There was a time when you went to a local store and were greeted by name as soon as you appeared in the doorway. There was also a good chance the owner or salespeople would ask about your family or how you liked what you purchased the week before. They might even recommend something they knew suited your tastes. You expected them to know these things. Well, today, you could say we’re going back to the future.


In the brave old-new world of personalization, it’s about catering to desires and preferences to create a more intimate and immediate customer experience for the individual. Some small hoteliers are now catering to unique differences in sleep comfort by offering a choice of pillows—hard or soft, down or Poly-Fil. Professional services firms and medical practices are showing clients and patients how much they, as individuals, matter: Yelp is full of five-star reviews from grateful patients and clients who rave about doctors and lawyers who took the time to call them and see how they were doing after a recent visit.


“The key is to get to know your customers’ interests so when the time is right, you can send them offers that show how well you understand them.”


Businesses of all sizes are collecting online browsing data to delight customers with highly targeted offers for things they haven’t yet figured out they want and need. “The key is to get to know your customers’ interests so when the time is right, you can send them offers that show how well you understand them,” says Shep Hyken, a customer-service consultant and author of the book, “Amaze Every Customer Every Time.”


Clearly personalization is no fad, and to stay competitive, it is no longer optional. Here are a few ways to think about the personalization revolution and how it might apply to your business:


Think Like a Restaurant


By their nature, most restaurants have personalization nailed. Every time they hand out a kids’ menu to a table with parents at the helm, they are personalizing the experience by giving the customers just what they need. The whole eat-out experience is a primer in personalization: Fried, broiled or baked? Which vegetable would you like? The idea is to give diners the exact meal they want right at that moment. Ask yourself: What can you do to tailor your company’s customer experience to the individual at his or her point of purchase?


Think Like a Car Manufacturer


There used to be a time when you bought a car—now you create one to your own specifications. The base model is similar to a blank canvas, and assuming price is no object, consumers can get creative with customizable features, such as color, detailing, fabrics, tech and entertainment. This trend, of course, goes well beyond cars. NIKEiD and Timberland let you design your own footwear, and Spotify lets you create your own playlists from a vast catalog of musical choices. Consider whether there are ways to create new options for customers to individualize your products or services to match their tastes and preferences.


Think—and Act—Like Someone Who Cares


If your friend had a new baby or bought a new house, you wouldn’t send them a congratulatory form letter, would you? Probably not, especially if the purpose was for the recipient to feel that who they are and what they’ve achieved matters to you.


“When you’re a small business, you can really get to know your customers and what’s important to them. And with technology, you can take it a step further,” Hyken says. He has set up Google Alerts on many of his key clients, so he can acknowledge whenever they’re in the news or have reached a milestone.


“I’ll pick up the phone or shoot off an email saying: ‘Hey, I see you landed this big contract. Congratulations,’” Hyken says. “Sometimes I reach executives before they even know they’re in the news. They appreciate—and remember—the personal touch.”


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