UX Challenges in the Age of Personalized Experience

Hey {First_Name}, Like us, you’ve probably heard about personalization and wonder about it and what it means for your role as {Job_Title}. Well, you’ve found the right page. This article has everything you need to know about personalized user experience. Grab a {Favorite_Beverage} and we’ll dive in!

Introduction

The quest to acquire customers and keep them engaged has made personalized experience indispensable for any company’s communication strategy. We now expect personalized emails and ads almost everywhere, so the battle has shifted towards providing customers with personalized experience for every interaction they have with a company. Personalized experience is becoming the norm, not an option.

For everyone from product managers and owners to UX designers, UX researchers and marketers, creating personalized experience for users who interact with their products and services now poses one of the greatest challenges. In this article we’ll cover what you need to know about personalization and how it affects your work.

First things first…

What do we call “personalization”?

With the personalization process, a system identifies a user as a specific type of individual and then delivers relevant and individualized content and functionality to them. Personalization aims to enhance the experience of the users by anticipating and meeting their unique needs to guide them through a custom conversion funnel.

personalised experience email template

How can a personalized user experience help?

  • Increase the Conversion Rate

Personalization offers users better, more relevant and more individualized experiences. In turn, better user experiences ultimately translate into an increased conversion rate.  

  • Reduce Information Overload

Excessive information and options distract users. Personalization helps reduce the amount of info and the number of options to guide users through a funnel specifically designed for them and their individual needs.

  • Increase User Engagement

Personalization has proved to engage users more effectively, mainly because it makes them feel special. Also, if users don’t recognize products and services as personalized for them, it helps them create and reinforce a sense of identity and connectedness. This comes as they believe they get the same thing as everyone else.

  • Increase Brand Perception, Affinity and Loyalty

Personalized experience increases user loyalty and affinity towards your brand as they encounter more relevant content and interactions and feel understood by the brand. In the long term, these emotions towards the brand help increase the customer lifetime value.

  • Increase Lead Generation

Personalization also involves delivering the right message to the right person at the right moment. Personalized experience shows your visitors you care and listen to them. Additionally, it increases chances they read and digest the message, and then perform the action which you want to lead them towards. Leads tend to come back to your product or service if they feel you understand their pain points.

How to start personalizing the user experience?

According to Evergage, first defining your strategy provides the best way to approach personalized experience. If you don’t know where to start, begin by outlining the why, who, where and what.

Why

Why do you want to personalize your customer’s experience in the first place? What are you trying to achieve through personalization? You may find this question a no-brainer, but figuring out the exact reason why you want to start personalizing holds the key element of the strategy. Do you want to:

  • Increase conversions? Or decrease bounce / drop-off rates? 
  • Improve user engagement?
  • Increase average order size?
  • Drive more leads? 
  • Increase retention or brand loyalty?

Abandoned shopping cart user experience template

Answering this question will outline your main goal for personalizing the customer experience. This high-level goal will likely align with your general marketing or even your overall business goals. Once you’ve thought about your goal for personalization in general, go further and break it down into more specific and measurable goals for the short or medium term.

Who

Who makes up the target groups you want to speak differently to?

  • Prospects and customers? 
  • Loyal shoppers and first-time visitors? 
  • Visitors with different demographic characteristics or locations?

Think about your audiences and how they differ meaningfully. Define and map the differences between the target groups as precisely as you can.

Personalization experience has to take into account

Each individual has their own preferences for brands, categories, topics, colors, prices, etc. They might also have reached different stages of the conversion funnel. For these reasons, personalization must take the key differences into account. They will become the basis for the segmentation and rule-based campaigns.

Where

Next, consider where you plan to introduce personalization. Start by thinking broadly about the channels you currently use to interact with customers, including:

  • Your website
  • Mobile app
  • Emails
  • Ads

Any channel where you regularly communicate makes a likely candidate for personalization. After considering that, get a little more granular and start thinking about different points of interaction to introduce personalization.

the future of personalized experience

If you choose to personalize your website or mobile app, you can go deeper and consider what to change within your products. You can personalize content, images, features and even functionality. According to Nielsen Norman Group, a successful personalization goes beyond content and includes also processes or functionality to streamline users’ experiences.

Deciding which aspects of the customer’s experience to personalize will help you outline how the new personalized customer journeys would look. At this point, mapping the personalized customer journeys for each target group in particular comes in handy. Also, make them coherent and consistent. If you don’t know exactly how, check this article we wrote on customer journey mapping.

What

Finally, think about what you want to say to the identified target groups within the identified channels to achieve the identified goal. Do you want to:

  • Recommend content or products? 
  • Show different value proposition headlines based on geolocation?
  • Personalize the navigation or search results? 
  • Select the right promotion or offer for each person? 
  • Promote events to specific geolocations or webinars to people with specific interests?

Think broadly about the types of experiences to deliver and start making a list.

one to one marketing personalized experiencePersonalization Methods

We can choose from many types of personalization methods, so you might feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities. However, according to Emarsys, the most common ones include navigational personalization, predictive recommendations and contextual messaging. Let’s take a short look at each one to see what they imply.

Navigational Personalization

This method builds on the behavior that brought people to your site as well as their on-site browsing behavior and purchase history. Based on this information, you can actually customize how you want the users to navigate your website. For an online retail site where a visitor looks at a certain product but leaves without purchasing, you can prioritize the product to appear in an area where that user can clearly see it the next time they visit the site. This will increase the chances of them buying it.

When you go to the Amazon’s homepage, you usually see recommendation offers for products you have browsed before.

Amazon personalized experience

Predictive Recommendation

Recommendation engines can quite accurately predict products a person might find interesting by utilizing relevant buying behavior from other users from the same target group. If you’ve ever browsed or shopped for anything on an online retail store, phrases like “If you like this, you might also like…” or “Other customers also bought…” might sound familiar.

Again, Amazon’s example proves quite suggestive. When you go to a product page, you see recommendations for other products usually viewed together with it.

personalized experience Amazon recommendations of similar products

Another example of predictive recommendation comes from Netflix. The movie streaming platform prides itself on its elaborate content customization algorithms. They populate the home page with the most relevant content for each subscriber.

Contextual Messaging

Finally, the contextual messaging personalization method allows you to customize messages to users based on characteristics such as location, customer behavior or type of device. Then you can deliver content of much higher relevance to users based on their location and behavior at the moment.

Amazon uses geo-location messaging to display to the user if they can ship the item to their location and the estimated delivery time.

personalized messaging experience

What does personalization mean for UX?

Emphasis on User Research & Data Analytics

User research and data lie at the heart of any personalization effort. Personalization requires a deep understanding of user needs as well as a solid framework for tracking and measuring user behavior. You have to use an approach combining qualitative research for both understanding the needs and motivations and collecting objective data about their context and online behavior.

Qualitative research can help create user personas that model typical target groups of users as well as identify the salient user characteristics a user profile should comprise. To determine where to start, check this short guide to get you on your way.

Regarding data analytics, identify and analyze all the information that can help tailor the user experience. These can include:

  • Geolocation
  • Traffic source
  • Browser or device type
  • Number of site visits, logins or pages/screens viewed
  • Active time spent
  • Time elapsed since last visit, email open, etc.
  • Purchases made, articles read, videos viewed, etc.
  • Mouse movement (scrolling, hovering, inactivity)

Using Modular Design Systems

As mentioned, personalized experience can and should go beyond content, and touch on processes or functionality. This means we will have as many variations of a flow as target groups or personas. So it can easily get messy during design…

Therefore, we must use a modular design system. Modular design basically implies breaking the design into smaller chunks (“modules”), created independently which we then combine later into a larger system. This makes it possible to change or fit single elements without replacing the entire system. Read more about modular design in this article by one of my colleagues from UX studio.

The example below from A List Apart shows how the use of personalized and static components makes designing pages for each target group much easier. It has all the non-personalized static content (which never changes) in white. The color-coded zones contain the personalized content for each target group.

personalized-experience-and-static-componentsEnsuring a Consistent and Seamless Experience Across Devices and Channels

Users will now commonly start a task on one device, revisit it on another and finally finish on yet another during a day. Take into consideration this type of behavior when designing the journey of different customer groups.

As NN Group points out, users most commonly expect coherence and synchronization from multi-device operations. With the rise of mobility and the proliferation of new devices and interaction channels, users want their experience to move along with them as they change devices and context.

Therefore, when designing personalized experience, consider the whole customer journey, including the transition across devices. Aim to tie together the various touch points you have with the customer to create a seamless journey rather than a collection of disjointed interactions.

This also implies you should constantly discuss and align the personalization strategy with other departments such as marketing, sales or customer support. The customer interacts with one company, no matter the department, so they expect the same level of expertise from all interactions. An enjoyable experience with your organization regardless of the channels involved can make the crucial difference between your and your competitor’s offerings.

Don’t Confuse Personalization with Customization

Personalization implies designing an experience without any effort from the customer. Customization, on the other hand, allows the customer to intentionally modify the experience. This means the system personalizes during use while the user customizes. 

When Google displays ads based on your search history, it personalizes your experience. When you adjust your Gmail settings for the number of emails per page, you customize your email experience.

personalized experience in gmail emails per page

Both personalization and customization result in a more relevant experience for the customer. If you are wondering which better suits your situation, take this into consideration:

  • Personalized experience doesn’t require any extra effort from the users because the system does all the work. You depend on the algorithm’s ability to predict what each user needs.
  • Customization allows users to get exactly what they want by putting them in control. However, many users don’t actually know what they need and don’t care to do the extra work to tweak the user interface to match their preferences.

The Future of Personalization

Soon, machine learning will take personalization to a whole different level. It will intelligently understand the story behind the user’s interactions and behavior while also continuously adapting to contextual factors.

Machines can make sense of the scads of user data. They can draw conclusions about each individual person, such as identifying a user’s persona, interests, attributes, intent or stage in the journey. This will allow companies to use real-time, one-to-one personalization (individualization) and while interacting with their customers.

machine learning personalized experience

Final Thoughts

Whether you’ve reached the point where you can start personalizing your user’s experience or not, consider the following:

  • Start with defining a personalization strategy to outline why you need personalization, for whom you want to provide personalized experience, where in the customer journey you want to bring personalization and what exactly you want to personalize.
  • A successful personalization strategy needs grounding in user research and analytics, so dedicate the required time and resources to obtain all the necessary information about your customers. 
  • To keep the designs simple and scalable, use modular design systems which split components between non-personalized (static) and personalized (dynamic).
  • Before you start personalizing, take into consideration the whole user journey and ensure a consistent and seamless experience across devices and channels.
  • Finally, remember that bad personalization can frustrate users and deliver a worse experience than no personalization. So think twice before you start personalizing!think twice before using personalized experience

Continue learning with UX studio

Feel free to read our last week’s article, where you can learn what defines the best chatbot design and how to implement it within your business.

For additional reading, check out our Product Design book by our CEO, David Pasztor. We ship worldwide!

Dan Jecan

UX Researcher with an incurable case of curiosity. Passionate about circular design and sustainability. Convinced that through smart design, the world can be changed for the better.