Authentic Versus Data-Driven Personalization


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According to Gartner, by 2025, 80% of marketers who have invested in [data-driven] personalization will abandon their efforts due to lack of ROI, the perils of customer data management, or both. In fact, Gartner reports that 27% of marketers believe data is the key obstacle to personalization.

While analytics- and algorithmic-based personalization may eventually lose traction or assume a lower profile, authentic, human personalization, however, will ALWAYS remain key to delivering a premium customer experience. When a contact center agent uses a customer’s name and account details to guide the conversation and asks open-ended questions to clarify needs, an agent gives the customer confidence that they are dealing with an expert.

Enabling employees to forge a good, old-fashioned, personalized and human connection with customers can have positive impacts on CSAT, customer spend, customer churn, KPI attainment, and first call resolution — all without unnecessary worry about triangulating data points to create a comprehensive view of the customer.

I had an opportunity recently to chat with three contact center operations leaders (Ameer Shakoor from VXI U.S. and Cate Perez and Lorraine Lavarro from VXI Philippines) to discuss the topic of customer personalization. Following are some of our thoughts and tips on the subject.

Authenticity = personalization

Within forward-thinking contact centers, gone are the days of stilted word-for-word scripts, off-target canned responses to inquiries, and using computer screens and fields to dictate conversational flow. These relationship-busters have been replaced with high-level guidelines, policies, procedures and offer options for agents; friendly questions and active listening; and trust in agent judgment.

Many companies now consider contact center agents as brand ambassadors charged with building long-term relationships more so than transaction-processors. This mindset/role shift requires empowering agents. Agents who excel in modern contact centers remain in touch with customers’ emotions; the interaction is less about updating fields and more about letting needs, preferences and personalities shine through.

VXI clients increasingly want end-users to have a personalized, genuine experience, as that type of interaction can aid in reducing churn. Many customers leave or cancel when they don’t understand the value, purpose, need, price, limitations, fit and features of the product or service, or don’t feel understood by the agent or the company. Agent-driven personalization allows for a freeflowing conversation to take place that will answer most, if not all, pertinent questions and lead to an organic solution or resolution that the customer fully participated in and is satisfied with.

Open-ended questions unearth root causes

While using a customer’s name and account details to guide the conversation definitely increases customer comfort and confidence, true personalization extends well beyond data. We have found that agents who are encouraged to improvise and use open-ended questioning techniques get to the heart of the matter — especially in sales, complaints, and technical support environments — faster.

At VXI, agents are actually “graded” on genuine customer response; our quality assurance (QA) guidelines ensure that conversations are as warm and friendly, effortless and customer-oriented as possible. In many cases, agents are encouraged to interact as if they are talking with their best friend. The QA team gives high praise to agents who look beyond the screen to ask discovery questions, probe more about feelings and come up with customized, tailored, personal responses for each situation. The QA team likes to hear agents pose such simple questions as:

  • Can you tell me more about the problems you are trying to address?
  • What are you going to use the product for?
  • What features are most important to you?
  • There’s a well-known technique that encourages relationship-builders and the curious to ask “why” 5 times to get to the heart and root-cause of every matter. While we don’t always ask the “5 whys” explicitly, we gently apply the same interrogative concepts. Agents probe deeply to determine how to best provide a solution. A recap at the end of the call also helps. The recap allows the customer to review everything that occurred, to convey any last details, and to ask additional questions. It allows the agent to discuss further options, confirm next steps and invite the customer to continue doing business with the company.

    Personalization no doubt drives CSAT improvements, but can create concerns around average handle time (AHT). At VXI, we have found that, somewhat counterintuitively, personalization is driving AHT reductions in some client accounts. By diving into details and letting customers dictate the flow of conversation, agents allow customers to express concerns and feel heard (increasing CSAT) but can also usually more quickly get to root causes and provide answers faster (reducing AHT and increasing first-call resolution).

    Tools to support agent-driven personalization

    While authenticity and personalization may sound easy, they’re often only techniques for longer-tenured agents.

    Initially, inexperienced agents may be reluctant to go off-script, particularly if the language of the call is not their first. Training and coaching play a big role in increasing an agent’s comfort level. Role playing, nesting and call listening with a buddy or team also increases agent confidence. Using a customized training simulation tool can provide exposure to a wide variety of scenarios and gives agents a safe place to practice. Improving language skills, increasing familiarity with products and offers, and rewarding and incentivizing authenticity and improvisation may also help to improve personalization.

    Adjusting KPIs to focus on customer satisfaction, retention and revenue generation may put the emphasis on true customer engagement. Giving agents a framework and the freedom to use their judgment with a customer within certain guidelines, policies and procedures is a more modern contact center approach. Having suggested responses for every possible customer scenario, for every customer type and every line of business is a thing of the past.

    Keeping basic customer records up to date, providing competitive intelligence tools (comparing across brands, price points, product features), and making product lookup and knowledge management tools available can give agents the best possible chances of personalization success. Instead of investing in complex and costly back-office customer data platforms and other advanced technologies, invest in your front-office — your agents — instead!

    Data-driven personalization may not be the panacea many marketers and BPO customers originally thought. Gartner, for example, has observed that impediments to data-based personalization success include declining consumer trust, increased scrutiny by regulators, tracking barriers and major technology hurdles. Luckily, there is another way: go back to the basics. Combining a few basic personal details about the customer – their name, product of interest and general location, for example – with natural open-ended questioning, an incredible amount of patience and a supportive tone of “I really want to understand what you’re going through, and the only reason I’m here is to help you” works wonders. Honest-to-goodness customer dialogue and a passion for people – like VXI has — will ensure that your company thrives well beyond the latest marketing trend.

    Peter Mullen
    Peter is Vice President of Marketing for VXI Global Solutions, one of the world's largest customer-care and customer-experience (CX) companies with 35,000 employees worldwide.


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