What’s a ‘customer-centric’ experience and how do I follow best practice?

Imagine a scenario when the book you ordered online did not reach you after the promised delivery deadline of three days. You called the website’s customer care and the representative promises the book will reach you the next day, but it still does not. You call again the next day and connect to another executive this time who does not know the history of your purchases or requests, gives you the same status and adds that there is no record of your previous conversation with the organisation. Does this sound familiar? The book may reach you in another one or two days, but would you make another purchase at the same website?

Now, let’s tweak this scenario a bit. When you call customer care for the first time, the representative tells you that your book was stuck in transit and assures you that it will reach you within a day. She even checks to see whether you have faced this situation before – for example, when you had ordered another book a month ago. The book reaches you the next day and you then get another call from the company confirming the receipt and apologising for the delay in delivery again. Would you go back to the same website for another purchase?

The only difference between the two scenarios is the ability of the organisation to turn around an unpleasant experience for a consumer and end a transaction on a high note. This is the difference that one great customer experience can make in spite of circumstances not being in favour of the organisation.

Put simply, customer experience is the sum total of relationships a customer has with a business and is based on all interactions and thoughts the customer has about the business. Customers who have a positive experience are more likely to become loyal customers to the business.

While the predictability of customer interactions has vanished, the way in which businesses engage with customers has fundamentally changed. Customers can now interact with brands from multiple touch points or channels, but they cite cross-channel inconsistency as their number one complaint. Your customer is only interacting with you as a single entity, she is unaware that you have separate teams to run your Twitter account, tele-support and email support – none of which are connected to the same view of customer information.

To succeed in this multi-touch point world, businesses must indeed shift from channel-centric organisations to customer-centric organisations. The best way to achieve this transformation is to connect internal data, teams, and technologies to drive cohesive personal experiences that increase engagement, sales, and loyalty across channels.

As a first step, businesses must understand that the best investment decisions in improving the customer experience can be made only after understanding the customer lifecycle and expectations. In this context, marketers are already overwhelmed by the quantity of information flowing in from all sources. The emergence of social networks has added complexity to the implications for enterprises. However, embracing social networks has compelling rewards in terms of understanding customer behaviour and analytics.

The solution lies in leveraging huge quantities of data – also called ‘Big Data’, which can be traditional enterprise data or machine-generated/sensor data or social data- to truly understand the customer. Big Data solutions help marketers to combine and pool information by linking disparate and siloed channels. By collecting and analysing transactional data, enterprises can actually map customer needs and expectations.  Predictive analytics therefore help marketers to target the right customer with the relevant offers, thus reducing cost and effort without overstepping and making the customer uncomfortable.

Second, positive engagements are so important to consumers that they are willing to pay for it. In fact, the 2011 ‘Customer Experience Interactive (CEI) Survey’ highlighted that 86% of consumers will gladly spend more for a better customer experience. Moreover, marketers understand that acquiring new customers is a lot more expensive than retaining old ones.

The various data sources play a key role here again as it helps in deriving loyalty metrics used in assessing customer loyalty. By linking financial data to customer data and customer feedback, marketers are able to assess the loyalty displayed by customers towards an organisation or a brand.

Exceeding expectations of the customers helps ensure superior customer experiences that make the consumers return to a brand more often. Poor experiences are typically a result of unmet expectations, leading consumers to move to newer vendors.  The CEI survey also states that 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following an undesired customer experience. Some industry studies also indicate that it costs an organisation eight times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Third, businesses must integrate their various customer interaction channels. As customers are turning to an ever-growing assortment of devices and touch points, businesses struggle to solve new problems with legacy systems and team structures. This is because internal teams are siloed and held to channel-oriented goals and legacy technology is unable to scale; data and content are scattered throughout the enterprise. Moreover, no universal view of the customer lifecycle or cross-channel performance can be provided with the archaic technology. Millions of customers using multiple touch points often find themselves exposed to the product or service provider’s internal business problems at the point of engagement.

The time has come to move beyond the limits of individual channels and touch points and instead create well-choreographed cross-channel interactions. To deliver a great customer experience, it is important to invest in a platform that can quickly find the relevant information that meets customer demands. The integration starts with unifying each customer interaction across all communication modes by gaining a 360-degree view of customers. This lets businesses deliver a unified brand message across all channels so that they can deliver customised content and offers. The integration also allows businesses to create the desired transparent, channel-agnostic and personalised customer experience. With a technology infrastructure that liberates all the knowledge trapped in channel-specific silos and puts it to work in a common platform that feeds every touch point, business organisations really can achieve enterprise-wide alignment. Moreover, it lets them attract and engage the right customers, both online and offline, through marketing outreach.

As a fourth step, businesses must give social networks the full attention they deserve. When ignored, a customer with an axe to grind can make a service hiccup a very public failure. You may recall the ‘Dell Hell’ episode from 2005, when a blogger posted a series of articles documenting his unsatisfying experience with the brand. The blogs spurred thousands of comments along with links from a host of other sites, and his story ended up receiving mainstream media coverage – ultimately spreading the word far and wide.

Social networks have fundamentally changed the way many customers choose to interact with businesses. Organisations view the proliferation of social networks as a threat or an opportunity. It can be seen as a threat because of the seemingly endless new data streams social networks generate – data that needs to be sifted and processed for the information that is useful.

On the other hand, businesses need to approach social networking as a huge opportunity – a new way to communicate with and learn from customers in a mode that customers have embraced and to which they have become accustomed. For many organisations, the opportunity is there and by capitalising on it sooner, they can enjoy the benefits without facing any negative repercussions. By taking a strategic, knowledge-based approach, organisations can easily leverage the potential of social networks to truly enhance the customer experience and improve business performance.

Social customer relationship management (SRM) helps organisations use social data and channels to drive greater customer understanding, make better business decisions, and improve and strengthen relationships. Through a combination of loyalty management, analytics, and service capabilities that help enterprises better understand each customer’s lifetime value, vendors offer solutions for the social enterprise help them build more insightful marketing programs by understanding customers’ social conversations.

Finally, organisations must adapt to become instantly responsive. The days when organisations could take a week to get back to customers are history. Today, customers are conditioned for speed. They want information and they want it fast. Speed has become a competitive advantage and can make or break an organisation’s reputation. Answering customer queries, especially their complaints, quickly and efficiently is a prerequisite to deliver superior customer experiences.

If ignored, customers today have a lot of options to voice their dissatisfaction that could lead to undesired situations for the image of the company. Even if responding with the correct status is going to take time, letting the customer know is critical. A timely response can turn an angry, dissatisfied customer into a loyal one for life.

In today’s global markets, customer experience has become a key business differentiator – yet delighting customers is not always easy. By taking a strategic, knowledge-based approach, and leveraging the best practices outlined above, organisations can truly enhance their customer experience and improve business performance.

 

Chris Bosch
BY Chris Bosch ON 18 September 2013
Chris Bosch is director, CRM solutions, Australia at Oracle