Thought Leadership

Customers Take It Personally (When They Can)

November 30, 2023
Author: Rob Darrow

Not so long ago, I wandered into a local hardware store looking for a particular item. While I knew that I could probably find it on my own if I spent enough time looking, I wanted to take advantage of the store’s “helpful” reputation and asked a clerk for assistance. “You can find them on aisle 11,” he answered before going back to his previous activity. While his directive shortened my search somewhat, I couldn’t help but think that the employee had only gone partway in giving me the help I wanted. In past, similar circumstances, other employees had taken the additional steps of walking me over to the specific product section I was interested in and helping me find the specific product that would best meet my requirements.

In thinking about my other retail experiences, I realized that my local grocery store has done a much better job of recognizing my individual tastes and needs. Specifically, by virtue of its rewards program, my grocery store knows my shopping history and product preferences. When it comes to rewarding me as a customer, this retailer sends me coupons, but only for those products that I love and purchase on a regular basis. Every time I receive these coupons, I am delighted that the store not only knows the specific products that I like, but that it also tailors rewards in a way that is most valuable to me.

As I reflected on these two different experiences, I realized that these stories and my responses to them are emblematic of a trend that we are seeing across industries. Specifically, today’s customers want to be known, understood and rewarded during their consumer journey for their unique interests and needs. And more importantly, these customers want retailers’ products, services and solutions to be personalized to address those unique interests and needs.

To their detriment, some firms have historically taken a one-size-fits-all approach to serving their customers in an effort to drive down operating costs. The saying, “You can have the product in whatever color you want, as long as it is black,” may have been applicable when Henry Ford introduced the Model T, but it doesn’t meet the needs of customers in the 21st century.

Customers are people, with all of the complexities that implies. Specifically, customers have different needs, objectives, priorities and concerns that can’t always be fully satisfied with a uniform approach. Recognizing this, some organizations have moved toward personalizing their products and services and have subsequently discovered that they are being rewarded with more business, a more satisfied customer base and greater customer acquisition & retention.

Recognizing this trend, a large financial institution wanted to take a more personalized approach to helping investors find compatible financial advisors. While understanding that referrals are the main way that investors find financial advisors today, this firm saw an opportunity to provide an additional, digital means of connecting investors with advisors. They conceived a new tool that could both “personalize” the advisor search so that investor/advisor matches would be optimized, and “democratize” the process so that anyone could access and benefit from it.

In thinking about personalization, this financial institution realized that the best and most long-lasting investor/advisor relationships exist when both parties are compatible in areas such as values, work styles and meeting preferences. When an investor and advisor can align in terms of how they approach investments and one another, it helps to establish a mutual understanding, trust and productive relationship.

As a result, this organization enlisted Escalent to help it conceive and develop a digital tool that allows investors to specify their investment needs, work style preferences and ideal advisor characteristics. After investors provide their input, the tool then presents them with a short list of qualified investment advisors who best match their requirements. Investors can then review the profiles of each of the recommended advisors and select one who they feel is most compatible with their needs and preferences. Having found a good match, investors can then contact their selected advisor and initiate a conversation about what matters most: establishing a personalized financial plan that best meets their needs.

The personalized approach of matching investors with advisors has reaped significant dividends for our financial services partner. Because this tool better matches investors with advisors:

  • Prospective investors are reaching out to advisors in much greater numbers
  • The number of these prospects who have become clients has increased multifold.

What are the ways that a personalized marketing approach might improve your business? Whether it’s exploring customers’ unique needs, the ways that products and services could be customized, or the specific communication needs of different segments and individuals, Escalent is prepared to help you investigate ways to personalize and optimize your reach and sales effectiveness.

Click below to see all the ways Escalent can help you solve your customer research challenges.


Rob Darrow
Rob Darrow
Senior Director, Qualitative

Rob is a seasoned qualitative research and marketing professional with over 30 years of experience in qualitative research, product marketing, and product management. Rob has served a variety of clients in banking, wealth management, and health insurance including Bank of America, BlackRock, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Capital Group, Franklin Templeton, Merrill, Quicken Loans, United Healthcare, Vanguard, and Wells Fargo. Among other targets, he has worked with financial services executives, advisors, small business owners, health insurance professionals, and consumers. Prior to joining Escalent, Rob held research positions at Ipsos UU and King Brown Partners. In addition to his research background, Rob has 16+ years of experience in the tech industry, and held senior Marketing roles in both Fortune 1000 corporations and start-up firms including Motorola Computer Systems, Plantronics, Pixo, and Vocera.  Rob received a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, and he is a RIVA trained moderator.