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THINK Contributor

3 behavioral mind-sets for accurate content personalization

By , March 15, 2017
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Content personalization isn’t there just to make marketers feel good! It’s all about making the customer journey smoother, helping customers to be informed to make the best choice – which leads to better and quicker sales and service outcomes.

I would suggest that content personalization is a commercial imperative in today’s world of short attention spans and rising expectations for a great user experience (see Sarah’s Gibb’s article: Future shoppers: What research tells us about Gen Z).

It will lead to fewer abandonments, greater conversion rates, better quality sales (i.e., best product), fewer service inquiries, and better educated self-service. In short, happier customers!

There’s a great personalized marketing resource building up on the IBM THINK Marketing site – take a look here

The field of psychographic segmentation is fast developing from traits of personality/values/attitudes/interests/lifestyles (e.g., Young & Rubicam’s Cross Cultural Consumer Characterization – 4Cs) into the realm of Behavioral Science. This is fascinating from an academic perspective, but we can’t expect front-line staff and UX designers to understand it all! I’d therefore like to propose a simple approach that will help companies start seeing the benefits described without having to commission doctorates for all their staff.

Even customers who sit in one particular psychographic segment will have different behavioral mind-sets that staff and UX journeys need to distinguish between, which is where Cognitive and Behavioral Science come in.

To make a start, I’d like to suggest there are three basic mind-sets that you or I might be in when we shop or have a service need (regardless of which channel we choose):

  • I know exactly what I want
  • I don’t know what I want and need advice
  • I think I know what I want, but soon find out that I need assistance

It’s a massive mistake to assume any of these mind-sets in our customer experience design, so I’d like to briefly unpack each mind-set and consider how we can help discern which the customer is in.

Mind-set #1: I know exactly what I want

This mind-set is driven by self-assurance within the customer that they have enough information already to choose the best product or right service, and just want to execute on that choice.

Brand loyalty is a key driver of such assurance, and so is independent pre-research into the available options. Customers in this mind-set are unlikely to be open to alternative suggestions, and it is speed and ease that will determine their satisfaction.

To illustrate this, I’d like to recount the experience of buying my wife’s first smartphone. She wanted an iPhone. We went to our mobile provider’s shop and asked for an iPhone. The salesman tried to sell her an Android phone. She wanted an iPhone. The salesman tried to sell her a different Android phone (maybe to meet a sales target?). She wanted an iPhone. By the time the salesman relented and sold her what she wanted, we had almost run out of time to actually complete the sale (i.e., they nearly didn’t sell us anything), and we only just avoided a parking fine! The salesman also begged us to give him an NPS score of 9 or 10, otherwise he’d get into trouble. Bad experience!

My point is, this mind-set needs immediate recognition and swift fulfillment.

In face-to-face and telephonic interactions, this means open questioning and good empathetic skills. It also needs a willingness for the salesperson to defer to the customer’s choice and to compromise their commission when it’s the right thing to do.

For digital interactions, we need better customer journey analytics, cognitive tools, and social listening to enable predictive modelling to drive content personalization that leads to the simplest user journey possible for the outcome desired.

Don’t forget, this applies to service interactions as well. Opening statements such as “I’d like to complain,” navigation straight to service/FAQ pages, or searching for key “service” words on your website are good predictors of this mind-set.

I’m not saying these customers aren’t open to cross-selling or up-selling. I am saying they won’t be open to it unless they have confidence that you’ll give them what they asked for. Once you’ve gained that trust, you can open the conversation or user journey up to alternatives or on-sell. As they say in comedy – it’s all about timing.

Mind-set #2: I don’t know what I want and need advice

This mind-set is the easiest to identify and respond to as the customer is more likely to flag that they need assistance and will give sufficient time to receive advice.

It is also the mind-set for which personalized content will have its biggest impact in guiding the customer to their point of decision (i.e., reach mind-set #1!). In general, customers will have this mind-set when they’re outside their comfort zones, such as when they’re:

  • Considering a new or unfamiliar piece of technology
  • Buying products on behalf of others or as a gift
  • Life stage changes (especially for financial advice); “flying solo” for the first time
  • When something has gone wrong
  • When all the choices available are unrecognized brands, so the customer is taking a “leap of trust”
  • Big-ticket durable items that will have to be lived with for the next several years
  • Going somewhere new (even if it’s just a different restaurant!)
  • Just want a change (don’t underestimate this!)

Companies need to recognize this mind-set as a gift, as it allows them to demonstrate their knowledge, sales/service expertise, and joined-up channels. Customers who are helped when they’re in this mind-set are more likely to become loyal advocates, as they will appreciate your investment in them. Storytelling is becoming evermore important in marketing, and this is where stories are made.

However, many retailers do the opposite! They brand these customers as “time wasters” and would much rather deal with people in mind-set #1 to get quick sales.

Trying to force a decision too early can destroy trust. And, as they say, patience is a virtue.

Mind-set #3: I think I know what I want, but soon find out that I need assistance

I guess this is the most common mind-set and the one for which most retailers and user journeys are set up. Possible scenarios include:

  • The chosen brand/product/service is not available when required or is more expensive than expected, so alternatives or compromises must be found quickly
  • The customer is working on outdated or misinformed information and realizes the need for swift education on the subject
  • The customer has made a choice, but just needs confirmatory advice that it’s a good decision
  • The customer has narrowed it down to a few options and just needs helping over the decision line
  • A concern escalates into a complaint
  • The customer is wrong (yes, it can happen) and it would be unethical to sell them something they don’t need or can’t afford

A good example of most the above would the purchase of a new PC or tablet. I recently went online to buy my son a new PC before he went to college, and thought I was in mind-set #1, but was soon befuddled by all the choices available of brand, device, processor, operating system, etc. In the end, I went to a physical retailer who won the sale because they could get me over the line.

This underlines the need for a truly omnichannel approach and customer engagement/digital marketing analytics – which are, of course, some of the reasons for IBM Watson’s being.


Peter Lavers is an expert in CRM and customer experience management. He is one of the world’s top influencers on the subject (e.g., Satmetrix Top 50 & SAP Top 60 Customer Experience influencers; Vcare Top 50 Customer Care influencers; Huffington Post Top 100 Customer Service professionals; and MindTouch Top 50 Customer Success influencers).The insights he has derived from these engagements give him a unique perspective on what does and doesn’t work in the field of customer management. Peter is a paid contributor to THINK Marketing.

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