How Design Improves Personalization Through User Experience

Don’t miss the mark when it comes to connecting your business with your customers. This special guest article from Sitecore uncovers how to reframe your user experience thinking to enhance personalisation and take your organization to the next level.

Optimizing user experience is key to delivering personalized customer experiences. Explore why some brands are missing the mark and how to start improving UX design to connect customers and your brand.

In today’s rapidly changing and hyper-competitive business landscape, the gateway that leads to customers’ hearts, minds, and (indeed) wallets, is personalization.

Consider how:

of customers only engage with marketing messages that are customized to their specific interests.

of customers only engage with marketing messages that are customized to their specific interests.

of customers feel frustrated when their shopping experience is impersonal.

This demand for a great customer experience (CX), fueled by personalization, is not limited to B2C. In 2020, as B2B brands were forced to rapidly accelerate their digital engagement efforts because digital had become the primary distribution channel, business customers were more apt to notice poor CX when they encountered it. With their expectations set by their experience as consumers, B2B buyers indicated that they would reward business suppliers who provided a great CX with double the likelihood of being chosen as a primary supplier.

Given the vital importance of personalization, McKinsey predicts that it will be the prime driver of marketing success by 2024. It would seem safe to assume that, across the board, user experience (UX) designers are fully embracing and enhancing this fundamental element. Except, this is not the case. Take a look at why this is happening, and even more importantly, what organizations, which are not currently reaping the rewards of personalization, can do to start improving UX.

When UX Undermines CX

Despite investing heavily in UX, some organizations have discovered that instead of cultivating a loyal following of raving fans, they are struggling to generate engagement and keep up with competitors. Here are three costly ways that UX design decisions can undermine CX:

  • UX is rooted in architectures, interfaces, and default settings that are often designed to guide customers though a journey. Design decisions require balance. They can guide the user in a direction that benefits the organization, instead of facilitating user-centered outcomes. These tactics, if heavy handed, are referred to as dark patterns, and they are surprisingly common. Princeton researchers analyzed 11,000 websites and found that 11% had 15 or more types of dark patterns.
  • UX that overwhelms customers with an array of complex features that are difficult to grasp. This leads to what psychologists call “choice overload,” which refers to negative psychological, emotional, and behavioral impacts of having too many options to choose from. While this problem is widespread, experts say that firms in the financial services and health insurance fields are especially guilty of committing this UX offense — particularly when it comes to mobile apps.
  • UX that does not attempt to capture any customer information at all. As with the other pitfalls described above, this is quite common. A Sitecore and Vanson Bourne study found that 36% of organizations do not keep any record of customers’ previous purchases or interactions with the brand. This type of data is key for shaping personalized customer experience.

What is the reason for the gaping disconnect between customers who benefit from personalization and organizations that struggle to deliver it?

The Fear of Friction (and Overcoming it)

Often the disconnect between customers and organizations can be chalked up to the fear of friction. Conventional UX thinking holds that the customer journey must be friction-free, which means there should be no elements — pop-ups, forms, “click here to learn more” promptings, and so on — that could potentially disrupt forward momentum. This theory was popularized during the rise of social media and encapsulated in 2005’s must-read for UX designers, “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.

In theory, this notion has merit. But in the reality of 2021, the effect is counter-productive. Instead of feeling liberated by a lack of friction, customers can feel lost due to a lack of support.

A minimal amount of friction, which results from strategically designed and deployed micro-interactions and micro-conversions, is neither a distraction nor a disruption. Instead, it is an agreeable (at best) or unnoticeable (at worst) invitation to interact, which is beneficial for both customers and organizations:

• Like street signs, micro-interactions and micro-conversions help customers head in the right direction, which of course is the direction that is most important or interesting to them at the time. They are in charge, but not isolated.

Micro-interactions and micro-conversions help organizations learn about the most important people in their ecosystem: current and future customers. This actionable intelligence can be leveraged to optimize CX, drive new product development, improve customer service, and support a range of efforts that ultimately increase competitive advantage, sales, and lifetime customer value.

Despite investing heavily in UX, some organizations have discovered that instead of cultivating a loyal following of raving fans, they are struggling to generate engagement and keep up with competitors.

Alison Sainsbury
Director of Digital Experience, Sitecore


No PII Required

Personalization along the customer journey does not mean asking top of the funnel (TOFU) visitors to reveal explicit data about themselves, which is something that most of them will not do. Interaction data — including visit details (traffic source, location, time of day), campaign source (the messaging or targeting used in the acquisition campaign that brought them to your site), and onsite behavior (pages visited, CTAs clicked on, content consumed, galleries viewed, etc.) — are rich sources of information that can be used to usher customers forward along the journey.

Building this trust with customers deepens the relationship to where asking for personally identifiable information, or PII such as their name and email, is not perceived as invasive or aggressive, but simply normal and organic. A whopping 90% of customers said they are willing to share their behavioral data if additional benefits are provided that make the buying experience better for them. And customers are 40% more likely to view items that are recommended based on information they have shared with a brand.

Optimizing UX for CX

We know personalization is essential rather than optional, and a minimal amount of friction is helpful rather than harmful. And so, the big question is: how do organizations walk the line with the right design, balancing strategy, resources, technology, and user behavior?

A solid place to start answering this is by auditing the digital properties and touchpoints that make up the end-to-end customer journey. Identify if there are opportunities in which knowing additional information about a given target audience — and again, we are talking high-level data here and nothing invasive or burdensome — would support delivering content sooner, deeper, or both. Doing so could significantly increase engagement and reduce drop-off.

An audit may also reveal that the process itself is not optimized. Addressing this typically involves educating internal stakeholders, and working to ensure that development teams, content creators, and site designers all understand the challenges and opportunities — and contribute to the shared, unifying mission, which of course is delivering personalization, personalization, and yet more personalization!



Alison Sainsbury
Director of Digital Experience, Sitecore

With over 20 years’ experience across a range of industries, Alison works with stakeholders at all levels of organisations to help them achieve real business value from their marketing technology, with a particular focus on Sitecore Experience Platform.

As part of the Sitecore Business Optimization Strategies (SBOS) team, Alison uses a well-established methodology to work on projects across Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, India and Greater Asia to help customers create a detailed strategy for the optimization of their martech stack, and then provide hands-on, individualised training to implement and measure the near and long-term impact on their objectives, providing a business case to justify further investment in digital marketing technologies.