Why iterative development is vital to a successful personalised customer experience

With the escalating rate of technology, vendors are painting increasingly complex pictures of how their products can deliver personalised experiences for all users. And although these visions may be great in theory, in practice, organisations rarely implement them well.

“It’s almost as if the technology has outpaced the content,” says Chris Grist, solutions architect at Squiz. “It’s leading people into the trap of these complex personalisation projects that don’t achieve their intended outcomes.”

Personalisation is complex. It’s often hard to get right, and when it goes wrong, such as diminishing a prospective customer’s experience based on making a wrong assumption, it’s a costly mistake. So it pays to make sure you’re making the right choices.

Start with the basics. “Take an iterative approach, rather than a big-bang project,” says Chris. “Do your bread-and-butter personalisation first, validate that, and then build up to something more complex.”

However, for organisations such as government agencies and universities with complex audiences and goals, validating even the most basic personalisation is more challenging than it is for those with more focused goals, such as retail businesses that can immediately measure profit. So, how do these organisations follow the same path and ensure that personalisation is successful for them?

Treat personalisation as progressive enhancement

Companies often embark on creating complex, multilevel segmentations of their users but fail to plan for the ongoing effort – creating, testing, and maintaining the content – that goes along with this compartmentalising.

Organisations often already underestimate the work that goes into maintaining content on static websites. By introducing personalisation on a grand scale, you’re potentially multiplying that work by several factors.

“Treat personalisation as progressive enhancement,” Chris recommends. “Start with good content and a good information architecture that works for all of your audiences. Then start with basic personalisation and build up from there.”

When you start applying personalisation, you want to start with something reasonably simple – your top-level segments that have clear and obvious distinctions. Then begin validating its success.

You don’t need to write content for every facet of the segments you define. With the right technological solution, you can write for broader audiences and target select niches within those larger groups. For users without niche content targeting them, you can fall back to content targeting the broader audience they fit into or to default page content.”

In this way, you can start to use detailed information that you’re tracking about your users and invest in optimising the experience for the high-value niches within your audience. What’s more, you can do this without writing content for every possible combination, which means each facet you track doesn’t need to equate to another order of magnitude of effort for the content you produce.

Validate which personalised user journeys are working

By providing a basic but personalised experience, you can get a good indication of whether you’re improving your user’s overall web experience. Whether you do this through analytics research or user testing, make sure you can measure your success and then move on to the next step of optimisation.

“It’s key to be continuously looking at which of these personalised user journeys are helping users, and then build on those,” says Chris.

And although it’s important to define your goals and conversions as part of this process, you need to look at the personas you’re targeting. “These segments can change over time, or perhaps you didn’t get them right initially,” says Chris. “You need to be agile.”

Organisations often focus on how they’ve improved conversions and what’s working, but it’s vital that you also investigate areas in which you may have missed the mark and potentially provided a worse experience.

“Maybe the content that was created for that particular combination of segments doesn’t quite work,” Chris says. “You need to validate any negative user feedback along with the positive, so you can address those issues and adjust the content accordingly.”

Iteratively improve your capabilities for complex personalisation

As you add complexity to this process, you’ll discover your organisation’s capacity to deliver on the required content, technology, testing, and validation – and remain agile enough to change direction if necessary. You’ll be able not only to provide an engaging web experience for your customers, but also to build a better case internally for ongoing complex personalisation. Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to improve your internal capacity to write more content and procure more funding for the technology.

According to Chris, this iterative approach is a driving force of digital transformation. “By iteratively proving your results and showing that this method is working, you’ll be building trust and adding tangible value and benefits to your organisation and processes,” he says.

Begin with the basics today. Validate what you’ve done so that you know it’s working. Then begin building your personalisation capabilities.

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