The choice and freedom available to consumers in the wake of the online revolution has forced brands to work harder to acquire and retain customers. Companies are throwing everything at the challenge of delivering a superior customer experience with the result that expertise in this area is evolving rapidly.
Unsurprisingly, the influx of new thinking about how to optimise the customer experience means that many older ideas are dying out. Here are seven old school approaches to managing customers that are now nearing end-of-life.
1) Believing that the job’s done once the customer hits the ‘buy’ button
Nowadays many organisations are waking up to the importance of the post-purchase experience. Rather than just handing customers off to a logistics company to fulfil their orders, companies are creating personalised and branded experiences and actively communicating through this critical phase to cement the customer relationship.
A variety of things can be done to help brands own the post-purchase customer experience, such as providing recommendations, deals and educational content to keep customers excited about their purchases until they arrive, for example. You can encourage customers to sign up for text notifications and find FAQs without needing to leave your company website or mobile app, as well as allowing them to change their delivery date and method and track their orders.
If there is a problem following a purchase (such as the wrong item being delivered, and needing to be returned) customer service, logistics and marketing should be able to work together to ensure it gets resolved quickly. If the customer sees that a brand has been able to react quickly to put things right, it might actually help to increase loyalty and generate positive word-of-mouth or online recommendations.
By doing all this, it’s possible to extend and deepen the relationship with the customer and open up opportunities for further purchases.
2) Ignoring the importance of employee engagement
All the research tells us that happy employees also keep customers happy. As Richard Branson once put it:
“Clients don’t come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Failure to keep employees engaged and motivated can have a detrimental impact on the customer experience, and leave companies lagging behind. A study by the Ross School of Business, suggests that for every 10% increase in employee engagement levels, a company’s customer service levels go up by 5%, and profits by 2%. A 2014 US study by Answers.com shows a causal relationship between employee engagement and customer satisfaction among US retail brands – with brands such as Apple scoring highest for both engaged employees and satisfied customers.
Aside from recruiting the right people and paying them well, experts have identified a variety of factors to focus on if you want to boost employee engagement, including improving the relationship between line managers and employees, ensuring employees understand how their performance contributes to the success of the company and providing good training and prospects for career development.
3) Believing that marketing can control the brand experience
The explosion of social networking has forced marketing teams to relinquish a certain amount of control over the brands and embrace ‘co-ownership’ with their customers. Companies have to recognise that the way people buy has changed massively; with social media, online forums and reviews, much of the power resides in peer to peer recommendations. In fact, marketing approaches that focus on generating consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth recommendations generate more than twice as many sales as paid advertising, according to research by Mckinsey.
Brands can support word of mouth by delivering an excellent customer experience and cultivating customer advocates. Building a customer advocacy programme starts with identifying loyal and engaged customers. Which customers have made the most repeat purchases for example and who is speaking positively on your behalf on social media or online forums? The next step is to find ways to engage with these individuals to make a deeper connection, including thanking them when they say something positive online, sharing the content they are creating around your brand and featuring it on your own online properties. Another aspect of this is making advocates feel special by rewarding them with exclusive offers or VIP events.
4) Using a ‘One size fits all’ approach to customer communications
Gone are the days when personalised customer communications meant inserting the correct name and greeting on a mass email campaign. Since the rise of new online channels, analytics and automation, personalised customer experiences have become the new battleground on which big brands are competing. In fact experts believe that with so much marketing being targeted at consumers today, people are reassured by personalised messages – because it gives them a sense of control and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed by the huge mass of irrelevant information they are exposed too.
Today personalisation means everything from re-targeted advertising to delivering individualised web content and putting tailored marketing messages into bills and statements. And personalised experiences are not always about pushing out tailored sales pitches. Companies can also provide additional, valuable information and support in order to deepen the customer relationship. An electricity company might insert charts within its online bills to highlight a household’s daily power consumption patterns, or insert a link or QR code to an energy saving guide, for example. Discounts, competitions and other offers can all be based on each customer’s particular circumstances. It is also possible for a company to track people across multiple devices so that, for example, customers can be shown web content on their laptops that is related to the pages they browsed when they visited the company website on their phone earlier in the day.
5) Thinking that customers are happy to navigate their way through your internal structure
The days of “You’ll have to contact a different department to deal with that” are over, or at least they should be. Everyone in the organisation now has to take responsibility for the customer experience. And the customer expects that every digital channel should give access to every part of your organisation.
So, if a customer makes contact with a financial services organisation on a social channel, they expect to get answers about all the organisation’s services in one place – not to go to one place for insurance advice and somewhere else for current accounts.
Companies also need joined up systems so that agents in the contact centre or field sales representatives are be able to answer questions such as “How soon can I get hold of this out of stock item?” or address a customer service issue to do with an older purchase. Collaboration and workflow systems allow customer facing staff in one part of the company to easily bring in other departments to answer customer queries whether about billing, changing the time of delivery or to make a new purchase from another department, regardless of whether the interaction is via telephone, online chat or social media.
6) Expecting customers to wait for a response
What was once an acceptable wait time for customer service is now seen as slow. The rise of digital channels and a hectic always-on lifestyle has led customers to expect responses in minutes rather than days. A study of US retail customers shows that 77% won’t wait more than six hours for an email response from a brand, 85% of those who contact a brand over Facebook expect an answer within six hours and 64% of those using Twitter expect a response within an hour. Slow websites are disastrous: research suggests that people are growing more impatient about how long they are willing to wait for a retailer’s web pages to load before going elsewhere, with 50% of consumers switching to an alternative if they encounter a slow-loading or stalling website.
Today if customers are unhappy with the service they are receiving it is easier for them to vote with their feet – an alternative supplier is usually only a click or two away – or damage a company’s reputation with an all-too-public complaint that could even go viral. So companies need to ensure that their technology is the slickest and quickest and that their customer facing teams have enough people – armed with the most efficient automation tools – to allow them to respond to customers within the tight timeframes they expect, even when things get busy.
7) Putting your trust in siloed channels
Customers now follow a complex journey, moving back and forth between channels – for example websites, mobile apps, social media sites, call centres and bricks-and-mortar retail outlets – as they gather information and come to a buying decision. The brand has to have an intimate understanding of this journey and the typical channels and information requirements at each stage.
A single joined-up view of the customer as they move through their journey is essential if you want to optimize their experience. For example, an agent in the call centre should immediately be able to see that the customer they are speaking to has received a personalised offer via email – which they have already discussed with the company during an online chat conversation – and they now want to take up the offer and make a purchase.
Much of the important information that underpins interactions with your company is recorded in personalised customer communications – emails, bills, SMS, letters, social media conversations – so you need to create a ‘single customer view’ that includes access to all these documents across all channels.
2014 research by Gartner suggests that 89% of companies expected to be competing mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016 – and two-thirds expected their customer experience (CX) capabilities to be much more successful than their peers within five years. So the pressure is on to analyse the customer experiences you are delivering and retire any outdated practices that are no longer fit for purpose.