Calling someone by their name is not personalization; it’s patronization.
Personalization, people talk about it. Marketers test it and write about it. So, naturally, we should include personalization in our site.
But what the hell is personalization exactly. Often site owners don’t really know enough to offer the sort of meaningful personalization on an individual customer that will improve the user experience. This is where they fall into a trap. They look at what they do know. They welcome the customer by name, for instance. I’ve worked on projects where the thought was to personalize the site in some way based on the customers past service record as an example.
Changing your background to camoflage because you know that your user was in the army is a neat trick, but it doesn’t provide anything meaningful for the customer. If you want to offer the kind of meaningful personalization that a customer will value, give them information that will be useful to them up front. Let them know that their order shipped or is out of stock. Tell them that they have a doctor’s appointment next Tuesday, or that they need to refill their blood pressure medicine.
Saying “Welcome Paul” is a neat trick. And it does reassure them that your site hasn’t confused them with someone else, but it adds little to their experience, because it doesn’t help them achieve the goal that they came to your site to accomplish.