Real Life Customer Service is the Benchmark for Digital (Or Just Don’t Piss People Off)

This week I enjoyed a few hours at a roundtable for marketing folks, organised by Marketing Week, the subject of the discussion was personalisation.

As we went around the table, articulating our experience of personalisation, the good, bad and ugly, it seemed when describing the good, everyone was describing what we are looking for in a digital experience by describing interactions with brands in the real world.

One marketer from a leading electronics brand talked about an experience we all have – of someone knowing the drink we like, in her case a flat white in her favourite Starbucks. Another talked of a childhood memory of the grocer knowing his mother.  Another chap around the table, who was a digital marketer from the banking industry, talked about witnessing an interaction between a branch manager and a customer, knowing some helpful details of that person’s life.

The good personalisation experiences were real life interactions.

The channel is irrelevant

When we think about digital experience and we what we want from them, we think of real life customer service – the channel is irrelevant.

Our discussion moved onto re-marketing, you know those creepy ads that follow you around from site to site and the strange recommendations Facebook offers and you have no idea how it knows.

I have a lot to say about re-marketing. In a nutshell bad re-marketing is cheap, it can be automated without any thought or consideration of the customer’s experience, based on some rudimentary rules (which as far as I can tell don’t include “Don’t show this ad if Ian has already bought the movie”) and offers quick wins (woo hoo! 0.1% uplift) as you ignore the sound of the drip, drip, drip erosion of your brand.

If we hold the “personalised” marketing practice of re-marketing up to the standard of a real life customer service, we would consider it rude.

No-one is going to watch you pick up an item in one store, put it down and follow you around the mall offering you the same product, at the same price over and over again.

Have good manners

Our little roundtable considered it creepy, which seemed to boil down to the basic etiquette that you wouldn’t do it in real life.

Image: “If you talked to people” by Gapingvoid – shared via Creative Commons License

I use re-marketing as an example of this idea that we want customer service from digital like we get in the real world. A brand experience or service, delivered electronically, is the representative of you, your organisation, the level of service you provide and your brand. And following people isn’t something you want people to remember about you.

So how do we meet the customer service expectations set in the real world, with a digital experience?

We can start by taking an outside-in approach and consider what we are doing from the consumer’s perspective, which is considered a revelation in digital marketing, but in customer service, it’s just good manners.

Having good manners is also about being useful, a key tenant of content marketing – a barista seeing a regular customer and offering them the drink they like is useful, speeding up the transaction for both the coffee shop and the customer.

Provide personalisation with purpose and value.

It seems digital marketing is at a tipping point; we either continue with the Chinese water torture of incrementally pissing off consumers with cheap, crude, easy ways of abusing the data they share with us.


We start to take an outside-in approach and maybe take the high road and sacrifice the 0.1% of uplift for providing a genuine experience, or at least not piss them off.

Just ask, how would this seem in real life?

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