Neil Woodcock, chairman of The Customer Framework shares his predictions for 2015.

Customer Experience is a board level item in most large organisations but sometimes the discussion becomes more about internal processes and systems than about the customer! We need to keep the customer firmly in focus and for this reason, I have based my top 5 ‘customer experience’ predictions in the reality of common customer feedback, agnostic of sector.

The speech bubbles contain [almost] verbatim extracts from focus group research conducted to qualify findings from primary research. This is the output of one focus group comprising 8 customers for a healthcare client, but the customers did not know the client or the client sector. The text box underneath each quote provides my predictions for 2015.

Brands are different

I like brands to know who they are. I don’t expect the best customer experience at Lidl or IKEA, because I know I get the best prices there and a really good range of products to choose from.

Prediction 1: We predict that senior teams will spend more time aligning on what customer experience really means to them.

Every company needs a clear aligned vision, amongst the whole leadership team, of what customer experience really means to their company in order to build a strategic capability.

This is the starting point. If you ask 5 senior managers in any company if they want to be ‘customer centric’ you will get 5 ‘yeses’. But ask them to define what that means and you’ll get 5 different answers!

Customers recognise that companies have different positioning in the market and therefore it is perfectly acceptable that companies offer different customer experiences. Broadly, any company’s strategy leads in one of these three areas

  • Product innovation (e.g. Apple, Samsung)
  • Price (e.g. Lidl, IKEA, Ryan Air)
  • Customer intimacy (Waitrose, BUPA, John Lewis)?

If a price (sometimes called ‘operationally excellent’) led retailer invested more in retail customer service for instance they will compromise their ability to offer low prices and invest working capital (to maintain product range in ‘in stock’ levels), which is their raison d’etre. So one dimension of the customer experience vision for this type of retailer is to satisfy but not ‘delight’ their customers and to remember that when they review satisfaction research!

The fundamentals are key

“Good customer experience? Give me a decent product at a good price, make it really easy for me to buy the product and seem like you care during the transaction! (Oh and sort out any issues I have. That’s a good experience for me. If you always do that I might well buy again from you! John Lewis, they do that! )

Prediction 2:There will be increasing recognition throughout organisations of what customer experience really involves – it is NOT just about process

The three fundamentals of customer experience – in any sector – which need to be engineered into any customer ‘journey’ are:

  • function (e.g. price, product features, packaging),
  • emotion (e.g. care, fun, recognition),
  • ‘ease of doing business’ (e.g. convenient, easy, fewer clicks)

Delivering this goes to the heart (in all senses of the word) of an organisation impacting on policies, processes, people, data and technology. It requires strong leadership and ‘how it impacts on me’ needs to be understood by everyone dealing directly or indirectly with customers.

Communications must be relevant

“…I don’t really want to hear from brands when I’m not ‘buying’, I get enough stuff through email and post as it is. It’s annoying if I get sent too much, or if the message is not relevant to me. That’s a bad experience. ( I sometimes unsubscribe although normally I don’t bother. I love the Booking.com app and use it frequently, but they now inundate me with irrelevant emails and have drawn the wrong conclusions about me! They think I love city shopping – I don’t, I go to city hotels as part of my job! Do they think they are building a ‘deeper relationship’ with me through sending me two emails a week? They’re deluded. It’s mostly annoying and nothing to do with a good customer experience – it’s all about selling. Drives me away from a brand that I like!)

Prediction 3:Re thinking Insight will remain a business priority

Insight ‘functions’ and processes are changing. The insight process involves bigger data sets, more complex data quality management and increasingly important data governance (that is the management of what data is used, how it is acquired and managed). The insight process involves serious data analytics (ability to combine transactional, unstructured and research data) and really effective commercial integration of insight with the business. It requires commercial managers who are insight driven and understand how to use insight and embed it in what they do, not just in driving the right communications to the right people, but in using it to help define products, services, pricing and promotions.

(Our work is showing that the speed of the overall insight to action process is really important. How ‘agile’ a company is appears to be a major differentiator in describing best performing companies from average. How do we know that? Through ongoing, significant benchmarking work we carry out with large clients using our SCHEMA® IP.

It requires a whole new philosophy in the business with the Insight function being integral to all commercial decisions and demands changes in competency throughout the organisation, not just in the analytics team)

Prediction 4:Piloting ‘customer engagement hub’ technologies to manage a relevant, personalised dialogue will be top of the joint IT and marketing agenda

In a world where customers are inundated with communications, the importance of relevance in the three areas of content (what you say), context (when you say it) and media (where you say it, including through which device) is clear.

To communicate relevantly, at scale, through multiple channels and at the right time (which may be ‘real time’, providing content when the customer is in the retail outlet, in the locality, searching online, on the website or in the App) is possible through the integration of digital, CRM and enterprise data with a business decisioning engine through the development of what Gartner call a ‘customer engagement hub’. These hubs are being used to drive customer engagement by supporting the sometimes conflicting objectives to both build brand engagement and to sell and will be increasingly used to support;

  • Planned brand communications which build the brand story through a continued, consistent narrative which delivered wherever customers touch the brand.
  • Dynamic communication programme based on business rules and triggers, which recognise the individual, streams the right content and does this within the immediate context of the customer.

CIO and CMOs will need to work together to begin to understand the costs and benefits of context based personalised communications.


Wow

I normally use Staples to buy my office stationery and equipment, but they were out of stock of the product I needed urgently for a presentation we were making the next day. So I looked around online and bought through Office Depot. The product is exactly the same, but they looked after me so well during that transaction in terms of the way they handled the call, the payment, the delivery and they even bothered to follow up to ask if I got the product in time for the presentation! How impressive is that? I shifted all of my business to them on the back of that one transaction!

Prediction 5: Leading brands will look to build back the ‘personal touch’ to normal business processes.

Customer experience design must recognise customers as people, listen to them, understand their feelings and not just build them into a set of analytics, business rules, processes and system! Being able to wow customers as this customer was obviously wow’ed is down to;

  • empowered, competent people,
  • the right policies (e.g. to allow call back for instance)
  • measurement criteria (i.e. on outcomes not just on call metrics)
  • excellent CRM/Workflow systems (e.g. identifying a new customer, helping qualify them and the management of workflow to prompt follow up activity)

This combination of people, policy, process and technology enables personal customer experience, at scale, with the platform to be able to measure what is going on to ensure effectiveness.

These five predictions have been selected because I believe they will have the most impact on overall customer experience, and the base-thinking for them is becoming established in many organisations. Don’t do too much new stuff – build your capabilities in these areas! Always interested in others’ thoughts.

Neil WoodcockNeil Woodcock
Chairman, The Customer Framework
Neil is ‘one of the Europe’s leading experts and authors in Customer Management’ (as quoted by the IDM). His background in Mobil, Unilever, Accenture and McKinsey has provided him with the knowledge and experience to advise companies, practically, about how to improve bottom line profit through more effective and efficient Customer Management. He has an ability to rapidly understand and identify critical issues in Customer Management. His passion is to encourage CEOs, analysts, economists and stockbrokers to understand the vital role of Customer Management in long-term sustainable corporate performance.

His latest research findings show that the step change in Customer Management over the last few years has been significant and he spends most of his time helping large organisations ‘prioritise the possibilities’ offered by near real time customer management, the deployment of insight, the shift in the locus of control of relationships towards the customer, the integration of social and CRM, the need for business agility and the focus on the active management of structured and unstructured data.

Neil co-founded QCi Ltd and CMAT (the world’s leading benchmarking tool) helping steer the company to become one of the leading niche consultancies in the world, operating across the globe. He was Chairman of QCi, bought by the WPP group in 2001. His work with one client resulted in the client saying ‘for me, it was a life changing intervention’ (MD, US listed company, July 2008).

Neil has co-authored 5 books, various reports and numerous articles on Customer Management. He is on the editorial board of leading journals and is an honorary fellow of the IDM. He is a regular speaker at conferences, at home and overseas.
neil.woodcock@thecustomerframework.com

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