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Why a 'Personal' Customer Experience Is Critical to Your Business' Success Personalization? Customers don't fear it; they expect it. Just be sure to be transparent about how you use their data.

By Thomas Smale Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Saul Gravy | Getty Images

What do some of the world's most popular and successful websites have in common? While Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube all have different business models, each one does one thing very well: personalization. If you're a member of any one of these sites, the content that you personally see when you visit its homepage will be different from that other users see.

Related: The 3 Big Problems with Personalization in Online Sales and Marketing

So, whether you're perusing your newsfeed, product recommendations or suggestions as to what movie or video you should watch, you'll have a personalized experience based on data the site has previously collected about you (or any user),to create a homepage unique to you that truly feels like your own.

For your business to remain competitive in today's online business environment, it's vital that your company do the same thing: embrace the power of personalization to deliver a unique customer experience.

Here are some reasons,why you should do that, along with practical advice on creating a personal customer experience.

Customers expect personalization.

Increasingly, consumers are expecting a personalized experience from the websites they do business with. A recent survey by Epsilon found that 90 percent of consumers surveyed found personalization to be either very or somewhat appealing. Yet, according to Adobe, "Sixty percent of marketers struggle to personalize content in real time, even though 77 percent believe real-time personalization is crucial."

And, according to Salesforce, "70 percent of consumers say a company's understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty."

Given those important findings, your failure to personalize the customer experience may very well negatively impact perceptions about your business as well as your conversion rate itself. According to Experian, even some of the most rudimentary forms of personalization -- like marketing emails that address the recipient by name in the subject line -- are being practiced by only 30 percent of businesses,

The message: If you're looking for a way to differentiate your business from your competition -- and what entrepreneur isn't? --personalization can be a powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal.

Alex Allwood, author of Customer Experience Is the Brand, argues that customer experience is an even more crucial competitive differentiator than pricing or technology. As Allwood told The Guardian, "Today's marketplace has become very competitive and commoditized. There is little differentiation between one brand and the next.

"And so if you are already competing on price, technology or innovation, what is going to differentiate you from your competitors? What is going to be your point of difference?"

Related: This Is How You Discern the Person in All That Customer Personalization Data

The answer is how your customer experiences your brand," Allwood said. It's how your brand makes a customer feel.

Personalization technology is within reach.

Creating personalized content and delivering it to your customers across numerous channels has traditionally been a highly challenging process, requiring the use of multiple tools operating independently of one other and sophisticated coordination by marketers.

As Anita Brearton, CEO of the marketing technology firm CabinetM, has said, "A medium-size B2C company uses an average of 19 tools in its marketing organization; a larger company uses even more." Creating a 360-degree view of a customer that takes into account every interaction the or she has with your brand -- across multiple channels such as purchases, email and social media -- is extremely difficult when that information is siloed in multiple independent applications.

This is a problem that many of the world's biggest technology companies, such as Adobe, with Marketing Cloud and IBM, with Watson Campaign Automation, have tried to solve, but it's the newer players in the field, like Exponea, that promise to put the power of personalization into the hands of entrepreneurs and small businesses through automated technology and AI.

Harnessing the power of machine-learning, Exponea seeks to be a consolidated platform for the acquisition, conversion and retention of customers. Business owners can use it to unify omni-channel customer communications, email marketing automation, product recommendations, content personalization, analytics and ad management -- all in one platform.

Tools like this can help marketers develop omnichannel 1:1 personalized campaigns to target customers with pinpoint accuracy based on all of their previous interactions with your business.

Given the increased presence of machine-learning, AI and automated processes in the marketing strategy of businesses today, it's important for business owners to make sure they remain relevant and competitive by putting smart tools to work for them. Exponea is one of the best solutions on the market, putting into the hands of much smaller companies the tools that giants like Amazon use, to drive sales and customer engagement

In fact, according to the SaaS 1000, Exponea is currently the sixth fastest-growing SaaS company in Europe, with a six-month growth rate of 58.7 percent.

You'll build trust through transparency.

According to a Columbia Business School survey, 75 percent of consumers polled expressed a willingness to share their personal data with companies they trust. One of the best ways to build this trust with your own customers is to be fully transparent about the data you're collecting from them, the uses that data will be put to and the benefits customers may derive from this use.

The European Union's recently enforced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides a road map to how business owners can provide greater transparency in how sensitive consumer data is collected and processed; GDPR also establishes a higher standard of consumer consent to its use than was previously used.

Microsoft recently garnered positive press coverage by committing to apply these protections to all of its customers worldwide.

Following Microsoft's lead will is a good idea. First, it will ensure that your business is GDPR-compliant -- offering your business protection from potentially crippling fines for improper handling of the data of EU citizens. And, second, being transparent with customers will give you the opportunity to demonstrate how seriously you take the safeguarding of their sensitive data.

What's more, explaining the benefits customers may experience by providing your business with personal information may also give you the opportunity to collect additional information from them, perhaps through surveys and questionnaires. That opportunity will help you personalize the communications customers receive from your business far in to the future.

Final thoughts

For some time now, the world's most successful and well-known websites have made extensive use of personalization through their own proprietary tools. But marketing platforms like Exponea are helping to level the playing field so that small businesses can also deliver personalized content to their customers. And that has the potential to significantly improve the customer experience and potentially growing those businesses' bottom line.

Related: When Marketing Personalization Fails

Further, building trust with your customers by being transparent about the ways in which you will use their data can help them feel some clarity in their relationship with your business, making them more likely to become, and remain, loyal consumers.

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010, growing the business with zero funds from scratch to a seven-figure-a-year business. Specializing in advising and brokering the sale of established websites and online businesses, FE International has completed over 300 transactions. Smale has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

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