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Article | Technology Gets Personal

Technology’s Future: Simple + Personal

Innovations like the iPhone and Amazon.com started a revolution. They showed that it was possible to enable the types of experiences consumers want by using technology largely behind the scenes. They proved that combining customer-centric strategy and leading-edge technology results in simple and personal experiences. These experiences build customer loyalty and company strength while often making organizations more lean and efficient.

Who wouldn’t want to do the same thing? Many executives strive to emulate the business models of the world’s leading tech and customer-focused companies. They want to make their products and services evoke the same positive reactions and emotions that people have when they use an Apple product or shop on Amazon.com. 

Unlike these two companies, however, many organizations end up sacrificing one goal in favor of the other. Simple interactions are developed at the expense of personalization. Or complicated systems and processes are put in place to enable a personalized experience. In the end, users are frustrated and the products or programs often fail. 

I have four credit cards with one of the leading card companies—one for business, one I book all of my travel on, and the others for personal use. Recently I received an email alert that my bill was due on one of them. That’s great proactive, personalized service, and it was a simple click to get to the website to pay my bill. However, when I logged into the company’s site, it dumped me on its default homepage. I had to cycle through the cards, and then I had to navigate to find the payment page for the card in question. This made my experience more complicated, and it was missing the personalization element that I expected from the initial email interaction.

Personalization means more than a customer’s name on an email or a welcome screen when you login to a website. You have to know your customers, what they like and don’t like, why and how they interact with you, and understand the value of the relationship, both to your organization, and you to them. Then you must create interaction strategies, products, and services that positively develop satisfaction, relationship strength, and loyalty. 

Who’s doing it?

We’re beginning to see a paradigm shift toward simplicity and personalization in business. It’s no coincidence that Pandora Music and Google Maps made the most popular mobile app list last year. Each of them enables simple and personal experiences. Want to hear music similar to that of a band you like? Just type in the name of the band on Pandora. Lots of technology and algorithms work behind the scenes to serve up relevant and personalized music just for you. Users can save their own channels and rank songs to further personalize their experience. Google Maps knows exactly where a user is to give real-time map info. It automatically saves common places such as “home” and “work” for users, and connects to Google searches done on other devices to simplify and personalize the travel experience. 

It’s not just the high-tech industries that can benefit. Mobile deposits are table stakes in banking now—there’s no need to go to a bank or ATM to deposit money. Just take a photo and it gets deposited directly into your account. And new simple activities are being introduced, such as mobile bill payments, at USAA, U.S. Bank, and many others as a way to differentiate with a simple experience. 

Companies without scores of data analysts and advanced systems can also make an experience simple and personal. Harry’s is a direct-to-consumer company that ships you razors and shaving supplies on a regular basis. That alone isn’t anything new. Amazon has a version of this, and Dollar Shave Club predates and is a competitor to Harry’s. What hooked me on Harry’s was that the day after I placed my order I received a personalized introduction email from a Harry’s employee, thanking me for my business and sharing her direct phone and email if I had any problems or questions. I knew Harry’s would be simple, but this is amazing and personal customer service too—so much so that I forwarded the email along to my boss and wife.   

No matter what your business, consumers will reward companies that provide experiences that are simple AND personal, not one or the other.

That’s a tall order. Enabling simplicity and personalization at scale can be a daunting task on their own, let alone both. Data and analytics programs are getting more robust, but companies often struggle with what to do with the data they have. My credit card company knew to send me an email, for instance, but the campaign management program didn’t align with the online systems to prompt me to pay a specific bill online. This reveals another challenge—getting disparate systems to talk to one another. And of course, you don’t want to make customers uneasy by getting too personal, or execute a program poorly so that it does more harm than if you did nothing. Finally, being simple and personal requires significant investment. It can get expensive, and it doesn’t always generate quick ROI. 

Get over “it’s complicated”

All of these challenges can be overcome. Firms need to think about the strategy behind the technology, and in what parts of the business they want to invest to enable simple and personal interactions. The starting point will be different for every company. For some, it may be a new CRM strategy, for others, they may re-engineer products or support capabilities. We recommend you do research to learn what customers want, need, and will respond to. Then, align all the pieces of the business that are connected to those goals and strategies. 

One of the most common roadblocks to enabling a superior experience is the “it’s complicated” excuse. There’s definitely weight to that, but nearly any major initiative will include some layer of complexity. However, if you hear this excuse a lot within your company, that’s probably an indicator that change is needed now. If employees consider processes, systems, and the overall experience complicated, chances are your customers do too. And, companies with complicated experiences will face more challenges as competitors do things more simply and personally.

Those who have said things are too complicated are usually proven wrong in the end. Space stations, home personal computers, driverless cars, streaming video on mobile devices—all of these were at one time considered too complicated to succeed. There’s no denying that it is hard. But commitment from the top, long-term strategy, and operational focus from within will allow a company to create simple and personal interactions.

Conclusion

The revolution that began with the Internet and smartphone boom can’t be denied. Consumers are looking for companies that provide simple and personal interactions. They won’t put up with anything less, because they don’t have to. If your company doesn’t do it, they will find another company that will. Consumers are waiting for the next Apple or Amazon. Why can’t that be you?