A successful online customer experience allows customers to self-segment and to introduce their own variations—in language, color, font size, content, and any other element that, when you put the control in their hands, makes them feel like a more-integrated part of your company.
Allow customers to co-create the total experience: Let them select and design everything from how you communicate with them to how they communicate with other customers to the features and look of the product itself. This is Self-Service 2.0—self-personalization. Customers are still doing some of your job, but now they’re taking over the personalization aspect of the experience.
If your self-service is going to work—for customers and for you—you must return to the core concept of self-service: “Make it my way.” Such personalization creates happier, more-engaged customers, motivated to tailor your brand to their own desires. Self-personalization experiences give a consumer control over the look and feel of brand interactions. Self-expressive experiences put a consumer’s individual stamp on your services and your brand—in essence, co-creating the value proposition you deliver to her. Lasting experiences evoke and preserve memories that lay the foundation of all future customer interactions.
Savvy companies are testing collaborative models in which customers can determine what they want and how they want it delivered, tailoring experiences to each individual. Airline customers checking themselves in can select from all remaining available seats—something that previously required (costly) employee intervention. Airlines were willing to cede power to customers in exchange for cost reduction and greater satisfaction. Capital One cardholders could select features important to them—trading off, say, a slightly higher interest rate for an increased reward rate. MyShape.com’s “Your Personal Shop” asks questions about a customer’s shape, style, and fit preferences, then assigns one of seven body shapes so consumers can shop accordingly. Customers can have a personal photograph featured on a Jones Soda bottle. Steve Madden footwear customers can design their own shoes (a privilege that costs about 25 percent to 30 percent more than a similar, noncustomized shoe, according to USA Today).
Bank customers have long had the option of personalized check designs. Some have co-branded credit cards—with pro teams, say, or alumni groups—and some select the pictures on the face of their cards. But there’s vast untapped potential for allowing customers to remain immersed in their own worlds while they interact with yours.
Self-Service 2.0 changes self-service itself, making it more about self than service. The Web site is no longer a destination; it’s a platform that allows the customer to co-create with you. Customers are saying, “We won’t simply be visitors—we’ll join in creating our own experience.” They’re going to shape the experience to their preferences, enabling service far different—far better—than you could provide on your own. This requires a fundamental shift in corporate thinking about customer relationships; corporate understanding of the customer; and corporate willingness to support customers’ interest in collaborating with each other and, yes, even with brands.
That’s why you can’t treat the Web as a channel. Channels imply that the brand controls the medium and customers just come to visit, do your work for you, and go away.
Lior Arussy (firstname.lastname@example.org), the founder and president of Strativity Group, is the author of several books, including Excellence Every Day (Information Today, Inc., 2008) and Customer Experience Strategy (2010), from which this piece is adapted. To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for his newsletter at Strativity Group’s homepage (www.strativity.com).