Developing customer intimacy as leverage for business growth

  • Addressing the small things that make a big difference

Just last week I chanced to buy a desk and swivel chair for personal use from a store that was doing closing sales. The challenge was when we got home with the product and needed to set it up. As it turned out my daughter and I (mostly her I must say) managed to put the pieces together just by reading through the instruction manual. How cool was that! The product had been acquired as we did and as I write this piece I am comfortably using it, it works. When you buy a piece of equipment or access a service your joy would be not only the acquisition but the ability to use it productively.

When developing our customer journey, we must be aware of the importance of emotional engagement, as it pays huge dividends. Customers will always remember how you made them feel, the Experience. Research shows that customers who give a brand 8 out of 10 for effort are about 10% more likely to buy again than those who give it a score of 7. The ease with which customers engage with your brand (effort) is a vital component of the customer journey. However, the greatest impact comes from creating emotional engagement.

Years ago, while in the UK, I underwent major surgery. Anyone who knows about the NHS will agree with me that getting an appointment for any form of consultation can be a daunting experience. However, my journey through the hospital processes was quite memorable. This tells me that the focus on experience was as important to them as the service delivery. I got a call from the hospital confirming the appointment for admission.

Next, a call came through from the Bed Manager indicating the availability of a bed and on what day. Everything else went like clockwork. This is why I remember an experience that occurred over a decade and a half ago. I shared a story once of how travelers from Fiji to Australia were treated to meals on a budget airline from the initiative of a cabin crew member who chanced to relate their plight to the son of one of their former pilots who was onboard the airline at the time.

Great moments are what customers seek, therefore if we deliberately engage them intending to deliver great experiences we resonate with their expectations in ways that make our brand stand out. To be deliberate about our customer engagements here are a few tips to help us in this quest. First, create cross-functional alignment within your organization. second, focus on best practices in your internal customer service. Third, develop and nurture. a strong customer-oriented business culture. Fourth, use data to measure and analyze customer satisfaction.

Create cross-functional alignment

One of the challenges of companies today is how to create cross-functional alignment.  Note that your ultimate goal is to help customers achieve their business (or personal) objectives and ensure their delight and satisfaction. To do this effectively you will need the combined effort of multiple teams within the business. Collaboration is effective when there is regular communication amongst all the internal teams that in one way or other engage with the needs of the customer.

To achieve cross-functional alignment, every concerned team in the organization must be on the same page in terms of progress on customer issues. As customer success is people-related you must build emotional connections with the customer in ways that resonate across the organization. This is best realized by building an emotional link between your staff and your customers, this way you make the customer’s needs a priority across the business.

Here are some approaches to creating an emotional link between your staff and your customers’ end-to-end experiences. First, get senior managers to personally deal with one complaint each month that involves their area. John Maxwell’s axiom that “everything rises and falls on leadership” resonates here. When leadership is privy to what happens at the front they responded more promptly and aptly to customer concerns. Document these end-to-end experiences and get as many staff as possible to observe in focus groups.

Second, engage customers by Inviting them into your offices and asking them about their experiences of dealing with you. This personalized interaction (perhaps with some refreshments, why not) can be very impactful as the customer gets to share sentiments weighing on their chest in a relatively relaxed atmosphere.  Build stories around these encounters and use them for your internal team training sessions as case studies.

Internal Customer `Service

This is the backup service provided to your employees by the company. Different departments provide services to each other from marketing and sales to IT and Human Resources and others. this is essentially the collaborative efforts of all your departments and internal processes and members of the company. If a Customer Service person is struggling to download customer information from the corporate database the IT department must be quick to resolve this. When IT responds quickly to issues employees can get back to work quickly.

As colleagues in the organization, we are considered internal customers by the HR department. HR delivers services encompassing employee training, benefits, and mediation. They also provide recruitment and hiring services for the company. This relationship is mutual as other departments serve by complying with HR rules and support in hiring services. Internal customer service is where fellow employees or other people you work with provide you with services. When great services are provided to internal customers it helps everyone provide great services to their external customers.

In other words, people you work with such as co-workers from other departments, managers, or even the CEO, having an Internal customer service culture helps everyone to provide great customer service to external customers. Ultimately it promotes the best interests of the company. When employees are fulfilled the impact is immense. For example, it will increase your turnover, improve company culture and help raise the profile of your brand. How cool is that!

Some of the direct benefits include high productivity, cost-effectiveness and efficiency, improved communications, target and goal achievements across different departments, and overall better customer service and experience. When your internal customer service is in the right place your external customers, those who choose to buy your products or use your services are happy to engage with you again and again thus long-term relationships are birthed and sustained.

Finally, never discount the need for proper training as your employees are your biggest asset, therefore investing in training is necessary. Proper training will enhance communication between the different departments and increase efficiency. When you treat all employees as internal customers it improves relations, which will benefit the interactions with external customers.

Develop and nurture a strong customer-oriented culture

An important cog in your business wheel is the type of relationships you build with customers and how you manage them. Truth is you can’t do it all so one important step you must take in this process is to identify a customer segment and build relationships that will serve the interests of both your business and the customer mutually. The nature of the relationship will depend on the Channels of engagement. These can be from personal to automated, and from transactional to long-term.

You can also aim to acquire and retain customers or boost sales through upselling (this is where a seller invites the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons to generate more revenue). The nature of relationships you build may include transactional where you interact with the customer on a transaction basis. When you buy from a retailer randomly for example. the relationship can also be long-term where you interact with the customer regularly.

There is also personal assistance based on human interaction. The customer communicates with the customer rep for help during and after a sales process is complete either onsite at the point of sale, through the call centre, or by email. You may also offer dedicated personal assistance. The banks commonly offer this kind of support to individual clients these are intimate relationships that develop over a long period and are usually provided to high-net-worth individuals by appointed key account managers.

There is also self-service where the company has no direct relationship with the customers however it provides all the means for the customers to help themselves. For example, self-service tills in shops, and online store services. Moving a notch higher there are more sophisticated forms such as automated services. Amazon offers automated services which include product recommendations based on customers’ transaction history.

Furthermore, companies these days develop and engage user communities where they become more involved with customers and prospects to facilitate connections between community members. By offering professional advice on weight loss for example known pharmaceutical brands provide valuable knowledge on weight loss and how to deal with obesity. There is also co-creation where businesses invite participation from customers. For example, Amazon allows book reviews while YouTube solicits customers to create content for public use.

Measuring and analyzing customer satisfaction

Your customer journey map provides a useful framework for measuring the success of your marketing campaign. It helps you assess how engaged customers are with your brand or how many purchases are made. A good way to maximize this resource is to customize the maps to reflect your brand’s KPIs. When you have a good view of your customer journey you are empowered to assess how you perform from the perspective of the customer using measuring tools such as Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and Customer Satisfaction surveys (CSAT).

CSAT surveys measure customers’ satisfaction with the product or service they receive from you. They are usually expressed with a 5- or 10-point scale (where 1 means “very unsatisfied” and 10 means “very satisfied”) or through binary yes/no answers. Net Promoter Scores (NPS). NPS is a customer loyalty score derived from asking customers, “On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this product/company to a friend or colleague?”

Customer effort score (CES) measures the experience customers had with a product or service in terms of how “difficult” or “easy” it was for them to complete an action or obtain a resolution. CES surveys are often sent out after an interaction with customer service, with questions such as, “How easy was it to get your issue resolved today?” It is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and gain quick feedback.

There is also Customer churn which tells you the rate at which customers are moving away from your brand. It is a normal part of any business initiative.  You must learn from it so that you can prevent it from happening due to poor customer experiences.

Information gathered from the surveys can be used to facilitate community forum discussions to help you understand customer pain points, how customers receive and use your product and what they are asking for. It is a form of customer feedback, which can provide direct insight into how customers feel about their interactions with your business.

Developing customer intimacy may not necessarily require the grand ideas and strategies known to us. the key is to listen in and observe very closely what happens at your journey touchpoints. Are you delivering what you promise? Being watchful and responsive to what happens in your customer engagement processes is necessary and must be followed through iteratively if you want to develop and sustain customer intimacy.

The Writer is a Change and CX Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],

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