Personalized customer service: what it is and how to provide it
Personalization matters more than ever before. Here’s how to leverage customer data and omnichannel support to create personalized customer experiences.
Published June 28, 2019
Last updated August 20, 2021
In 2021, personalized customer service happens at scale with software solutions. These tools provide data that empowers support teams to assist customers and make personalized recommendations.
The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report found that consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with companies collecting their personal data—as long as it’s being used to improve their customer experience. They don’t want to be spammed, but they do seek and accept well-timed, appropriate messages. Consumers often appreciate custom communications sent via email, text, messaging apps, or some combination thereof.
In this piece, we’ll look at how consumer expectations are changing and what your company can do to provide personalized customer service that will keep customers coming back for more.
What is personalized service?
Personalized service is providing customer experiences that are tailored to the consumer’s individual needs and preferences. Personalization often makes customers feel more valued, which inspires greater brand loyalty.
Companies provide personalized service by documenting customer data and interactions, then leveraging that information to cater to the consumer. Personalized customer service could take the form of communicating with customers through their preferred channels. It could also involve accessing customer data to immediately provide relevant product recommendations or support resolutions.
According to our CX Trends Report, both consumers and companies say that customer experience has become more important to them over the past year. And for many buyers, a better customer experience means one that’s more personal.
Why customers expect personalized service
- Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 69 percent decline in privacy concerns among consumers in the United Kingdom and a 61 percent drop in the United States.
- The share of customers who believe that companies should “collect as little data as possible” dropped from 28 percent in 2019 to just 12 percent in 2020.
To boot, most consumers expect the level of personalized service that requires data collection and sharing:
- Seventy-six percent of survey respondents expect personalized experiences, which could include (but is not limited to) engagement over their preferred contact method, account type or status, and product recommendations based on purchase and search history.
- Seventy-one percent of customers surveyed said that they expect companies to collaborate internally so they don’t have to repeat themselves.
What are the benefits of personalized customer service?
Faster, more convenient customer experience
With the aid of customer data analytics, you can keep track of your customer's preferences, account history, purchases and returns, and interactions across service channels. When that data is easy for your customer service team to see, it makes it easier for them to answer questions and help resolve issues quickly.
Helps you meet sky-high customer expectations
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, online shoppers expect personalized customer service, and that's not likely to change. The pandemic created “a new generation of people who increasingly go online for all of life’s daily needs and expect services like curbside pickup,” Vineet Mehra, global CMO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, told Adweek.
It’s expected that consumers will continue to want personalized ecommerce experiences for the long haul. In fact, many companies are betting on it— the Customer Experience Trends Report shows 46 percent of businesses are now investing in data for personalization. That’s nearly double the amount of organizations that were investing in that type of data pre-COVID. What's more, 65% of customers want to buy from companies that provide quick and easy online transactions.
To be successful, brands will need to continue providing optimal shopping and support experiences with heightened customer personalization.
Drives customer loyalty
The global health crisis sparked an acceleration in adoption of digital-first tools, and that trend shows no signs of stopping. According to the Customer Experience Trends Report, ecommerce sales jumped 30% during the pandemic, and half of customers say customer experience is more important to them now than it was a year ago. The stakes remain high as customers did not become more forgiving during the pandemic: one bad experience is still enough for them to take their business elsewhere. Personalized service can create a better customer experience, and that can create loyalty.
How do you provide personalized customer service?
You don’t want to be the brand that goes overboard on personalization—creating that “creepy” feeling that sets in whenever a company seems to know too much about you. So, how do you strike the right balance with personalized customer service?
There are two keys to walking the tightrope:
- Use data responsibly to provide personalized service.
- Deliver a context-rich, omnichannel support experience.
The first holds you back from being overly invasive. The second ensures that you’re still able to reach customers everywhere they want you to be.
1. Use data responsibly to provide personalized service
Personalization should balance technology with human considerations. As with any tech solution, relying solely on data without interpreting it thoughtfully in context can lead to annoying or embarrassing missteps.
For example, bombarding customers with ads for products they viewed for less than a few seconds is going too far. A software solution might read a brief page visit as a serious sign of interest, but you know from your own shopping experience that they may have just been browsing.
Using data to provide personalized service means anticipating customers’ needs in a way that feels like magic. Take the MyMagic+ wristband technology that gives Walt Disney World employees the information they need to create memorable, personalized experiences for their visitors.
Say someone is wearing a Disney MagicBand and has made a reservation for dinner.
- The host will greet them by name when they arrive at the restaurant.
- The host receives a signal on their mobile device when the person is a few paces away, prompting the kitchen to start their pre-programmed food order.
- When the guest sits down at their table, a receiver in the table detects their MagicBand to let the server know to bring out their meal.
From the customer’s point of view, this experience feels magical.
As you create personalized customer experiences, aim for the usefulness that Disney achieved with its MagicBand—and be transparent with customers about why you’re capturing their data in the first place. If you need the information to create genuinely valuable experiences, consumers are likely to be on board.
2. Deliver a context-rich, omnichannel support experience
Customers today expect brands to offer support on multiple channels, not just a single one. As more companies meet this demand with omnichannel customer service, personalization tools can help provide superior, seamless service across channels.
Say, for example, a customer reaches out by email but then switches to a chat window for more immediate service. Personalization software can let the support agent know that this is the second time the customer has tried to contact the brand.
In June 2020, Walgreens announced a more convenient omnichannel customer experience powered by personalization. The company’s technology serves customers making both BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) and physical retail purchases:
- If a customer purchases a vitamin supplement online, they’re reminded to buy it again in 30 days via email.
- If a customer is shopping at a brick-and-mortar location, they may refill their prescription in person and then be notified by the pharmacy’s app when their scheduled prescription is available for pickup.
Walgreens’ custom tools also include personalized offers and individualized product recommendations for beauty shoppers. It’s a good example of an enterprise-level personalization service that makes a customer feel like one in a million.
An omnichannel approach to customer service also enables companies to harness the full potential of messaging, a convenient communication channel that became increasingly popular during COVID-19. In fact, support requests over messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger saw a significant surge due to the pandemic.
Messaging has grown faster than any other channel—and many businesses have caught on. Among the 40 percent of companies that added a new channel in 2021, over half turned to messaging, adopting apps like WhatsApp, SMS/texting, and in-app messaging. Zendesk also found that the brands with the fastest resolution times and the highest customer satisfaction scores are more likely to use messaging.
Messaging gives customers a more casual, conversational format for resolving issues and interacting with brands. After all, this is the same channel they use to keep in touch with their friends and family. And companies can make the messaging experience more personalized by giving their support agents more customer context.
Connect your messaging channels with other support channels to create a single hub where agents have access to all customer interactions. This enables agents to respond to customers across channels—including chat, email, phone and social messaging—from one place. That way, when a customer tries to return a product, for example, the agent will have visibility into:
- The customer’s contact information
- The customer’s previous support interactions, including those on other channels
- The customer’s account type or status, which could determine their eligibility for a free return
Agents can see this information regardless of the channel they’re on. If they’re using an omnichannel messaging platform like Zendesk, support teams can also easily transfer the conversation from a messaging app to a web chat, from an email to SMS, or from social media to the phone—any combination that makes sense.
When the conversation moves, the interaction history and customer context comes with it, so both the business and the buyer benefit from a continuous, cross-channel conversation thread. The customer’s identity is unified in the company’s software, allowing brands to provide an omnichannel, personalized experience.
Use personalized service to bolster omnichannel shopping and support solutions, and you’ll be able to provide excellent service no matter where your customers are.
Personalize service in a way that genuinely serves the customer
Whatever your solution for enabling personalized customer service, focusing on the customer is key. The curated messages and offers you send to a consumer should be legitimately useful to them. Providing value in your personalized communication makes the difference between being dismissed as spam and gaining a loyal customer.