Data Offers a True Custom Fit
by Frank Trevino
The Digital Age
We live in a digital age of customization/personalization. Thanks to data, but more so around personal data, we are now experiencing customization/personalization never seen before. Technology is allowing us to capture data insights about ourselves that is shaping our quality of life. McKinsey & Company point out that advances in technology, data and analytics are creating much more personal and “human” experiences that impact us significantly through empathy and its ability to understand a person’s emotions.
advances in technology, data and analytics are creating much more personal and “human” experiences that impact us significantly through empathy and its ability to understand a person’s emotions.
McKinsey & Company
McKinsey continues to point out a number of technologies that are creating customization/personalization value around the goal of a sustainable, scaled offerings that goes beyond the novelty effect and have functional or aesthetic purpose. One key technology is the advent of commercial 3D scanning and modeling. In 1997, I had the opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Center NASA in Houston to tour emerging technologies. This was my first experience viewing a 3D printer in action. Granted it was the size of a vehicle and generated a 3D printed product the size of quarter, it was the sign of the future. Almost 25 years later, 3D printers are bringing customization/personalization to life through “tailor-made” products.
But with such technology, products and services talk about customization/personalization but many fail to meet its true definition. What is customization/personalization? By definition, the action of modifying something to suit a particular individual or task as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. I view customization/personalization as a way to solve a problem or enhance my quality of life. This gives me an opportunity as a consumer to choose. Consumer choice has increased over the years since the early days of Henry Ford’s Model T, when buyers could pick any color- as long as it was black, as part of the on-going joke still used. Today, individualized customization/personalization is within reach more than ever but products tout customization/personalization that are far from its purpose. It all comes back down to data. If the data is inaccurate so are the efforts around it.
Three (3) areas where customization/personalization fail and lead to a bad customer experience.
Delivering a truly personalized experience requires knowing more than your customer’s name. A good example is through simple email campaigns where automation takes over. Names are incorrect with canned content. This confluence of bad data sets and approach are just a major turn-off.
Technology can be our best friend but also our worst enemy. Overeliance on technology creates an unforeseen burden as expectations are high yet it continues to yield negative results. I always think of Netflix’s recommendation algorithm based on what you watched, regardless that you only watched it for 5 minutes and hated it. But after that 5 minutes, it’s too late. It is in the system and now it will recommend more similar content.
Mediocre approach to one size fits all
This last area is an interesting one because it showcases how companies are willing to try just a little to offer customization/personalization. The earbud industry continues to grow with a market size of USD $25.1 billion in 2019. Yet companies believe that one size fits all earbuds are the perfect gift and your earbud will never fall out. It’s like selling the same size shoe to everyone with the hope that it just works out. Ears are similar to fingerprints in that they are all unique. Now some earbud companies realize there is a need to personalize the earbud size by offering a mix of earbud inserts with the hope that one of the sizes will be close enough and your earbuds will not fall out. Or they offer built in ‘cutting edge technology’ that allows you to quickly mold a custom fit earbud without capturing and scanning data, when it is just sounds more like a marketing gimmick, similar to how companies use the term artificial intelligence, when its not really being used. Again, this is just another way of delivering a mediocre customer experience.
As I look at customization and personalization, a lot of things need to come into play. First is the right data. You need the right data to personalize a product or solution and it needs to be your data, as well as how did they get that data. Second, how is that data being used? If it gathers all the wrong datasets like Netflix, then expect a poor experience. And lastly, if the product is a wearable like earbuds and it’s not incorporating 3D printing from a true scan, then it’s hard to say that it’s a custom fit. So, if you hear the word “custom fit”, ask yourself, is it really a “custom fit”? I think the best way to summarize a custom and personal wearable product is that it must capture the right data, build the right data scans and use 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to generate your solution, then you can call it a custom fit. It’s only when we have a true custom fit, that it then creates a positive customer experience that is solving a problem for us.
AI/ML, digital transformation + sustainability strategist, & digital marketer with 20+ years’ combined global corporate & startup experience in emerging technologies. IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, NASA iTech, USAF Cyberworx and USAF AFWERX innovation participant.
Frequent speaker on AI/ML including the recent Digital Transformation World Series 2020 and Yahoo Finance. Frank is a Master of Science (MSc) candidate at the University of Oxford.