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Digital enterprises are getting VERY personal with customers

Stephanie Overby | Aug. 3, 2015
Typical medical laboratory reports could hardly be less personal. Whether they're for basic blood work or a battery of tests for serious disease, the black-and-white printouts of results--presenting a sea of cryptic abbreviations and numbers--remain largely indecipherable to the patients whose health depends upon them.

Arumugavelu wasn't sure how customers would respond to the personalization efforts at Verizon Wireless. But "once we made it clear exactly what we were asking consent for, we were pleasantly surprised with the take rates," he says. "Customers opted in at much higher rates than we anticipated. It goes to prove that as long as the customer feels they are getting something in return--a contextual, relevant experience that makes it easier for them to do business with you--they are more than happy to sign up for these experiences. It's better than being bombarded with coupons and gift cards that don't make sense for them."

Customer backlash over privacy concerns isn't the only risk for personalization initiatives. Bad execution can also be a problem. "Really poor customization risks alienating your customers," says McDonnell Feit. The key, says Hansen, is to "test, test, test" to make sure your new system works.

Evolution, Not a Revolution

Ultimately, customization programs take time. Just look at the king of online Its now-revered recommendation engine is the result of years of trial, error and refinement. And it's still not perfect. But customers trust that, more often than not, they're getting good value out of the experience.

CIO 100 honorees Boston Heart, Verizon Wireless, Hilton Worldwide and CUNA Mutual were recognized for their recent customer personalization efforts, but all four companies have been working for years to build platforms capable of supporting stronger one-on-one connections with customers. And their award-winning projects are just a first step.

But they've already begun to see results. Verizon Wireless tallied so many self-service purchases of accessories that the SMART application paid for itself in less than a year. And at Hilton, one-third of eligible guests now regularly use digital check-in with room selection, and more than 90 percent have said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the experience.

For its part, CUNA Mutual reports reaching its $20 million sales target for deferred income annuities within nine months of iDIA's launch. And Boston Heart says that 85 percent of its physician-customers are using the personalized diagnostic reports, and the reporting system has helped attract new customers, too. More important, the personalized reports are increasing patients' understanding of their heart health--and their understanding of the importance of sticking to treatment plans.

"The individual is at the heart of what we do. And personalized medicine is becoming the focus: How do we turn the tools of science and technology and apply that to the individual characteristics of disease?" says Hansen. "We spent a lot of time figuring out how to deliver this message to patients, involving a lot of customer interaction and testing. And we've come a long way in terms of personalization. We're at the forefront of diagnostic work that takes that individualized approach."


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