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4 Challenges you’ll encounter on the road to personalization

Personalizing services and marketing is not just hip and trendy, it can effectively result in lots of added value for your clients and prospects. But implementing a proper personalization strategy does not come without its challenges.

Let’s have a look at four of them.

1. Knowing what your company wants

A good approach to tackle personalization challenges should start from involving business decision makers early on and at a sufficiently high level. This is not something you can turn into a success purely from a technical point of view: what you want to achieve and why has to be decided, supported and sponsored at CxO-level.

Note that high level business goals are often quite… high level. There are lots of new possibilities, but blindly converting them into solutions, or more likely, a non-cohesive set of requirements won’t do you any good.

To quickly get a better grip on these high level ambitions, you’re better off drawing up a few concrete customer journeys. Using this technique, you put your costumers front and center and place their interactions with your organization in a much broader context as opposed to the confinements of the designated business processes.

Customer journeys allow you to view the world from the consumers’ perspective, leading to a better view on what personalization may mean for them across various channels and touchpoints.

At least as important as knowing what your organization wants is knowing what it doesn’t want. This means there will always be some ‘business homework’ to do. What do you want to personalize? Your services, the marketing of your services, the products you sell?

An example to think about is this: does the concept of a client/prospect always refer to a single individual? Or can it also be a role someone plays (e.g. Joris the Professional vs Joris the Private Person)? Or can a customer be a company or maybe an entire family sharing one account? And if that’s the case, how do we want to handle that?

2. Be clear about information ownership and definitions

To maintain a clear view on the various types of ‘personal information’, it’s a good idea to clearly distinguish several categories:

  • Identification Information: (combinations of) information that allow you to uniquely identify a person, like e.g. ID number, membership card number, username, contact e-mail address ...
  • Personal Administrative data: personal data you need for your administration: e.g. orders, payments, bank account & credit card numbers, delivery address,..
  • Personal Service data: Personal data collected to be able to deliver the Services you offer.
  • Personal Commercial Data: personal data related to commercial actions, e.g. the fact that a person is targeted in a certain marketing campaign
  • Personal Observed Data: anything you can ‘observe’ during the interactions between the person and your company: clicking behavior, location, timing …
  • Personal Derived Data: whatever information you can ‘calculate’ based on any data of any of the other categories. e.g. is someone a ‘good payer’ or not, does he/she is probably interested in topic X, Y, Z

You’ll notice that business owners, master systems, volume, ‘changeability’, storage strategy, data capturing method etc. are different per category.

Next to that, it’s extremely important to know what the master system is for each bit of personal information you want to use. If the answer for any of these is ‘more than one’ or ‘none at all’, something’s wrong.

To make digitalization in general and personalization specifically a success, a healthy service-oriented software landscape with a unique ownership of information and business rules is a must.

3. New non-functional requirements

So, the business homework is done: you know what you want as an organization and you’ve got a clear view on the existing application architecture. You also know which info and business rules belong to which master system.

Good! But you’re not out of the woods yet.

For one, those master systems may not stay as performant as they are now when load times increase considerably, when they have to be available 25/7 etc. The contrary is often the case: most internally used systems are not designed for that.

Instead of stretching these systems to the fullest, a read-only, highly available, high performing ‘enterprise wide cache’ is a much more efficient solution to do ‘quick reading’. Document databases fed via event sourcing perform very well here as they ensure underlying source systems no longer have to deal with ‘stupid’ queries. In return , they’re responsible to send near-real time messages with new data to the cache whenever a relevant update occurs.

Setting up such a component is a significant enabler of speed and agility to gain competitive advantage across your digital channels.

It’s also important to watch out for ‘hidden factories’ when opening existing systems to new channels. These are so-called creative workarounds to deal with the shortcomings of existing software and procedures. They don’t necessarily pose a problem as long as every stakeholder knows what the deal is, but if not, well, you may find yourself scratching your head once or twice (see my previous blog post for more).

Another non-functional requirement requiring special attention is ‘privacy’. I could spend a few posts specifically talking about this topic, but for now, keep in mind the new European GDPR is going into effect in the near future. Your organization already should be putting things in motion to ensure compliance as the impact goes well beyond your legal department only.

4. Unique identification of a single person

Personalization and IdentificationPersonalization of your service portfolio will lead to many new opportunities, but it requires that you know who you’re dealing with across your various touchpoints. If you don’t know who you’re interacting with, your wonderful hyper-performant collection of easily accessible personal data means nothing. Investing in a solid and uniform authentication approach is crucial here.

Simply identifying yourself , e.g. by leaving behind your name and/or e-mail address, is not enough. You also have to ‘prove’ that you really are who you say you are, i.e. you have to be able to authenticate yourself.

In practice, this often means you’ll have to set a password. But even then, you could easily use someone else’s email address and make up your own password, to subsequently tarnish that person’s reputation by providing fictional personal information. To mitigate this ‘inverse’ risk, an email containing a confirmation link is an effective measure. If your records show that link hasn’t been clicked on after a few days, you can automatically block the account.

Both the confirmation mail and the setting of a password can be ‘dropout’ moments in your ‘lead’ funnel if you don’t pay enough attention to user experience. You’re asking for an extra investment from your customer, so it has to be very clear what added value he gets out of the process: access to additional content, services, easily track a placed order …

One recommendation: instead of obliging a customer to submit an umpteenth username/password combination, you can lower the threshold by enabling a login using their existing Facebook, Google or Twitter accounts. Same goes for a ‘keep me signed in’ feature.

Also keep a close eye on account activity and how you can optimize that experience: if a customer successfully completes the registration process but never logs in afterwards, you’re right back where you started.

My advice is to personalize services only in an authenticated mode: based on data that have been collected in said mode and when that the person affected has explicitly given you the permission to use this data. Even if the temptation is great to include some data that was entered or observed in ‘anonymous’ mode to the profile of an already identified user.


Personalization of the customer journey may not be challenge-free. However, none of these challenges should be used as an excuse not to deliver added value right from the start. There’s always some low-hanging fruit to reap to get you going. But don’t forget to take the ladder higher up in the tree.

Want to find out how you can benefit from personalizing your customer journey? Let’s talk.