Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

After each purchase at his store, Joseph DeVito, owner of White House Home in Malverne, sends the customer a personal, handwritten thank-you note.

He mails it out on the shop’s stationery after collecting contact information from the customer at the time of purchase.

The seemingly simple gesture seems to resonate with his clientele.

“Many people bring it up when they come to the store,” says DeVito, who opened the shop that sells tableware, gifts, home accessories and lighting in February. “People call me and thank me for it.”

It’s this kind of personalization that is lacking from many retailers even though they think they are delivering personalized service, say experts.

A recent survey by TimeTrade found that while 93 percent of retail businesses say service personalization is a strategic focus, only one-quarter of consumers feel they receive a consistent, personal experience.

“There is a strong disconnect today between the experience a consumer is getting at all levels of purchasing as compared to what the retail entity believes,” says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich-based marketing consultant and a professor of marketing and retail at Nassau Community College in Garden City. “Consumers want to know they are more than just a sale.”

There are various ways to personalize the customer experience, and while many retailers think “email is the answer to everything,” it’s not, says Mandel.

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Nowadays, consumers are used to being barraged by emails, he notes.

“If you can write a handwritten note then you’re way ahead of the game,” he says.

Even a phone call could be a differentiator, says Mandel, who believes in the power of four. This is where each day “you do right by four customers that you met that day,” he notes, adding that could be a letter, phone call, or other correspondence.

Beyond that, consider how your organization interacts with its customers, says Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group, a Massapequa Park-based customer service training and employee development firm.

Re-examine all your touchpoints, from the inside of your store to the call center, she suggests.

The TimeTrade survey found that 51 percent of consumers ranked call centers as having the poorest experience.

This is not a surprise, says Busse, who makes calls to client companies posing as a prospective customer. She recently made a test call to a limo company where the call took 10 minutes and she was transferred to four different people.

“I felt like a hot potato,” says Busse.

This kind of experience is what really irks customers, says Gary Ambrosino, CEO of TimeTrade, a Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based personalization technology firm.

Some of its clients are augmenting their call centers with the addition of TimeTrade’s interactive voice system, which allows customers to make an appointment to have someone knowledgeable call them back.

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“What consumers really want is quality help and they are willing to wait for it as long as they know it’s going to happen,” he says.

The likelihood of a purchase when a consumer is helped by a knowledgeable person is 80 percent, says Ambrosino.

Beyond being knowledgeable, employees need to be trained on how to interact with customers to help create that personal experience, says Busse.

“Don’t just teach employees about products and services and how to use the cash register, but who the customers are, how valued they are and how they should be treated,” she notes.

Personal gestures like making eye contact, using the customer’s name and being attentive all add to personalizing the experience, she notes.

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The in-store atmosphere can also contribute to that experience. For example, DeVito offers clients in-store refreshments, has a garden outside with a bench and leaves out a dog bowl with water.

“It’s about making everyone feel welcome,” he says.