Kodwo Manuel’s thoughts: Connect with customers by connecting with employees

Photo: Dalex customer care executives responding to enquiries. Credit: Business Day Ghana

– create a customer-intelligent business

It is said that to understand the future we must understand the past. This assertion of life might generally have relevance when we reflect on how best to engage the customer. Becoming customer-centric may seem like the ‘cool’ thing to do for any business, with its consequent need for investments in cash and other resources. However, with today’s market demands, decisions have to be made not only faster but smarter, too.

This new environment means to manage your marketing strategy on gut-instinct alone is now untenable. According to Jim Goodnight, Founder and CEO of SAS Institute, we must address 3 difficult questions most industry players are grappling with if we want to thrive in the new normal. These are: how can I know my customers? How do I keep them engaged and loyal to my brand? How do I balance my budget to keep both customers and management happy? No clear answers here, except to say that it pays to learn a lot more about the customer.

Employee emotions connect with your customer experience

A good way to start this conversation is to observe how organisations have dealt with their employees during this pandemic. While some organisations have shown people-first policies, others have failed to provide any cushion of support for their employees. Retailer Next in the UK, which had closed its physical stores ahead of government’s guidelines, voluntarily closed its online operation due to concerns about the risk posed to employees in its warehouse and distribution centre.

At Airbnb, employees who were laid-off have received support from an Airbnb dedicated team to help find roles for those who lost their jobs. They are also offering ex-colleagues up to four months of external career services support, and the choice to keep their company laptops. In Ghana, health workers have shown immense compassion in offering support for unfortunate victims of the COVID virus at the risk of their own lives.

For the customer agenda to be at the centre of a business’s strategy, employees must first be beneficiaries of the positive experience, the employee experience. However, experts have judged that this is an unachievable goal; with competing needs in any business, this unrealistic goal will require a major cultural and strategic shift. To avoid this unachievable goal, seek to be customer-intelligent instead.

The customer-intelligent company leverages all of its knowledge and connects the customer into the very heart of its operation and decision-making. Think of your own life experience regarding a product you have tried, following adverts you may have seen which unfortunately did not live up to the hype. The human experience did not reach the standard set by the advert. It means the investment into the advert did not fully crystallise for the customer. In a family where apple products exist, you are likely to find that the apple device is credited with emotions – such that you probably will hear the children say “Can iPad go to school with us tomorrow?”  This means that the iPad is seen as a member of the family, and it means Apple has effectively bridged the gap between technology and emotions.

Characteristics of a customer-intelligent company

The customer-intelligent company understands customer-empathy and manages its relationship with the customer by carefully nurturing an internal culture that thrives on great employee experience. Employees feel a greater sense of value, are happier and more engaged and are motivated to learn new skills. Google offers a great example of deliberately creating an environment where the concerns of employees are promptly addressed. In 2007, they noticed a lot of women leaving the company. HR analytics revealed the reason why they were leaving in hordes.

Their response was to change the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 5 months. The attrition rate of women decreased by 50% following that policy-change. The fact is that when the business performance takes precedence over customer attention, this can be costly in terms of customer promise. So for example, when Apple decided to withdraw the bulk of its frontline staff in stores, their customers reacted strongly and demanded a return to the practice. They listened and the rest is history.

Time and budgets spent resolving problems can be high if we miss out on responding to the customer’s needs ‘outside-in’. There are 2 lessons we can learn from this; a good question to reflect on is whether your staff know what experience they are required to deliver based on their understanding of your company’s mission and goals.

The advantage here is that if they associate with the organisation’s mission aptly, it will reflect on their customer-relationships in various ways – such as being friendly and focusing on consistent improvements to make your company’s products and services stand out. Next, your team must understand the precise points in the journey where value is created or destroyed. Findings show that there is a range of emotional clusters which may enhance or destroy the customer’s experience.

These are the advocacy clusters wherein a happy customer is likely to be an advocate – as was the case with Michael Gerber who shared his personalised hotel experience as a positive one, or the Amazon experience of handing you a good buy based on their observation of your browsing history. In the case of an insurance company, if a person died in military service would you demand to see a formal death-certificate before you paid out an insurance policy?

Customer-Intelligence is not a rebadging of CRM

Customer-Intelligence is a key component of Customer relationship management, offering insights into their behaviour and relationship with your brand. Customers who are window-shopping may offer very little by way of information about their product choices or preferences; consequently, their visit to your shop may not be captured in your CRM as no transaction takes place. In a customer-intelligent company, employees will be quick to try and find out (albeit randomly and subtly) why the customer did not make a purchase. Data captured from this process will offer deeper insights into customer behaviour.

The goal is to be able to establish what matters to customers to focus on how to keep the customer experience high on the list of your business’s strategic priorities. CRM thrives on technology, thus the distinction between the two must be clear; such that employees appreciate the role of customer-intelligence within the CRM platform. By integrating your customer-intelligence within the CRM system, you will develop a fit for purpose customer relationship strategy.

A customer-intelligent system must address 4 key attributes: first, it must identify information of value. Therefore, merely hobnobbing over streams of facts derived from business transactions will not be sufficient. What will add value to the process is where you can manage clusters of facts that are meaningful and useful to your organisation, leading to customer-centred decision-making. Second, they must address the context in which the data was gathered or processed.

An increased sale in football-boots may be due to a change in lifestyle, with more people playing to keep fit rather than a fixed pattern characteristic of the normal football season. Third, customer-intelligence will offer you more granularity to address data instances. So, for example, the customer attributes of any 2 customers will present information that is unique to each of them. Knowing buying patterns will help your business in terms of your capability to address needs more specifically.

Finally, the results of your customer-intelligence analysis should point to a course of action. You now know your customers better – enough to keep them engaged and loyal to your brand. Your customer-journey planning becomes easier and your development of touchpoints are more intuitive. It may go so far as leading you to rethink your value statements and motivate your employees to display traits that mirror your beliefs and practices with the customer as their focus. At Starbucks in the UK, the local barista is so friendly and resourceful that it’s hard not to strike up a conversation with her. This is because relationship building is part of their core values.

According to Starbucks’ mission and values statement, “When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers – even if just for a few moments”. Great lessons to learn here if you are in the food business. Will you be selling great delicacies? Or would you rather be enthused by the streaming-in of regulars and new customers who find your service delivery in good stead, and willingly refer you to their colleagues? Turning your intuitive belief into real programmes means making customer intelligence an integral part of your business.

We understand, however, that the process of gathering customer intelligence is yet to reach maturity; therefore, enterprises should think twice before by-passing Customer Intelligence or giving up on it altogether. Be that as it may, the hidden truth is this: it is impossible to build an effective customer relationship strategy on the strength of CRM alone.

Enterprises must leverage customer data to gain an in-depth understanding of the marketplace, and thus maximise corporate strategic goals. Good customer experience management can strengthen brand-preference through differentiated experiences and boost revenue with incremental sales from existing customers, and new sales from word of mouth.

Your efforts at customer intelligence will improve customer loyalty – and create advocates through valued and memorable customer interactions, but it must start through the nurturing of an employee-focused internal culture. This will be the recipe for your business to transform into being customer-intelligent.

Photo: Kodwo Manuel, Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited

The writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited, a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management, Leadership Development, HR Outsourcing and general HR Advisory, Training and consulting services. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected]/ www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717

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