Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When personalization isn't there

Back in the early days of web development, I used the metaphor that a website was like a restaurant--need to have good content (food), nice ambiance (pretty design), and good service (intuitive UX, fulfillment, etc.) and people will flock to your front door.  I still think that comparison, while simplistic, is still valid.

Case in point: When I lived in Dallas, we had a favorite restaurant near our home named Rockfish. It was a moderately priced seafood restaurant with some droll touches ('Inboard' and 'Outboard' restroom titles), good food, decent bartender, a menu that worked well for adults and kids, and best of all, a super waiter named Clifton. We only ate there maybe one or twice a quarter but Clifton always remembered us. Soon we requested a table in his section every time. He knew what beer I wanted, that my wife wanted a Cosmo with Grey Goose, and a plate of calamari to start. The food was always consistent--generally good, enough variety to keep us interested, and fairly priced. And Clifton took care of us. In this day and age when we know so few of our service providers (dentist, barber, manicurist, hardware man, etc.) well enough to maintain a long term relationship, I relished having someone know what I wanted who took care of my and my family's needs. We went to Rockfish more often, we spent more and I tipped well.

After a few years, we moved back to Austin and away from Rockfish. We'd still stop in Rockfish when we were in Dallas once or twice a year. And sometimes we got Clifton and sometimes we didn't catch him when he was there. When someone else waited on our table, he or she was friendly, the food was the same, and we felt satisfied. But we were not nourished.

It is the same feeling with personalization when shopping online. The experience at your favorite site without logging in or identity recognition is satisfying but not nourishing because your accustomed to being recognized and taken care of. The most important part of that is being recognized. Why do so few sites give little attention to the act of logging in or encouraging identity recognition? That's permission for you to get to know me. Can't get that right, then our relationship is short.

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