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The Personal Touch: Individualizing Customer Experiences in a Digital Era

In this day and age, information is gathered so easily from the many digital snail trails we leave across the Internet. This information can be used to better segment, interact, and deliver certain product offerings designed to delight certain groups of customers.

However there is a big difference between targeting a certain group of likeminded customers, and actually engaging with an individual customer based on their specific, nuanced interests. This is what companies need to realize: individualize your customer experience and your audience will never again settle for less. Individualize your customer experience and your audience will want to transact with your company again and again.

Seattle companies have been perfecting this art for a while. I think this is partly due to the laidback flavor of the companies in the area, perpetually operating in that close-knit start-up stage, where every day is casual Friday and every customer is your friend. There’s less hierarchy and it’s a flatter, more communicative workplace, which in turn trickles down into the customer experience.

Take for example retail giant Nordstrom, a multibillion-dollar company headquartered out of Seattle. Despite its status, Nordstrom isn’t above communicating on a personal, one-on-one level with their customers. In fact, their company is founded on just that value, among others. Every tweet in which I’ve tagged Nordstrom has received a personal response, and furthermore, always within a day.

A social media study conducted by UberVu last December shows Nordstrom receives almost 50,000 Twitter mentions a day. Now, we know all tweets are far from created equal, but a personalized response not only makes the customer feel cared for and validated, most people get excited and either favorite or retweet it. This draws the customer into an ongoing conversation with the brand and further perpetuates the most influential form of advertising: positive word of mouth.

This is what Micah Solomon refers to in his Forbes article as “Rockstar Syndrome.” Individualizing a customer’s social media experience by default means they’re the center of attention, which is what in turn makes them loyal to a brand. A customer will always be more receptive to a personalized response inviting them to discuss their experience further, offering assistance, or even just thanking them for shopping, the most simple but also most powerful and oft overlooked interaction.

So be better than one-size-fits-all auto replies, mass mail circulars reading “Attention: Resident,” and Facebook banner ads that harass users indiscriminately based on search history. Be brave enough to build a bond with each and every customer who takes the time to air an opinion about your products or services, whether it is negative or positive.

Speaking as someone with extensive background in the customer service and retail industries, if you really want your company’s success to be built on a solid foundation, you have to make it a priority to care enough about the customer to see them as an individual instead of a dollar sign. Reaching out to them, listening to what they have to say, and engaging them in a response that is clearly tailored to their situation and not a form letter is all it takes to turn a negative customer service situation around and win you a shopper for life.

Forming a personal bond with a customer might take a little more time and money in the short run, but in the long run, you’re investing in that customer’s lifetime value. Quality over quantity and a personal touch will win out every time. There’s a reason why Nordstrom has been in business for over 100 years, and this is it.

Some tips for companies looking to make the leap:
• Get in the habit of checking your social media streams every day, throughout the day so you can respond real time and keep on top of user interactions. Download HootSuite or Curalate.
• Make it a priority to respond to all interactions of value, even negative ones, because upset customers, once pacified, are the most loyal customers of all.
• Respond to customer interactions even when there is no immediate payoff to you. The smallest comments, positive encouragements, or even a simple thank you are what resonates the most because it’s what distances you the most from being a faceless corporation.
• Share candid moments in the office or employee occurrences. Allow customers to put faces and personalities to the brand name and bond with the people that make up the company.