I recently read Shlomo Benartzi‘s book, “The Smarter Screen – Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior.”  In it, Benartzi describes how effective “digital online feedback” can be at influencing buying behaviors, but only if the feedback is “timely, positive, and personalized.” How can companies provide personalized feedback to their customers using digital channels? What can be done to influence their behavior to be favorable towards the brand?

The realities of the online experience

When I read the words digital online feedback, I immediately thought, “who wants feedback?” Then, I thought about a few of my own personal experiences. Some were great, but others were not. What made the difference?

About a year ago I signed up to be a member of the Brooks Brothers Loyalty Program. The “perks” of their program were SPAM, SPAM, and more SPAM. Every morning I received a generic promotional email that advertised the latest discounts online and deals (in-store) for men, women, accessories, you name it. This digital entanglement was neither personal nor did it reflect my interests the vast majority of the time. Their outreach was neither personal nor timely.

nice giftOn the other hand, my experience with Macy’s Loyalty Program has been remarkable. Their digital outreach was entirely different. A month before my birthday, I received a personalized email wishing me a “Happy Birthday” that included a coupon and an invitation to buy myself a nice gift. I noticed the personal touch, appreciated it and it did influence me to splurge on myself. Macy’s ability to combine personal, timely and positive messages differentiated their digital outreach program from the typical retail SPAM but only reaching out to me when there was actually a reason that was relevant to me!

Staples  has the most contextual digital outreach. They know which printer ink I buy and, if I don’t visit the store for a certain amount of time, it uses analytics to recommend what I may need. They know when I made my last store visit and then send me contextual reminders with, for example, ink discounts to encourage me to buy it before I run out. Staples ability to intelligently use data about my preferred item purchases and tailor personal, timely, contextual outreach communications has also influenced my behavior to shop with them. I like the fact that they are anticipating my needs and reducing my chances of running out of ink.

And it’s not just retail. Summit Health Systems was my first experience with an online system to request a doctor’s appointment. At the time, I received an appointment confirmation email. Three days prior to my appointment, I was happy to receive a reminder. Great! Unfortunately, I did not receive a same day reminder and almost missed my appointment. Thank goodness for my calendar reminder otherwise I would have forgotten it for sure. This is a great example of why timely messaging is so important. A reminder closer to an event would have been much more useful to me. Although Summit Health Systems outreach was personal, the timing of communications could improve.

Keys to successful digital outreach

As brands begin to put digital outreach programs into play, email or text messages will be essential keys to eliciting the right engagement behavior they are looking for. Remember too that digital feedback and digital outreach must be personal, positive and timely to be effective. What are your digital outreach stories?

Nagaraja Srivatsan

Nagaraja Srivatsan

Srivatsan Nagaraja is Senior Vice President, Venture partner, Cognizant a leading provider of information technology, business consulting, enterprise applications and business process... Read more