According to Gartner* , many business and IT leaders see the customer experience as a sustainable source of competitive differentiation. However two thirds of these executives believe they will be industry leaders, or much more successful than their peers, within five years. Clearly, this optimism will not translate into reality for everyone. Regrettably, a lot of customer experience initiatives have remained in departmental or channel silos. Most have been focusing on marketing contacts which only make up a small proportion of all customer interactions. In addition, it is still highly unusual for inbound service agents to have visibility of a customer’s past online browsing (and the implication for that individual), let alone the public sentiment gleaned from all the experience being discussed on social media.
The question beckons: what must a company do well in order to outperform its competitors in this field? Here are three points for consideration:
1. Most purchases result from a series of positive customer experience beforehand
Harvard Business Review^ defines customer experience as: “the quality of all of a consumer’s encounters with a company’s products, services, and brand”.
There are three themes that organisations delivering “Great” customer experience have in common:
- (i) easy to do business with;
- (ii) consistent in messages and actions; and
- (iii) receptive to customer feedback.
In other words, companies need to strengthen their capabilities to monitor and intervene at noteworthy moments, be it in the course of day-to-day product usage, when seeking help and information, or when stuck at a point during online application.
And, increasingly, digitally-savvy consumers are demanding such preemptive assistance in real time. Pioneering companies are starting to do so at the levels of individual customer, specific interaction and location. They recognise that the overall feeling of “Great” customer experience comes from a brand that goes beyond what is considered normal into the extraordinary. For example, if online retailer Zappos is out of stock on a product, it will help you find the item from a competitor. Little wonder that 75% of its orders come from repeat customers**. In essence, it boils down to the mindset and practice of helping customers to buy vs merely trying to sell them more products.
2. Context is key
Customer’s dealings with a brand can be highly complex in our modern mobile-centric world. Customer experience that feels “Great” depends on proactive suggestions that are timely and in context – i.e. these suggestions also take into account each customer’s unique habits and preference, as well as the root causes of undesirable actions. For example, it has been minimum requirement for some time that a Personal Identifier code input in the IVR is integrated with the service agent’s CRM system. For an experience to be rated “Great” today, more and more customers are expecting that an online application form is pre-populated with information the company already recorded from past dealings. Naturally, in context of security, private information will still need to be sensitively handled with appropriate customer opt-in and authentication.
The ability to incorporate a customer’s reactions to all past contacts adds even richer context to a given situation for that person. Not only will the background insight help to make it easy for the customers to do business with you (e.g. timely notifications), this knowledge is essential to avoid contradictory messages in subsequent exchanges. A brand will be able to make bespoke recommendations that give certain customers ‘a great deal’, save others some money and avoid minor mistake snowballing into a major issue. For example, the first home buyer’s journey typically involves multiple dealings across several weeks, even months. Taking a leaf from Behavioural Economics, a series of tailored ‘nudges’ can serve to fulfil the ‘micro-need’ at each interaction in the buying journey. Cumulatively, delivering contextual value and “Great” customer experience is what makes the difference between acquiring a new mortgage customer vs losing the opportunity to a competitor.
3. Hyper-personalisation at-scale
The vision of hyper-personalisation is not news. Attaining it has been hampered in the past by the inability to perform systematically on a massive scale. Today, technical advances and corresponding explosion of digital interactions have allowed businesses to start turning this vision into reality. Technology is indispensable for ensuring optimal relevance for millions of individual customers, especially the need to do so at important moments of truth and simultaneously in multiple touch points used by each customer.
Early attempts to introduce capabilities for intelligent digital decisions to make personalised offers have had mixed results. Most initiatives started with a tool for a specific channel (e.g. real-time web personalisation) and some have certainly improved customer experience. However, when personalisation is rolled out to cover more contact categories and multiple touch points, including non-digital channels, many businesses soon realise that most of these point solutions are unable to fulfil the real time performance and scalability SLAs. Even the ‘best’ real time decision tool will keep generating the same old messages when the most up-to-date customer data is unavailable as and when the next decision demands it.
With the benefit of hindsight, initiatives that concentrated on software with a passing glance at underlying data and analytics ecosystem will continue to struggle to achieve “Great” customer experience. The more agile companies now recognise that their ability for hyper-personalisation is a function of the company’s data management sophistication plus how well this data foundation is integrated with advanced analytics and intelligent interaction orchestration. One corollary of this acknowledgement is the growing number of business leaders who own the responsibility for the crucial data element as well. Working in partnership with IT, more and more businesses are taking the lead on their Big Data initiatives that will deliver the data and insight needed for “Great” experience outcome.
In my next blog, I will look at the data and analytics ecosystem that is necessary to provide hyper-personalisation at-scale, including the next evolution in customer experience management where innovators are experimenting with social media and other off-domain interactions to establish the ‘unified customer experience view’. So stay tuned.
*Gartner, “Customer Experience Is the New Competitive Battlefield”, 4 June 2015
^Gartner, “Customer Experience Is the Harvard Business Review, “What a Great Digital Customer Experience Actually Looks Like”, November 2015
**McKinsey & Company, “The Seven Traits of Effective Digital Enterprises”, May 20145