Making it personal

October 11, 2012 by

Three times a year, I go back to Wisconsin to see my brother and his family. Usually, it’s around the holidays as well as once in the summer. One of the rituals I have is to go out and get coffee. Whether its before an errand, or on the way back to their house, its become my quirky little ritual.

Regardless of the direction I head in, I always come back to get my coffee fix at the same place.….Starbucks. But not any Starbucks….I go to “my Starbucks”. From a pure product standpoint, Starbucks are ubiquitous. Truth be told, I’d rather go to a small, funky independent coffeehouse that has a vibe all its own.

So..what does this particular Starbucks location do that makes it so special I consider it "my Starbucks"? The employees make it personal.

Every time I enter, I’m greeted by the baristas as if I live around the corner, go to the same church/temple/synagogue, and our kids play together. Tracy always greets me. By name. “Hi, Calvin,” she says. “Welcome back. How long are you here?” I visit Wisconsin three times a year, and when I stop in, somehow, out of the thousands of faces Tracy sees in a period between summer and the holidays (and back), she always remembers me. And, so does the rest of the team.

It’s a little thing. And yet, it means so much. They make it personal. Many attempt to make a personal connection, yet few do it well. This parallels the typical offline or online environment where companies attempt to connect in a way that feels more like a cross-sell or an up-sell rather than a truly personal experience. Again, many attempt to make a personal connection, few do it well.

    In the online world, I typically get something akin to this:
    “Calvin, you recently purchased [product/brand/feature]. Here’s something that looks similar to aforementioned [product/brand/feature]. We wanted you to know about it. Click here to add to your basket and check out.”

    In the offline world, my interaction is more like this:
    “Hi, welcome to [store/location/company]. Would you like to try our new [product/brand/feature]?

I’m not saying that cross-selling or up-selling is in any way bad or wrong or evil. It is one way to connect with customers and let them know that you know their preferences (if you indeed know their preferences). It is not the only way. In this day and age, customers have options. Especially where products are easily substitutable, service can be a key differentiator. Connecting with me without the specific intent of increasing sales allows a company to get to know me. Personally.

Whether offline or online, I want to feel good about my interaction with a company. I want an experience that’s memorable. I don’t expect it to be every single interaction. But my overall customer experience should leave me feeling appreciated. Valued. Personal.

How are you making your interactions with customers personal?