Yanny vs. Laurel typifies customer personalisation

This viral hit is an important reminder for CX professionals: there is no one reality when it comes to the individual.




This week’s hottest internet debate is an important reminder for CX professionals on service personalisation.

If there’s one thing internet denizens love to do, it’s to find something to get irritated about.

A few years ago, you would have been forgiven for thinking the most important debate in the world was whether a poorly lit photograph showed a dress in white and gold lace trim or, instead, one of blue and black. The phenomenon sparked over 10 million tweets and something of a social media turf war as it became clear human vision can be more nuanced than most of us care to notice.

Now the argument has gone aural. This week’s biggest trend has again plunged us back into opposing mobs as we heatedly disagree over what we’re being told by a disembodied audio loop.

This viral hit is an important reminder for CX professionals: there is no one reality when it comes to the individual.

Sometime between the last smash of the snooze button and the day’s first much-needed coffee, I tuned in to the distorted sound of an Italian woman repeating the word “Yanny” in monotone. Confused as to how anyone could hear anything else, I waited a while then gave the audio another listen. Now all I could hear was a baritone American male repeating the word “Laurel”. More confusing was that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t recapture the original sound – something like one of Donatella Versace’s dogs slipping the lead and escaping through a hedge.

Mind. Blown.

Entirely by accident I had become one of the lucky few able to hear the audio in both of its ‘forms’. But online, the camps were already dividing. Most had heard only “Yanny” or only “Laurel” and refused to believe the other was a conceivable option. Accusations were flying that the ‘other side’ was making a concerted effort to troll them. “Yannys” were just seeking attention. “Laurels” were tone-deaf. Yet a handful had been able to ‘convert’ and were stumbling through the warring social media wastelands in bewilderment as if having emerged from Plato’s Cave.

This viral hit is an important reminder for CX professionals: there is no one reality when it comes to the individual. And no single approach will appeal to or appease every customer. Consumer choice today is based on service personalisation – and if you listen carefully, customers will tell you what resonates with them.

Many innovative companies have already been able to grasp this concept and deliver personalised experiences, such as Prudential, who recently told us about their emphasis on customer journey mapping (listen to the podcast below).



However, many others – for a number of reasons – still struggle to realise this goal. This can often be down to the fact that people are a fickle and disoriented bunch.

Like those who aligned themselves firmly in either #TeamYanny or #TeamLaurel, customers don’t always think objectively. They have an expectation in mind and they want it to be catered to. Appealing to a personalised experience for these customers feeds their desire to feel noticed and appreciated.

Meanwhile, like those who were able to hear both Yanny and Laurel, some customers are more on-the-fence. They don’t necessarily know what they want or what their options are. Businesses can therefore adapt on a case-by-case basis, even changing the customer’s perception and giving them room to grow, which can lead to interesting results.

Others, like those who loudly proclaimed not to care about the Yanny vs. Laurel debate because there are far more important things in the world to worry about (a fair point), may simply want to avoid the fuss and keep things simple. They may well resist personalisation efforts.

Where an individual falls on the spectrum will reveal much about whether attempts to personalise an experience will require small alterations or grand gestures. But to get there, data is key.

Like those who aligned themselves firmly in either #TeamYanny or #TeamLaurel, customers don’t always think objectively.

In today’s hyper-digital world, this data is increasingly available, particularly when the consumer is more willing to shout about their personal experiences and perceptions. Businesses must therefore consider their strategies for handling data as paramount to any personalisation goals.

Again, individual pain points and opportunities will vary, but mapping these can be a more painless process thanks to digital engagement. The likes of Amazon and Netflix are already reaping the rewards of paying attention to customer data and using this to build an ultra-targeted service to each user. As CX Network identified among the year’s key trends, we have now entered the age of hyper-personalisation, in which data analytics not only personalise experiences but do so in near real time, individualising content as well as its timing and location.

The likes of Amazon and Netflix are already reaping the rewards of paying attention to customer data and using this to build an ultra-targeted service to each user.

With this in mind, it’s all the more important for organisations to treat their personalisation strategy as one that must continue to evolve with time without losing a grip on the measures of success. There is no ‘customer experience’, only customer experiences. Get it right and customers will form loyalties to you as strong as Team Yanny or Team Laurel. Ignore this fact and you can be sure your customers will be back online to make their irritation heard.