That our world today is complex is a cliché that resonates with nearly all actors in our global ecosystems. However, what makes this world so complicated may not necessarily draw the same unanimity. Businesses are dealing with a myriad of challenges to keep focused – and not least of these is how you engage customers: How do you develop and engage lasting relationships; how do you keep them coming back for more?
And more importantly, how do you keep them happy each time you have an encounter with them? The challenges are so overwhelming that the expression of problem-solving has become familiar rhetoric as we navigate the difficult business terrain. So, with an effective customer relationship management (CRM) strategy you employ appropriate techniques, tools and technologies to develop, retain and acquire customers.
The big ask is whether it is enough to have a great CRM strategy. Admittedly digital platforms (using technology/software to trade and conduct business) have improved massively in capabilities and can deliver personalised and contextual content. So, for example, a car salesperson has a good sense of his/her customer’s preferences with cars, having engaged with them over some time. However, with businesses scaling-up in our new world, how we track the growing population of customers requires much more in terms of technology and level of effort.
Your competitiveness and likeability from the customer’s perspective only improve as you develop a singular view of the various ways a customer interacts with your brand. How we respond to customer needs, the promptness with which we address their needs require the agility derived from our ability to connect marketing systems with customer insights.
Customer Experience proponents identify the power of technology as a critical element in this equation, and thus propose several approaches to make your customer acquisition and retention quest come to fruition. These are (and not limited to) setting your sights beyond CRM, sensing the signals, smart pivoting and multichannel communication.
Setting your sights beyond CRM
For customers who interact regularly with you and develop a relationship with your brand, you must focus on what they are doing and what they are thinking as they journey through your touchpoints. This is where a CRM has limitations: yes, it provides useful data; however, its focus is only on one piece of the puzzle! To engage more effectively with your customer, you need more than the sum of a purchase history or how much they spend. Think about context and timing, since as your customer interacts with your brand his/her receptiveness to engaging with you may vary as a consequence of times of the day or week. Their emotions, feelings and impressions come into play here.
Note that there is a marked difference between a traditional CRM approach in comparison to your customer-centric engagement. In business terms, you will be tracking customer activity through your workflow; but this by itself is not a customer journey. A customer journey unfolds at the points of interaction as they engage with your brand; this could be in-store, by email, social media or through your website. During this journey, the customer has expectations, emotional nuances and feelings at play, which ultimately define the customer’s experience. By documenting the customer journey, you are mapping out different behavioural scenarios by using data to develop an ‘outside-in’ understanding of the customer.
A CRM will only focus on customers as individuals by tracking their activities through your workflow. Therefore, if a customer visit makes you adjust your inventory, your interest is primarily how your numbers (quantities and values) are changing as a result. For example, if a customer calls technical support with a problem related to a device or returns a dress because it doesn’t fit right, she may feel frustrated at the moment. It is the wrong time to send a promotional message for a new product. Armed with the right tools, a business can sense what a customer is thinking and feeling at a particular moment to inform how it should act toward her.
Sensing the signals
Think of a typical customer engagement scenario: A customer walks into your shop to buy a pair of shoes. Your challenge here is how to pick the right signals across various touchpoints during the journey. Has the customer bought anything from you recently? Has she chatted with or called customer support? Did she make repeated inquiries about a problem? Which offers has she responded to in the past? How much has she spent recently, and how does this compare with historical patterns? Are they close to a store location? Did they just move up in loyalty status with your rewards programme?
Your business challenges
Is there a smooth hand-off between groups that interact with customers? How frequently do you share data, information and nuances to ensure you have a full picture of a customer, such that the activities and encounters are not lost in silos? As much as it is a technology challenge, it is also an organisational challenge. With the right technology framework, orchestration and workflows, it is possible to harness all of these data and information to strengthen your capacity to actively listen to customer signals interactively. Every interaction should inform and enhance the next one to serve the consumer well.
With a centralised, cross-channel profile of customers and the use of appropriate technologies, your ability to make intelligent decisions becomes real. Suddenly, your ability to address the complexities of today’s customers is greatly enhanced. You now manage a multi-channel business environment with capabilities beyond fragmentation. Enter now a new world where hand-offs and transitions occur seamlessly. Now you can coordinate and orchestrate engagements and essentially sync up different parts of the customer journey into a holistic customer experience. You are empowered to deliver a unique experience to your customer.
Customer needs vary and can be multifaceted; therefore, if your business can manage use-cases ranging from product functionality and multiple stakeholders, you need high-touch experiences to connect with, educate and inspire customers about how products can work for them. Some businesses these days are very proactive in this regard. They interact frequently with their customers through conferences, where they bring together large numbers of people for keynote addresses and breakout sessions to learn from and inspire each other.
When the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person activities to a halt, Amazon Web Services (AWS) re-engineered its conferences as virtual events spread out over three weeks encompassing education, keynotes addresses, and leadership sessions. An event that drew in 300,000 attendees, dubbed ‘Virtual re-invent it’, was very popular with customers – many of whom willingly shared personal experiences and even suggested that it run every year alongside the in-person event.
Technologies such as Adobe Analytics, Adobe Target and Marketo Engage made it possible for AWS to orchestrate the event and create a personalised digital journey during the conference, targetting customers with content and suggesting sessions. Bringing this home, DeVictors – a business educational forum birthed in the UK with footprints in Africa – leveraged Zoom during the lockdown in 2020 to deliver great experiences in educational sessions to its patrons, reaching out to scores of Africans hungry for knowledge. DeVictors has now built a rapport with a cross-section of African professionals, both on the continent and in the diaspora, and is currently building on this momentum to explore many more possibilities.
In American football, a hand-off is essentially an exchange made by handing the ball to a teammate. This is based on the fact that a good understanding exists among teammates as they work toward the common goal of winning. Signals across your website, mobile app and in-store activity need to be understood collectively, such that customer interactions at these touchpoints are visible across your organisation and understood collectively. As customers interact with your brand, hand-offs and intuition between channels become extremely important.
What you need is a Real-Time Customer Data Platform (RTCDP) that will drive activation and harness cross-channel insights to deliver personalisation. Using the right-fit technology will provide an accurate pulse on customer journeys, and enable you to orchestrate great experiences in the moments when it counts most.
New York City Transit (NYCT), the largest public transport agency in North America, quickly responded to changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and changed New York City’s transit needs in a matter of days. They created a custom workflow with a tool – Workflow Builder – to automatically remind direct reporters to fill out a form with their daily priorities. The form auto-posts in the right channel so everyone has visibility into the team’s daily focus areas.
Today, we live in an environment where people are more connected than ever before. To speak to someone, you can reach the person through instant messaging, a phone call, video, email or social media. Everywhere you look, there are more opportunities to reach out and break down geographical boundaries. Customers are therefore using significantly more channels to reach your brand. Providing customers with the flexible, multi-platform experience they are looking for requires great effort and investment into creating that flexible access. A good CX strategy is now reliant on the ability to blend and sew multiple touchpoints together through multichannel services.
As technology takes a more significant role in our lives due to the pandemic, we see a shift in people’s tolerance for bad technology. A recent study revealed that nearly half of U.S. workers are likely to leave their current job if they’re unhappy or frustrated with the technology they use at work. Researchers however believe that the root of this frustration is often a lack of training or confidence in one’s ability to fully use a product’s capabilities. By offering users a personalised learning path and ready access to a wide variety of resources to help them build technical proficiency, they will be more effective at their jobs and drive results. The impact on your customer experience is phenomenal.
|The Writer is a Management and Customer Experience Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],