The Customer Experience Value of Customer Anonymity
Mar 08, 2017
Today’s customers are empowered with an unprecedented ability to drive their business relationships and that of other customers through instant knowledge access and social media. Consumers and business buyers alike know what they want, when they want it, and what prices they should pay. The business climate has become sufficiently competitive, and the products and services commoditized, that customers can more easily choose and switch suppliers than they were able to do in the past.
In this environment, delivering an excellent Customer Experience (CX) has become the prime competitive differential for businesses. Naturally they have been stepping up their customer personalization programs with targeted ads, offers, goods, services, online and in-store engagements, and customer service to meet customers’ needs and exceed their CX expectations.
But many customers also want anonymity. They seek personalized engagements with businesses only when they choose to. This too is empowerment, i.e. “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.
Though it seems counterintuitive, there is high CX value in anonymity. Customers (and we are all customers) enjoy the freedom to browse sites and window shop or walk into malls or stores without engaging with the sites or stores, and employees. Unfettered, customers may see objects that spark their interest that leads to purchases there and then, or in the future after consulting with family members, peers, or colleagues. They also may become customers if situations change (e.g. a new career, promotion, employer, home, also marriage, and children). Or they know potential customers that they can recommend the businesses to.
Or customers may be looking for, or who have shopped items for others and they do not want to let them know, such as anniversaries, birthdays, and this past Valentine’s Day. There is always an opportunity for others to find out through looking at others’ phones or on shared devices.
Similarly, customers may be seeking employment with particular businesses, or those lines of work, or know someone who is. Or they had worked there and wanted to see how the businesses look now, and talk to their old colleagues. They may even be interested in returning. In these instances there is a possibility that companies may gain (or regain) valuable employees.
Customers may also want to be anonymous because they have a strong desire not to be inundated with what they see as obtrusive advertising, marketing, and sales. And as noted in Frost & Sullivan research, Customer Web Experiences Overview, consumers continue to be concerned about how businesses will use their personal information and about data security, including from ads on their mobile devices.
Here are the risks of not paying sufficient attention to these issues: if customers they feel they are being bothered, or their interactions will not be secure, they may exit sites and stores. They may then never buy or recommend buying at those businesses to others, or they may go to competitors that give them more space, and advise others to follow them via social media.
For these reasons, the best sites and stores balance customer anonymity and engagement. They discreetly watch customers, and engage with them only when they expressly show interest and want to make contact.
Determining the optimal times to contact customers, what to contact them about, and how to contact them, and conducting those conversations is an art. But by approaching customers appropriately, and with permission/opt-in marketing and data use and advanced personalization, businesses will benefit by interacting with truly interested buyers, when they are ready to buy. They may also gain by attracting employees who will help grow their business through their contributions and by serving as brand advocates who will draw in customers.
Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.