Personalized Cigar Recommendations – User Control

Personalized Cigar Recommendations - User Control
Published November 30, 2018 4:42 pm PT

We continue our series of articles about personalized cigar recommendations and what we consider to be the key factors for a personalized service. We also share with you some of the results of our latest customer satisfaction survey…

Science vs. Pragmatism

If you have read us before, you know that we operate as a lean-agile team. In alignment with our continuous improvement remit, we recently conducted a non-scientific survey among our members to understand where we’re doing well and where we can further improve our service. The areas we selected are the ones that we consider to be key success factors for our personalized service:

We thank our members for the terrific feedback we received on all these fronts.

Today, we’ll focus on the user control aspect, which we will also call member control as the term user sounds very “IT” like.

What do we mean by member control?

According to the study “Recommendations as personalized marketing”, “the customer will be satisfied if she/he has some degree of control over what types of recommendations to receive or not to receive, and to be able to take actions to correct dissatisfactory  recommendations by providing feedback (e.g. “I have already smoked it”, “Don’t use this
for future recommendations, I don’t like the brand”, “I did not like that cigar when I tried it once”, …)”. Research has shown that providing forms of user interactions not only leads to higher user satisfaction, but also to increased trust in the system.

How do we deal with member control at Cigar Sense?

The Cigar Sense member control mechanisms are intended to :

  1. Have an immediate and relevant effect on the recommendations. For instance, after each time a member changes a parameter in her/his priorities and preferences, and after each time the member submits a “quick rate” or a tasting note, the recommendations list gets instantly updated. Also, a recommended cigar can be “hard to find” (it can be the case for Cuban cigars in the United States, for Cuban dual brands outside of the United States and for “discontinued” cigars) or the member can have a negative bias for a brand or country or wrapper: she/he can eliminate such cigars from the recommendations list with a click.
  2. Offer transparency: the on-boarding by itself gives a lot of insight into the parameters used to formulate personalized recommendations. Quick tweaks in every element of the personal profile enable to obtain a totally different set of recommendations.

We review all non expected responses. For instance, a “thumbs down” action for a music track on Spotify or Pandora results in an immediate update of the next track to be played. At Cigar Sense we want to understand why. A thumbs down is a false positive by default and, as such, needs to be carefully reviewed: a few times we re-analyzed the cigar to make sure it was not our panel outcome that was creating the problem.

Personalized Cigar Recommendations - User Control

A challenge

People argue about how much control should be given to users in recommendation engines.

For instance, one of the biggest challenges, for both Cigar Sense and other recommender systems, is when a member is given many options but remains very ambivalent. Not specifying a clear preference or aversion risks to trigger more recommendations in the list and a higher number of them will appear as less relevant. Basically, leaving all sliders in the middle position in the Cigar Sense gustatory profile after having set flavor as “the most important priority for me” has sometimes the same meaning as having them all set at the maximum level, it’s like the member tells us “show me anything you have and I will take it from there”, which can then lead to either spending too much time on the website or dissatisfaction or both. For this reason, at Cigar Sense, we have a limit to the “ambiguities” a profile can have and prompt the member to complete her/his profile.

Knowledge with a twist

There is also a wide range of knowledge among cigar lovers. Many people are very knowledgeable of certain fields within the industry, but when it gets to the tasting language, some important aspects may get lost in translation or in mis-conceptions. Many members tell us they know if they like a cigar or not, but, for instance, they don’t know what “animal” aromas mean. Two main responses are given by Cigar Sense:

  1. The option for the member to let Cigar Sense infer a first profile based on liked cigars
  2. The Profile Advisor feature, which suggests detailed changes that can be made to the profile based on what the member has told us up to that point. If accepted, the suggestions automatically change the profile and instantly generate a new recommendations list. The Profile Advisor starts to work after entering 5 complete tasting notes. Why do we ask for complete tasting notes and not just quick rating? We want to make sure the interactions upon which we base our updated recommendations list are not the result of mindlessness or even of mistakes. It  is important for us to understand the reason for a potential false positive or false negative.

We understand that some cigar lovers do not seek to understand how we generate specific recommendations for them, they might fully enjoy their discovery journey and might even prefer to just be surprised with new cigars they did not try yet. Notwithstanding this, we also seek to serve a great community of demanding cigar lovers, who enjoy submitting their feedback and observing how the engine responds to their actions. We thank all of our members for their support, no matter the control they want to have over their recommendations.

How do our members rate us on the control they can have within Cigar Sense?

We asked our members:

How easy is it to tell Cigar Sense what I don’t like in a cigar and manage my profile?

Only paid members have access to all our current control features, whereas free members have the ability to reset their recommendations list and start over, as well as to manually adjust their profiles in all parameters. In spite of this, the overall score is 8.7 out of 10 for member control.

We must say that this is very generous, considering that we released the “quick-rate” feature, intended to make the interactions with the service even faster and easier, after we closed the survey.

We are very grateful for the above, although this sets the bar even higher for when we will re-measure how we are doing on this aspect.

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