In a digital world where people can order anything instantly, there’s one thing that’s made more difficult: the personal touch. Businesses interacting with their customers must offer personalized services that set them apart and build loyalty. The good news is that when used properly, digital channels can make that easier, not harder.
COVID-19 accelerated the use of online interactions for most businesses and their customers. According to McKinsey, three in four consumers tried a new shopping behavior during the first 18 months of the pandemic, and most of them expected to continue. Consequently, online spending now sits at 30% above pre-pandemic levels.
There’s no doubt that virtual interactions can be more efficient. Customers don’t have to travel when interacting with service providers like financial advisors and realtors. That makes life easier for the customer. It also reduces cost for the service provider while increasing efficiency. Done properly, it can also streamline interactions with customers, collecting data for processing more quickly.
However, there’s a dehumanizing downside. Customers want to feel special, and that friendly touch they get from a face-to-face meeting can easily evaporate in a digital environment. Poorly-managed digitization can replace a firm handshake and a chat about the family with a flurry of cold, impersonal online form filling.
McKinsey found that 76% of consumers get frustrated when they don’t get a personalized service. Conversely, the same number are more likely to buy from brands that personalize.
Seven steps to online personalization
So, how can realtors, bankers, title agents, and other service providers make virtual moments feel personal and special? We identified seven approaches that will help combine the efficiency of digital interaction with the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from personalized service.
1. Easy navigation
Effective user experience design is a key part component of the personalization process. Build easily navigable interfaces for web and mobile applications. Easy online navigation was the most called-for personalization technique in McKinsey’s survey.
Examine your typical customers and the different things they want to do on your site. These activities, often called ‘user stories’, might include anything from booking a consultation to updating their portfolio to changing an appointment. Create interaction flows in your site or app to guide visitors through them. These interfaces may vary based on your customer’s persona. An online app for a millennial’s cryptocurrency account might look radically different from a financial advisor website targeting risk-averse older generations with less technology experience.
2. Get onboarding right
Onboarding customers is your chance to understand their preferences and needs. The data you collect should go beyond basic name and address data. Include things like their contact preferences. How frequently do they like to be contacted, and what channel (for example email, text, or Facebook Messenger)? Allow them to update these options on an ongoing basis.
3. Tailored messaging
The data you collect during onboarding and subsequent transactions can inform a tailored campaign of messages for customers. Using their first name in online interfaces and communications is essential, but it can go beyond that. You might send one customer frequent updates by text, while another might only want weekly digests via email.
Use this tailored messaging to show that you care about your customers’ behavior. When they abandon an online shopping cart or stop arranging an appointment through your online calendar, automated systems could send them a message asking if they need help.
Personalized messages can also show that you understand their situation. For example, a financial advisor might email a customer with a young child about how to create a 529 plan for education savings, while targeting seniors with advice about investments or estate planning.
4. Relevant recommendations
This data can help companies make more relevant recommendations to customers. A realtor that knows a potential buyer is a young couple and understands their budget could tailor online account pages or emails with specific properties matching their situation.
Go even further by sending messages with targeted promotions to make customers feel that you understand their needs. Fuel these offers with data collected during onboarding and gleaned from past purchases.
5. Merge the virtual and the physical
Online interactions don’t have to be all about data entry. Thanks to video conferencing, you can still meet customers online for that personal touch. This is an excellent option for financial advisors, realtors, and lawyers to connect more closely with customers and establish a stronger bond.
Video sessions are also a powerful way to support the sales process. You might also consider software that allows members of your team to browse retail options or web pages alongside your potential customer, so they can provide advice and feedback in real time.
6. Post-purchase follow-ups
One of the most powerful techniques for personalizing digital interactions comes after the customer has purchased a product or service. Following up with the customer afterwards to see how everything went can show them that you’re in this relationship for the long term.
You can handle such follow-ups entirely with a marketing automation system, but for an extra personal touch, a live phone call can show customers that you’re thinking of them. You can even make a discrete service of it. Apple, which excels at customer experience, offers personalized post-purchase education sessions with customers to help them get the most out of its products.
Take it offline altogether
All of these online options will help you to create a more personal digital experience for customers, but you needn’t abandon the in-person element altogether. Depending on your business, it might sense to make a point of building relationships with periodic physical meetings, despite having your whole process digitized.
This could be as simple as meeting up during a critical point in a complex transaction. Or your business could hold regular customer appreciation events, especially if your client base is all local.
Personal relationships need not suffer when you take your business digital. In fact, a shift in perspective could leave you more engaged with customers on a personal level than ever before. Data collected via digital channels will help you to know your clientele better and court them with relevant messages and products. It’s a new, hybrid approach to old-school customer courtesy.