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Mass Customization With a Personalized Experience

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Posted July 22, 2004 By Jack Aaronson     Feedback

Automation is great -- up to a point. Case study of an online merchant that strikes the right balance between personalization and personalized.

Although the Internet provides the ability to scale your customer base without scaling your online sales force as quickly as you'd have to in the offline world, there's no replacement for the human connection between buyer and seller. This week, we'll look at how a real salesperson (among other forms of personalization) can make a difference, especially in the business-to-business (B2B) world.

I wrote previously about product mass customization (e.g., made-to-order shoes) and how Web sites that offer mass-customized products must also offer a highly personalized experience. The negative case study I provided was of a company that offered personalized printing services (e.g., business cards) but didn't allow users to have a proper account or offer the ability to easily reorder products. This time, a case study of a company that's doing at least that much properly.

Last week, our company decided to order a bunch of giveaways bearing our logo -- pens and such. After scouring the Web, we landed on There are many user-experience problems with the site, but that's not the point of today's column. Instead, we'll talk about how the company's personalized user experience goes a long way in meeting user expectations (especially since it's in the business of selling personalized products). Branders goes a step further, actually, by providing a human interface for its services.

By creating an account on the site, the user can upload her company's artwork to an online account. The benefit of doing this at Branders is much greater than at its competitors' sites. Branders actually places your logo on the product images, giving you a sense of how they'll look. This is an incredible benefit as the average price point is at least $500, a lot of money to pay for something sight unseen.

Personalization features Branders offers fit its clients' business needs: to see their logos on the products. That's why people visit the site. Although some forms of personalization may be superfluous, this site has figured out the personalized features that help close the sale.

In fact, all the site's personalization features are geared toward closing the sale. You can save your artwork and save projects you're working on (desired product with desired artwork). You can also save quotes (products combined with order quantity, shipping information, and final price). These features make picking up where you left off extremely easy. We went back and forth between projects several times to determine the best product choices based on how our logo looked.

The Human Touch

Not content to stop there, Branders goes a huge step further (actually, this was the inspiration for this case study). Once you've created an account, you're assigned a sales rep. The rep's name and phone number become part of your global site navigation. Every page I view tells me his name and urges me to call if I have questions.

The sales rep even sent an e-mail after my first visit. Of course, I assume the message was boilerplate, and he didn't actually write it. Nevertheless, I responded because I had real questions that weren't answered on the site. Since then, my sales rep and I have chatted on the phone a few times. We finally placed our order yesterday.

Generally, I'm not a phone person. I prefer e-mail or Web sites. I'm always running in and out of meetings and rarely have time to sit on the phone. Though I'd prefer Branders give me all the information I need without requiring me to contact a human, I really like that the option was there. As it enhances the user experience and adds more information to its site, Branders will notice fewer people calling its sales reps. They won't have to.

The company made a very strategic decision, one essential in both the B2B world and for the mass-customization business. It realizes a mass-customized product (such as pens bearing my company's logo) requires a personalized user experience. At times, an automated personalized user experience must give way to a human experience.

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