Let me state the problem plainly: in order to provide better service, it helps to know more about your customer, so that you can more effectively anticipate and meet her needs.
But, pray tell, how do you learn about or solicit such information over the course of your first interaction? Moreover, how do you go about learning as much as you can, as quickly as you can, without making the request itself burdensome and off-putting?
Well, as obvious as it seems, the answer is to let her tell you.
The less obvious thing is how.
And that’s where user-centric (or citizen-centric) technologies offer the most promise.
It’s like this:
- If you let someone use an account or ID that they already use regularly elsewhere, you will save them the hassle of having to create yet another account that works solely with your service;
- following on that, an account that is reusable is more valuable, and its value can be further increased by attaching certain types of profile attributes to it that are commonly requested;
- the more common it becomes to reuse an account, the more people will expect this convenience during new sign up experiences, ideally to the point of knowing how to ask for support for their preferred sign-in mechanism from the services that they use;
- presuming that service providers’ desire for profile information and preferences will not decrease, it will become an added byproduct of user-centric authentication to be able to import such data from identity providers as it is available;
- as customers realize the convenience of portable profile and preference data, savvy identity providers will make it easier to store and express a wider array of this data, and will subsequently work with relying parties to develop interoperable sign up flows and on ramps (see Google and Plaxo).
For this to work, the individual must be motivated to manage her profile information and preferences, which shouldn’t be hard as her data becomes increasingly reusable (sort once, reuse everywhere). Additionally, organizing, maintaining, and accruing this information becomes less onerous when it’s all in one place (or conveniently accessible through one central customer-picked source), as opposed to sharded across many accounts and unaffiliated services.
You can get similar functionality with form-filling software like 1Password except in the model I’m describing, the data travels with you — beyond the browser and off the desktop — to wherever you need it — because it is stored in the cloud.
As it becomes easier to store and share this information, I think more people will do this as a happenstance of using more social software — and will become acclimated to providing their friends and service providers with varying degrees of access to increasing amounts of personally describing data.
Companies that jump on this and make it easier for people to manage their profile and preference data will benefit — having access to more accurate, timely, and better-maintained information, leading to more personalized user experiences and accelerating the path to satisfaction.
Companies that do get this right will benefit from what is emerging as a new social contract. As a citizen of the web, if you let me manage my relationship with you, and make it easy for me to do so, giving me the choice of how and where I store my profile and preference data, I’ll be more likely, more willing, and more able to share it with you, in an ongoing fashion, increasingly as you use it to improve my experiences with you.