3 ways your startup can be 'hyper-personal'

A quick search online for terms like ‘customer experience’ and ‘business’ swiftly and overwhelming paint a picture of the need for artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and huge volumes of customer data to deliver a hyper-personalised customer experience.

McKinsey’s Next in Personalisation 2021 Report tells us that 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen, which is understandable. Thanks to data and technology, we can now get tailored product and service suggestions for what we might like to eat, buy, do, or watch next. That’s great for us as customers and good for companies who can provide them.

However, if you’re a budding entrepreneur, home-based business owner, or someone looking to make extra cash with a side hustle, I know the pressure to personalise every customer experience might feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t. There are 5.3 million micro-businesses (less than ten employees) in the UK.

That’s 95% of all businesses – each of whom has similar customer acquisition, experience, and retention objectives as you. This has led many other companies to step up and offer advice and tools that can help get you where you want to be competitively speaking, whether your competition is a large enterprise or many other small businesses.

Even the one-person business, the micro-enterprise run from home, and the online seller at weekends can and should look to create ‘hyper-personalised’ customer experiences. For the small and home office business, personalisation can come in three ways.

1. The speed at which you can acknowledge and dispatch an order

When your quick to respond, that says to the customer, ‘I was ready and waiting, because your order is important to me.’ Radio silence and delays create confusion and ambiguity. Use tools that generate automated acknowledgment replies once an order is placed, and work with reputable delivery service providers who provide parcel tracking, as well as secure and rapid delivery options.

Develop workflows that allow you to work smart and fast, wherever you are, with software that connects you with your customer, hardware and delivery provider seamlessly. Think about how information is captured and sent via your website, social media accounts, laptop, tablet, phone, printer, and point of sale terminal, as well as the software, systems and hardware used by your delivery providers and, depending on your setup, your suppliers and partners as well.

I read one report which said the average UK micro-business spends 15 hours per week or 19% of their time in total doing financial admin tasks. Now factor in time wasted on manual and paper-based ways of working and it starts to add up. Its time taken away from growing your business and focusing on your customers.

Technologies that use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and traditional wireless networks to facilitate these connections are within the grasp of you as a small business owner. So are cloud platforms that allow you to store and share data with customers, suppliers, and shipping partners. Don’t forget that there are several ready-made digital templates available to simplify workflows, as well as easy integration guides to help you connect the dots between software, device, and system platforms.

Many provide step-by-step instructions via setup wizards, so you don’t have to spend hours or days trying to become an IT expert.  As well as being able to work faster, these technology tools can give you more flexibility around where you work. If a website inquiry comes in, or an order is made when you’re not at home or at your office, you can still provide a rapid response and start the production or fulfilment process.

2. Create moments within your customer journey that show your values align with theirs

You don’t have to be a social enterprise to attract customers that favour companies with a purpose. However, you must tell them about your social commitments – your mission, if you will. You might already be running a sustainability company or doing something charitable, which makes demonstrating your values easy. Sometimes it’s more of a challenge if you’re working in the e-commerce space, for example – selling products online to customers via your website and social media channels might not provide an obvious way to demonstrate values.

But even a small business can have strong company values, sustainable practices and a corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment. Customers value ethics in business, even if it’s a business run from your bedroom or in the evenings after work. One global poll by IPSOS found that three in four people globally want to see a ban on single-use plastic.

And a survey of over 2,000 British adults found that 83% would prefer their food to be wrapped in compostable rather than traditional plastic packaging for environmental reasons. Look at the energy and materials you use in your processes and products, and think about how you could reduce, reuse, recycle, and buy from ethical suppliers.

Even in the age of digital, hardware is still needed. Technology manufacturers are now offering things like mobile computers and scanners that are Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certified. Others offer a circular economy programme, allowing customers to purchase or rent refurbished devices, and instead of throwing old devices away, they’ll recycle them for you without charge.

Other technology manufacturers have solved the problem of what to do with empty plastic print cartridges, by creating compostable cartridges made from potato starch combined with the magic of thermal printing (no ink or toner needed).

And be sure to tell your customers once you’ve got a few things in place. Blogs, social media posts, a space on your website, and a message printed on the parcel label are simple ways to create a more value-aligned, personalised experience with your business.

3. Personalise wherever you can

Being tech-savvy doesn’t mean being impersonal. Quite the opposite. Technology gives you an opportunity to better connect one-on-one with each customer. Make it easy for the customer to communicate with you, whether via email, chatbot, telephone, or your social media channels. You can also combine order recognition with a personalised reply with the details the customer used to make the order.

Think about the label on the package you send – a lot of labels are bland and functional. Some are hard to read or look unprofessional. In fact, a poorly created label could cost you in terms of undelivered or delayed goods to your customer, requests for refunds, re-sending orders, and negative customer reviews.

What if your customer’s first ‘in their hands’ engagement with your business was a personalised label, just for them, or for the specific item they ordered? A picture, photo, pattern, colour, or emoji are just a few ways to tell your customer, ‘This was created and sent with you in mind.’