Personalisation: finding the balance between cool and creepy


We’ve all had the experience where we’re talking to a contact about something, and the next thing we know we’re being bombarded with ads relating to that exact conversation. Or, when you meet a person for the first time and they suddenly pop up as a friend suggestion on your social channels even though you have no mutual contacts. Creepy, right?

It’s natural to feel unsettled by this, and it raises the questions: Should we stop engaging with AI and technologies that make personalised experiences possible? And what is at stake if we do?

Since the dawn of commerce, businesses have been trying to tailor their customer experience offering as a way of building customer trust and loyalty: a trend that has sky-rocketed with the advent of technology. A 2019 survey found that 80 per cent of self-classified frequent shoppers stated they will only shop with brands who personalise the experience. This leaves businesses trying to find the fine balance between being a smooth operator and creepy stalker.

It’s all in the design

Personalisation is an incredibly powerful tool, with an almost infinite number of ways it can be implemented to enhance interactions with customers and vice versa. However, with power comes responsibility and the onus is on businesses to be accountable for the systems they create.

Many developers tend to have a rosy view of the utopian wonderland they believe technology will deliver. However, at some point, they lost sight of the needs of the customer and instead began “stalking” and bombarding them with ads based on their search history to drive further sales.

Moving forward organisations need to actively drive developers to rethink their approach and design technologies from a completely different perspective, and ask themselves, “What are the moments in the customer’s journey where we can provide a solution or address their needs?” This considered and empathetic approach is likely to do more to build a customer’s trust in a brand than spamming with ads for products or services we assume they want.

Intention is everything

Personalisation technology was originally intended for marketing at scale, and for targeting purposes – it knows you’ve shown interest in one thing, and uses that to predict what you’ll do next. Not really creepy or cool. But this has been distorted by many companies into a mass-service experience, using a one-size-fits-all model which is a complete contradiction to the original intent of “personal touch”.

With advancements in technology, businesses can now individualise the customer experience like never before allowing for a truly hyper-personalised experience. Technology means organisations no longer need to make assumptions about you; they can understand your changing needs and serve you the way you want to be served.

By flipping the intent these experiences enhance the intrinsic value of your service offering as well as brand loyalty and trust.

Keeping personal in, and creepy out

As humans, we like to feel special. We get a kick from a birthday voucher or loyalty discount; things that wouldn’t be possible without technology leveraging our data and capturing our emotional response.

So, if we want the benefits we need to accept personalisation as a tool, but we don’t have to accept organisations weaponising these tools to bombard us with ads or to manipulate our behaviour.

Successful organisations know that we aren’t just numbers, we are people. We have the power to vote with our dollar if we feel our data is being used against us. This is happening on a larger and larger scale – especially as our digital consumption continues to grow.

In the long run, misuse personalisation at your own peril. Those that do will inevitably lose their most valuable asset: their customer.

Mark Buckley, Vice President – Australia and New Zealand, Genesys