effectively, you can go down one of those three routes, but trying to balance all of those three together is also how you get the best out of it. So you can’t know everything about the customer. The more information you have about them, the more that you can personalise. So therefore you need to ask them some questions. And it would make sense to therefore do something with that information. So you ask them, are you this kind of role in this kind of organisation and you do this kind of thing. In which case, would you be interested in these kind of things? And they say yes. And you’re like, great. We personalise your experience for you. If you want to change this, go back and do this here. But then we use that information to do active personalisation as well once we’ve got that and we give them the ability to change their own experience that they can go and tweak some settings and change some stuff you see on some software applications, for example, you can move widgets around you can star things you can favourite things that’s you choosing how to personalise your experience. And so I think both things go quite well together because you can ask the customer questions, which allows them to personalise it themselves, and then use that information to drive your automated personalisation. If you were to just try and do automated personalisation, you are in danger of guessing a little bit, and it can be based on demographic information. And you will at some point probably need to try and get some more information about individuals. And the reason why Instagram and Facebook and Google are so good at it is because they know a terrifying amount about our lives because we spend so much time in their ecosystems that they understand how you interact with your friends. They understand what you’re doing, where you are. And very few organisations will have as much information as them. So it really frustrates me a little bit. You go into an organisation and we’re like, we want our search engine to be like Google. And you’re like, that is a multi trillion pound investment where you have so much data and information on customers to be able to create a Google style offering. That is a great aspiration and I love the ambition. But we’re not trying to do that as organisations. No organisation should necessarily be trying to be Google, because you can’t have that information. You can use Google’s services yourselves to target some of your customers, but the experience people are trying to create from a self service perspective needs to be much more driven by gathering information about customers, understanding more standardised routes that they might go to. And then using Google and Facebook and other ad platforms to push advertising, but not seeing that as your personalisation will ever be that kind of personalisation. So I think it’s good to be kind of grounded on what’s possible.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think, I think something that just struck me with what you were saying that I think is important, though, is the phasing. So, it’s interesting sort of, you know, give us this information so that we can personalise, is often an overlooked question. But actually quite a bold one to say. Because then you can start testing whether it’s actually worth the effort. And also, your customers can feel in control. So it’s like, you know what, Simon give, give me your information about where you live, what you kind of like, and we will personalise your experience for you. Okay, maybe. Give me your date of birth. Hell no. You know, it’s like, there’s that moment of like… Okay, this is getting too much. But it’s, but at the same time, if they have already built up that trust with you, if, if that business is providing you an amazing service and you want it to be even more personalised, it could be, it may not be date of birth, but it could just be like, what’s your age?

Simon Blosse: And also then that benefit of that kind of phasing is you build the trust, you kind of give a bit of information and then with that information they’ve given you a more personalised experience and then you’re like, oh, I see what it’s doing as a customer or consumer of those services or products. You’re like, Okay, I’m gonna do it again, and I’m gonna keep doing it.

Simon Blosse: And then suddenly, before you know it, you’re like, Yeah, hell, they’re the people I love to tell everything to, because they really, really helped my life, and they make me feel amazing and they’re very much in my world.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I think yeah, that’s interesting isn’t it, the day of birth one, because historically they, like, and some organisations still do this, you’d be like, if you tell us your exact day of birth we will give you a birthday present, or a birthday treat. And most people, in this day and age now, are probably like, I kind of see what you’re doing though, like I’m having to give away information and yeah, fine you’ll give me like a free ice cream. But that means I actually have to go into the shop on my actual birthday to get this free ice cream. So consumers are much more educated in what giving away data actually means. So I think there’s no point in trying to be sneaky about it in this day and age. Like consumers are smart. They’re going to work out that there’s some kind of reason why you want that information. So I do think it’s important to try and be transparent and honest about why that information is useful and how it’s going to be used. And the big tech firms are having a lot of legislation applied to them and being honest and open about that. And I think it’s important for all organisations to understand the reason for that is because that’s really in consumers faces, but all companies should be needing to be as transparent with what they’re doing with that information. And acts like GDPR and the California Protection Act enforce some of those things and a lot of organisations see that as a like, well, I, my check box needs to say this or that they’re not seeing it in the way it’s meant, which is it’s consumers information. it’s not your information and you need to be sensitive of how you handle that. And I think it can help build an intimacy with your customers if you are honest about that, like. We want your information and we are going to protect that and the reason why we want that information is so that we can try and work out what will be good for you and make sure you get the most out of our products. And if you don’t want our products that’s fine. You can unsubscribe. Uh you don’t have to be interested, but if you’re interested in our brand and in our products, this information will be helpful to us.

The balance between cost and personalisation

Simon Blosse: Yeah. And, so just to reflect a little bit on the concept of personalisation, I mentioned before about the cost of it can be very high right? So you can spend a fortune trying to personalise to the nth level and actually the benefit is not there because sometimes the most simplest options drive a sense of personalisation. And I think one of the concepts I’ve helped a few clients think about and what we’ve been talking about is, is about how the balance between the cost effectiveness and actually the sense of personalisation can be really utilised to create an illusion of personalisation, but sometimes that’s the case. right?

Simon Blosse: So, the most simplest example to bring this to life, if you are lucky enough to be able to buy a car that’s being built for you, you have a sense of, oh, it’s being personalised for me. But the reality is there are four options. There is the leather trim you’re gonna have, or the colour inside, you’re gonna have maybe, particular wheels that you can add, and there may be the colour of the actual car itself. So there’s three options, maybe four if you want to add like a particular level of interior sound that’s, that’s an illusion of personalised product that drives you to feel like that I’ve customised this and I’ve created this. And the reason I bring that, up to this conversation, because that applies across the whole spectrum of personalised offerings, whether it’s a personalised product, personalised service offerings. You can get the sense that you have a tailored service without actually having to create a genuinely, like, unique experience, unique product for each individual. And that’s really important when you’re thinking about your personalisation strategy, because if you go for a completely unique, tailored products, completely one to one, white glove service, your costs will just skyrocket. And the question you have to ask yourself as a business is, is that going to genuinely be worthwhile?

Simon Blosse: I don’t know, Tom, if you’ve got anything around that. But I think that something that is often necessary. Is that kind of almost spectrum of how much do we need to personalise to truly make it feel personal?

Offering choice and flexibility

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, we get onto a painful topic for me personally, which is almost like how many product lines do you offer, right? And I often say you need to give the customer choice and flexibility. But that’s in doing exactly as you’re saying, by being smart about the like, you want to pay for something monthly or yearly, you want to have access to a certain set of features or not you want to be able to change one aspect of it. What that doesn’t then do is create 1, 000 unique individual products. You’re right, it’s the same thing, there’s a different colour that you pay for in a certain way, for example. Right, what we’re trying to do is create flexibility so the customer doesn’t feel forced into doing something that’s not quite right to them without creating thousands of product lines. And I get it, many customers will say ‘I must have this exact product’ and therefore organisations will say ‘well we have to offer a thousand because you know, we’ve got a lot of unique customers who need unique things’ but we’re almost like

Simon Blosse: Bundles are the classic.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, we’re almost patting each other on the back about how we must have all of this stuff because it is offering a personalised product and all of this choice and flexibility. But in reality, you’re offering a 0. 00001% difference in value at a 100% cost differential on the other product. So yeah, it has to be like what is the return on investment for creating a new personalised thing versus will someone really not buy it if it’s that personalised? Yeah, so I think quite a lot of cost benefit needs to be done in what, what kind of areas you’re personalising. There’s also the concept of whether, as you say, you’re marketing personalisation, or you are truly offering something personalised. Like personalising experiences, personalising a product are two quite different things.

Simon Blosse: I think so, and I think I think getting that balance right is actually the answer. It’s funny how I just shouted about bundling a previous client of ours literally had a real challenge because of the nature of bundling products that was seen as like an individual product as a result of, Oh, this is the curated offering for student X and this is the curated offering for university Y or whatever. and as a result of that, the supply chain and the warehouses had a nightmare because they had to delay supply. They had to basically add extra steps in the process because the product itself seemed to be a curated one, but it was basically a bundled package that had to be created and then and then the challenges of that then the outer stocks or well even though the actual products are there and so it’s really important when you’re thinking about how you’re personalising your offerings the impact it has to the rest of your business, whether it’s supply, whether it’s it’s your product base. But the balancing act I think it does come to, it, the example to bring this to life around how you balance experience and product. So, talking about tailored service, so, if you think about like a personal shopper, we be highlighted like I think, example of Stitch, or like where you basically have a a curated wardrobe. They are not creating products for you. They are, they are selecting, and they’re very quite clever in the way that they balance the overall offer that they give you in terms of some maybe high end items and some unknown labels that you’d never normally buy. So they balance the product list, they balance the cost to serve that with the fact that there’s a curated sale and then they offer you that personalised experience because you feel like, oh yeah, they really know me. Oh, and by the way, it’s easier for me to just by the whole lot than it is to buy one or two of them. And equally, you know, even just going into a store and having a, a personal shopper experience, they are not making those clothes for you, they are selecting them. But then the extreme example is, you go into like Savile Row and you have like a tailored suit made for you, that’s not off the peg. And the reason I’m bringing that to life is that I think that same thing applies not just to clothes and tailors and so on, but also to the products and services you offer as a business. Because you could get caught up in the fact that you’re like, we have to customise everything for everyone. And maybe that is possible in your field, but majority of businesses we work with that’s not going to be cost effective. And actually, also, it’s probably not what customers need. they actually probably need a balance of just a curated set of offerings, or services, or products you already have. But they feel like, oh, you know what, I feel really looked after, and that’s where that balance between product and experience comes into play with personalisation, I feel.

Personalisation in B2B

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I agree. I think particularly in the B2B world as well, we’ve come to be this culture of when we sell something it’s got to be completely what the customer wants and the only way for it to be completely what the customer wants is for them to tell you each thing and then you to offer this completely choreographed basket or bundle of things which just they want, where in reality the experience around how they’re choosing it and what they choose can have lots of personalisation about it it’s like oh you’re this kind of person. Well, that means you could well be interested in this sort of thing. Is that, is that correct? Oh yes, it is. Well, in which case this product looked like it’s probably better for you without having to have this super complexity in the products. Cause yeah, you’re right. Figuratively, we’re saying not all organisations should try to be Savile Row.

Tom Carpenter: It’s a high price tag for a quality product. And that works for some organisations, but it’s not going to work for all. So we’re not striving towards that, we’re striving towards helping customers make good choices. and us understanding customers to help them get to that choice. And then some flexibility and choice in what they choose, but not seeing as it is like we have to create this completely unique thing. yeah, I agree.

Simon Blosse: So coming back to the actual challenge of should we be personalising or not. If I am listening to this and thinking right, am I doing enough? Am I not? Do you think it should just be offered or do you think there is an element of the customer or consumer of your product actually selecting some personalisation that could come into this?

Tom Carpenter: I think, so let’s say in the B2B world, I think it’s very hard to make an investment case for more self service, lower touch, and which by doing that you drive a different kind of market segment and target audience without having a personalised experience.

Tom Carpenter: Because there’s a lot of high touch sale B2B organisations where you’ve just got to talk to someone. It’s very difficult to work out the products. What they offer is very bespoke, but it doesn’t need to be. So I think for B2B organisations where you’re trying to broaden your market share, you’re trying to make your products more accessible. Let’s say you’re a bespoke  software organisation and the only way to buy your product is that it has to be set up by a consulting firm like us, for example. What about the small firms where they don’t want to be spending lots of money on consulting? They want to buy something out of the box, right? At the moment it’s very much like you’re either a highly bespoke thing where it’s high touch cost of sale high implementation. Or you’ve got this thing which is out of the box. And for me, like both organisations, it’s about bridging in the middle. And the way to bridge in the middle is for those highly bespoke things and organisations and products to be offering things which are more off the shelf and then helping to drive customers towards deciding it. So I think that’s the kind of key benefits case for doing personalisation is how much you’re using personalisation to reduce your cost of sale. Make decision making easier for customers and offer something at a price point where it would be difficult to buy that product today. I think that’s where the real value of personalisation comes in trying it from the start. I think the danger is people see it as a, as purely like a marketingy type tool. Where it’s like, well, let’s just try throwing this product in their face, throwing this other product in their face. That’s where personalisation goes wrong. That’s where you get into some of these discussions of it’s a bit weird, it’s a bit creepy why are you shoving all this stuff in my face? It’s not about sort of like volume of personalisation that you’re doing.

Tom Carpenter: You could do very limited interventions which are personalised and just see the impact that can have on conversion rates and volumes of customers being driven to your sites and then build upon that.

Moments that matter in personalisation

Simon Blosse: Yeah, I think what’s interesting there as well is, if you think about the experiences your customers are having, and we’ve probably talked about this before in terms of moments that matter. But I think when it comes to personalisation, moments that matter become even more important because you then have to make a decision is, is that point of the journey that a customer is going through, potentially automated can, can you potentially automate it or does it need a person to interact?

Simon Blosse: So that decision point around when do I personalise through automation or algorithms or AI or whatever we want to call it, systems. versus just making sure that, ‘Oh, hi Tom, thank you for receiving my call. I wanted to talk to you about my customised package, in terms of my offering’ it just makes a difference, right? And sometimes that’s where you can get real cost effectiveness. Because, yes, there is a scaling thing, but there’s also an element of, there are moments that really drive a personal experience that sometimes just come down to a really good solid conversation with a real person on the basis of real data.

Recommendations for successful personalisation

Simon Blosse: And I suppose just to close out this exploration of personalisation, I suppose, what’s the recommendations that we have, around what you need to think about if you want to drive successful personalisation? And what are the things to watch out for?

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, so I think gradually build up an accurate picture about your customer. I liked your point that you were making of like, that might be human touch. So that could just be as simple as you phone a support agent and they’re well aware of what interactions you’ve had before and what you’ve done and the things you like or don’t like. So use reliable data and information and keep that more limited. Test and learn things in small areas, right? Let’s not try and apply personalisation to everything and maybe apply it to some products in small, with small user groups with certain personas for example and see how that works before kind of destroying your customer journeys by it being overly personalised.

Tom Carpenter: Definitely need to start experimenting with AI and how that can take out some of the the manual efforts of gathering the information from the customers. For example, what can you use about their behaviours, the AI can learn over time. But again, try and do that in ways where you, you can see the results of it. So it’s not, it’s not too com  it’s not too complicated ’cause it’s intertwined with other things. You’ve changed a bit of the journey and you’ve added an AI and now we’re not quite sure what’s going on. So try and do that in kinda more isolated cases. And my favourite is do some Wizard of Oz. And for those of you who don’t know that term, this is a kind of design thinking way of trying something out without actually doing any of the implementation. So you’re going to do personalisation, in effect without any change of the process or technology build. So you you fabricate the fact that in the background you’re doing this kind of technology. This technology is doing it. So it’s like you enter a load of information and then it starts offering you a load of products. And that would take like a complicated algorithm to do. In reality what it’s doing is like you enter a load of information.  someone goes okay, that user is interested in X, Y, Z. And unfortunately Stitch aren’t one of our clients, but they could well be doing that, right? Like you give them information they go away and then they come back and they tell you, right? So it’s not some automated AI solution that could be really costly. They’re seeing if that kind of response works and if it does, then they can work on in the background automating that applying some technologies to that to take out all the manual effort on their side. So I would definitely recommend giving that a go as well before investing in lots of different platforms and technologies to try and achieve that without knowing if it’s definitely going to add value to customers.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, I think the word that just came to mind on what you were saying was experimentation is at the core of all personalisation. And I think the luxury that we have in the current climate of technology advancement, compared to probably 10 years ago when this was sort of kicking off, is the cost to experimentation with technology, making those if this then that scenarios, and then telling you whether it was good or bad. We’ve gone away from the A/B testing world into multivariate, into actual, okay, we now know this actually drives revenue, so when we show someone like Tom this, he tends to buy. So therefore we will show people like Tom this, and then you may get it wrong. But I think that’s the key thing is to never assume you know it and always to experiment with it.

Tom Carpenter: I totally agree with that.

Simon Blosse: And and I think that’s where, and also the other thing to bear in mind I’d recommend is back to that cost factor. I have seen a lot of money plowed into personalisation projects that have gone wrong because there’s an assumption that they knew what their customers wanted. That’s not personalisation, that’s assumptions on the basis of what you think your customers need. Which I suppose is echoing my experimentation point, but really look at the data. Really look at what the results are showing. And don’t get caught up on, oh, if we keep going it’s going to work. If it’s not working, it’s probably just because the personalisation is actually shoving people in the wrong direction. And so therefore be open to the fact that you may get it wrong. But also be open to the fact that sometimes personalisation itself isn’t necessary and it’s just more of a personalised experience in terms of the offering you’re giving or the, the, the, you know, personal conversation you’re having, that is worth probably thousands and thousands of pounds if you get it right. Versus creating this incredibly complex, systemic personalisation engine. Sometimes in your businesses, it’s worthwhile thinking about personalisation, but not trying to systemize it, and instead just being driven by that as process or principle.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah I agree. I guess this gets us back to the start well, right? Like, really know your customer. And how do you really know your customer? Talk to your customer. Test some of these ideas with your customers. We talked about incentivising people to give you data, for example. Get them in. Do some focus groups with them.  give them some Amazon vouchers Uh run some online sessions with them and really understand what makes them tick and what motivates them.

Simon Blosse: Fab. So I think well, hopefully you found that exciting and interesting to explore the world of personalisation. Thanks, Tom,

Tom Carpenter: No I had a lot of fun doing this I mean it’s great to talk to you about this subject. and I think we could delve a lot deeper into this subject too. So stay tuned to hear more information about how you can effectively personalise.

Simon Blosse: Thank you.

Tom Carpenter: Thanks everyone.

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