One Interesting (and Somewhat Unsettling) Technology That’s Trying to Change Business Email

If you’ve been at your current company for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed some tendencies among your coworkers; your boss likes to stick to the facts, your coworker’s ears perk up when you mention last night’s game, the new designer appreciates pleasantries, and so on.

But what if this information was publicly available?  What if you knew communication preferences for everybody you messaged, even if you’ve never met them?  What if, every time you dropped a note, it was the perfect for the situation?  Though this may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s exactly what one new product attempts to do.

The tool is called “Crystal” and it’s been getting quite a bit of publicity recently.  I originally came across Crystal by way of a great Gizmodo post by Kate Knibbs.  After learning of the program, I investigated with equal parts curiosity and concern.


What exactly does it do?

As Crystal’s website explains, the tool “shows you the best way to communicate with any coworker, prospect, or customer based on their unique personality”.  Essentially, it provides detailed tips for emailing, communicating, and generally working with another individual based on their detailed personality profile.

Crystal Personality Profile Example

Even though I’ve never provided a shred of information directly to Crystal, the program already had a detailed profile for myself and the vast majority of my coworkers.  Crystal topped by profile with the (fairly accurate) summary, “Matt is driven, persistent, trustworthy, usually takes the lead in groups, and has a tendency to juggle too many things at once.”  Below that, it provided granular advice for speaking to me, emailing me, working with me, and my strengths and weaknesses – all of which were accurate, though slightly oversimplified.

In addition, the program gives you a sample email, demonstrating how you may apply the tips to practical communications.  In each example, Crystal tries to get the recipient to try some coffee.  Because Crystal believes I’m sort of ultra-utilitarian, my email is brief, to-the-point, and fact-heavy.  While I wasn’t instantly compelled to try a cup of coffee, the email was better than a lot of the stuff that makes it to my inbox.

Crystal Example Email to Matt Leap

You can take this a step further by clicking over to Crystal’s Email Assistant, where you can paste in your email text and get targeted recommendations.  Depending on the recipient, the program will suggest using specific phrases – in my case, a plain greeting and “Please” in front of a call to action – and avoiding others.  This feature expands beyond the editor through a Google Chrome Plugin, allowing it to integrate directly into Gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Finally, Crystal offers a “Relationships” feature where you can compare two personality profiles and predict their interactions.  Though this feature is only available to the top-tier accounts, it offers information about the relationship in various scenarios, from work groups to personal time.  If you tell Crystal who works at your company, a similar feature will help you compare an individual to your company culture (collective personality traits).

Crystal Relationship Screenshot Matt Leap Barack Obama


How does it work?

Crystal is built around an algorithm that scours the web for basically any (publicly available) information that you’ve written.  This includes blog posts, tweets, LinkedIn comments, Facebook posts, and online reviews.

Using this information, Crystal maps you to one of its 64 pre-formulated personality profiles.  Then it creates communication insights drawing from personality assessment tests like Meyer’s Briggs, DiSC, and Five Factors.  The more information Crystal has to work with, the more “confident” it is in your assessment.

Crystal Accuracy Meter

To round things out, crystal has validation and feedback system.  Basically, you can take an additional self-assessment through Crystal to influence your profile.  Likewise, you can assess the accuracy of profiles for people you know, however the feature is only available if the owner of the profile confirms they know you.

Self Assessment Peer Assessment Screenshot

Crystal is a new application for an existing concept and existing technology. Data aggregation, sales intelligence, and predictive analytics aren’t new concepts, but the ambitious approach to all three certainly is.


What does this have to with business?

Obviously, Crystal could be handy for more efficient collaboration with coworkers. It may even have some applications for hiring and onboarding processes. But the most interesting, exciting, and/or scary applications come in sales and marketing.

Imagine such a technology integrated into Salesforce and other CRM systems.  Now every sales rep has a personality profile, communication strategy, and even message templates for every prospect.  Given some of the existing integrations, it’s not a far leap.

Let’s take it a step further.  What if this technology could be integrated directly into a marketing automation system?  Now, after outlining a few different benefits of my product, my nurture emails are automatically reformulated based on the preferences of my recipient. John gets a to-the-point, facts and figures email, while Suzi gets something quirky and fun – all from the same campaign.  Similarly, web content can be tailored to the viewer.  Creative-types can be directed to an image-heavy version of my landing page, while those who are more technical get a version with the in-depth information they seek.

There’s more, though.  Part of the profile has to do with decision-making – need for information, speed of decisions, etc.  This type of information is highly valuable for lead scoring.  It can help to craft smarter target audiences for marketing and more accurate revenue projections for sales.   Rather than simply looking for Marketing Managers at companies with 100 or more employees, maybe now we’re looking for Marketing Managers who value efficiency, decide quickly, and like to look at the big picture.

In short, a technology like Crystal has the power to make personalization a hell of a lot more meaningful and effective than it is today.


But is it too weird?

We’ve established that this technology exists.  We’ve established that it could have some pretty significant business applications.  The question is, should it?

Crystal raises many of the same privacy vs. relevance questions as other forms of personalization, though it does so at a significantly larger scale.  It’s also worth noting that most other forms of personalization are based on personal information, not personality.

Proponents of Crystal would argue that it’s simply a means to an end.  If Crystal leads to better, more appropriate business communications, then it’s beneficial to your everyday businessperson.  They might also mention that it’s just another way to accomplish what companies have already been trying to do by tracking demographics, browsing history, and online engagement.

On the other hand, there’s something inherently creepy about someone you don’t know emailing you under the pretense of understanding your personality.  Opponents would argue that providing such information promotes manipulation.  You could make a case that email length, formality, and proposition type are legitimate work preferences, but recommendations to offer food or compliments seem more like tricks to get what you want.

Like anything, Crystal has the potential to be misused, especially if it’s overused early in relationships.  However, in the right hands, it could make for universally better email experiences.



Let us know what you think:

  • What do you think about Crystal?
  • Is there such a thing as too much personalization?
  • Would you ever use such a tool?



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