Personalized Service in the Age of Digital Commerce: A Diagnosis and Prognosis


A rhetorical question for consumers worldwide: When did excellent customer service become a luxury?

When did the primacy of the consumer fall victim to the capriciousness of indifferent employees, rude personnel, and complacent executives? When did the expectation that anonymity should be the currency of the Web, and accountability would be the first casualty of electronic commerce, become so shockingly acceptable?

I pose these queries to remind companies and consumers that such behavior is the downfall of commercial success. Running an online business requires greater, not less, attentiveness and personalization. While perfection may be the enemy of the good, the passive approval of the generic -- the failure to have a distinctive identity, with a website that is visually powerful and easily navigable -- is what makes your business vulnerable to falling into that ever-expanding abyss of the forgettable and dismissible.

Take, for instance, the post "Why Truly Responsive Design Must Be Customer-Centric" from, a UK-based Web hosting provider and manager of virtual and dedicated servers.

By performing my own search for results relating to this subject, the topic of customer-centric products and services, I am happy to report that, as the above post demonstrates, there are still some professionals with common sense.

There remain a humble few willing to speak truth to power. Put a different way, there are professionals out there -- their posts are free, and available for everyone to see, read and share -- who do not shirk from stating the obvious.

Indeed, their job is to do just that: To remind business owners that consumers deserve an experience, a positive and convenient one, when they seek to buy (or have questions concerning) anything from an everyday household appliance to a specialized brand of software to a limited edition of themed collectibles.

An online business cannot, in other words, automate everything because it will then alienate almost everyone. Meaning: Technology is cold and impersonal; it has a set of pre-programmed function -- to process credit card transactions or email confirmation of an online purchase, or recommend (according to some algorithm) additional items of interest or highlight exclusive discounts and promotions -- but none of those things constitute interest in or respect for you as a human being.

So, if you do not place a premium on design, and if you have a set-it-and-forget-it approach to marketing and communication, the customer will soon feel like -- that man or woman will become -- a disposable number, to be replaced by capturing (through spam or junk email) another consumer with a similar profile.

We must, therefore, reset our demands about technology and design.

We must recognize the long-term value of engaging consumers on a more direct and intimate level, where we are sympathetic to the challenges people face and the aid they seek or desire.

Without a visual expression of those beliefs -- in the absence of a customer-centric design -- businesses will be blind to honoring the needs of these individuals, who also have the potential to be powerful word-of-mouth marketers and "evangelists" for a product or service.

Writing as a customer, for and to my fellow customers around the globe, I think companies can do better -- I know they must do better -- when it comes to retaining my loyalty and earning my trust.

If these online businesses want to become brands of everlasting influence and value, and should they see the light and find religion, so to speak, then they will become more successful and expansive.

The customer may not always be right, but companies need to act as if that consumer is, in fact, correct.

Welcome to the new age of customer-centric service.