Ever since the introduction of the internet, and online shopping in particular, the relationship between customer and vendor has had the potential to become impersonal, distant, and in some cases strained.
As consumers find themselves bombarded with marketing emails as soon as they make an online purchase, and vendors are relied on to provide as many communication channels for customers as possible, both sides are under pressure.
To mark the first Get to Know Your Customers Day of 2020 we spoke to nine industry experts for their advice on how businesses can keep customers sweet.
The popularisation of the subscription economy
“The subscription economy is booming,” explains Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru.
“Whether it’s movies, music, groceries or even razors, consumers are increasingly turning their back on traditional ‘one time’ purchases in favour of forming long-term relationships with trusted brands.
“As such, it is absolutely critical that all organisations understand how to nurture happy long term relationships with their customers. The demand for ‘as-a-service’ offerings across all sectors is clear, and now the key differentiator for businesses is not just understanding how to reach the right customer, but how to implement a consistent, successful and tailored journey across their entire customer base.
“Organisations at the forefront of today’s subscription economy rely on sophisticated customer engagement technology, such as AI-driven Natural Language Processing, to ensure they can meet changing customer demands as quickly, smoothly and effectively as possible. Increasingly delivered through the cloud, the importance of these contact centre technologies only grows as customers not only expect an attentive and efficient long-term relationship, but one that can take place seamlessly across every channel.”
Go the extra mile
“How many businesses can honestly say that they really know and understand their customers?” questions Jon Lucas, Co-Director of Hyve Managed Hosting.
“And by ‘really understanding’, we’re not talking about an annual customer survey or the occasional check-in – genuinely knowing your customers is about being able to anticipate their needs, solve their problems and help them to succeed.
“Obvious? Perhaps, but for just about every business, taking it seriously comes down to a conscious choice about how important customers are. Ultimately, any organisation of any size that wants to live by a strong customer service philosophy needs to make a commitment – both financially and culturally – to go the ‘extra mile’.
“The alternative would be a business that just ‘survives’ despite customer churn, thinks that winning new business is cheaper and easier than keeping customers really happy, and where reputation is ‘nice to have’, rather than a daily imperative.”
Tom Needs, COO at Node4, furthers this point, stating:
“For any organisation it’s important to always validate the customer service part of the equation, but this is especially the case from a managed service provider (MSP) perspective.
“With the MSP market continuing to grow, it’s vital that MSPs keep pace with changing customer needs and preferences, pairing them with the best technology to champion the type of exceptional service that ensures a customer’s business stays successful.”
“One way of doing this is to own the service level agreements (SLAs) and end-to-end infrastructure, because this gives partners and customers control, visibility, and better service levels. However, the most fundamental element is the customer relationship – knowledge of unique needs and preferences comes with constant engagement. If an MSP can act on that knowledge to deliver a better service that works in line with the objectives of the customer, can anticipate their future needs and do a first-class job should something go wrong, satisfaction is going to remain high.”
Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron explains how it’s not just technology that businesses should be thinking about, but also those products that affect work environments:
“The business world is ever-evolving, but one constant that anchors any business is its customer base,” he says.
“Knowing them and anticipating their needs and preferences is key to business continuity.
“For us, employees working in desk-based, seated office environments are our end-user customers.
“As experts in designing and producing kinetic work environments, it’s important that we understand how to support their health and wellbeing while they’re at work, and promoting better physical and mental wellbeing through the use of the right ergonomic furniture, in the right kind of work environment.
“In a similar way, businesses would do well to also regard their employees as a type of internal customer base, providing the appropriate support and working conditions that will ultimately elevate their business bottom line.”
Reap the benefits of data
“Organisations are continually working to better understand their customers and efficiently deliver tailored services that meet the individual needs of every customer,” explains Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise.
“To do this successfully, a business needs to be able to store its customers’ data efficiently and cost-effectively, and extract relevant knowledge from this data.
“Typically, this isn’t too complicated for transactional structured data, but it is often much trickier with unstructured data (such as videos, genomics files, IoT data, etc).
“Increasingly, the majority of a business’ customer data is unstructured, and it’s growing very rapidly. Businesses are now in need of data management solutions that help them understand, successfully manage, and extract value from this overwhelming amount of unstructured data, to keep customers happy and confident in the business storing their data.”
Tulin Green, Senior Director, EMEA Marketing at Commvault agrees.
“In this digital era, customers of nearly every business will interact with them online in some way, creating a data trail. Strong data management is therefore integral to the operation of any business, especially with the increase of technologies that utilise personal customer data to provide personalised experiences online,” she says.
“After all, the business that connects with potential customers best will stand out from the competition.
“However, the increase in customer data being collected and stored also comes with an increased risk. Companies that fail to prioritise data privacy and protection for their business assets – including customer data – will risk not only severe damage to bottom line profits, but to their brand reputation and customer loyalty too.
“To avoid this fate, businesses should prioritise their ability to securely manage all data, and ensure that comprehensive recovery measures are in place.
“In the instance that security measures fail, being able to resolve the issue and get data protection back in place quickly is crucial.”
Keep security threats at bay
“While living in an increasingly networked world has its advantages, it also leaves organisations vulnerable to exploitation by malware, inadvertent employee actions and malicious attacks,” points out Jan van Vliet, VP and GM EMEA at Digital Guardian.
“For security analysts, spotting security incidents arising from within their company, which is arguably their own customer base, is particularly tricky because the attacker may have legitimate access.
“If the credentials being input are valid, the same alarms are not raised as when an unauthorised user attempts entry from the outside. Deploying data-aware cybersecurity solutions removes the risks around the insider threat because even if an adversary has legitimate access to data, they are prevented from copying, moving or deleting it. What’s important when it comes to insiders, in whatever guise, is to be able to detect malicious or suspicious activity and produce real-time, priority alerts that analysts know must be addressed immediately.”
Nir Polak, CEO at Exabeam, highlights how data science can identify unusual activity.
“Securing the network is fundamental to protecting the business and a variety of tools exist to understand traffic flow over a network and to analyse security impacts from that flow,” he says.
“However, despite the capabilities of these tools, attacks and breaches continue to happen. It is time to expand the definition of network profiling to include the riskiest asset on the network: the user.
“Advances in data science, combined with computing power and applied to data already collected within most organisations, can connect the dots and provide a useful profile of network user activity.
“While data science – i.e. Machine Learning – has become an overused buzzword, in practice it can provide very useful answers in certain applications. For example, Machine Learning can discover the connections between seemingly unrelated bits of identities, to create a map of all of a user’s activities, even when the identity components are not explicitly linked.
“Other techniques can create baselines of normal behaviour for every user on the network, making it easier to understand whether each user is acting normally or not. Still other techniques can build better asset models, including which machines are likely ‘executive assets’ and at higher risk of attack. Profiling individual users enables an organisation to understand in great depth and with deep context exactly who is on the network; what they are doing; whether they should be doing it; and what it means to an organisation’s risk and security posture.”
The future in the cloud
“The cloud has brought analytics back into the hands of business users, particularly in HR,” Liam Butler, AVP at SumTotal comments.
“In the ‘old days’, business analytics tools were shrouded in secrecy and owned by IT and MIS as part of the on-premise ERP system. Analytics are now part of our daily life, being used to enable insightful decision-making and to predict business outcomes.
“For example, the linking of workforce management data with training data allows manufacturers to predict workforce capacity planning issues in advance of a product launch, train employees prior to manufacturing demand or move shift patterns to meet demand.”
As demands from consumers grow and the technology landscape becomes ever more complicated, it’s time for businesses to ensure the customers that keep their profits rolling in are satisfied.