There’s a conversation buzz in the customer experience circles and in business today. It is about how much the customer environment has changed and how customers are no longer who they used to be. Today’s customer is said to have a variety of easy to use channels to communicate and engage with brands that were hitherto inaccessible. The emergence of the omni-channel approach to customer communication, that logs customer interactions for preference noting, ensures continuity of communication across channels. It promotes positive customer experiences vide structures to intimately understand and track consumer behaviour and has served to further modify the customer landscape.
Customers have indeed become more discerning especially with technological disruptions enhancing globalization, triggering brands to expand their competitive offerings beyond the local playing field, to match global standards. The rising demand for luxury items vis a vis functional options, has seen customers look out for products and services that can meet their eccentricities.
This new breed of customer is acutely aware of the opportunity for communication and feedback, and demands responsiveness. He has very high service expectations from both the public and private sectors in his quest to get good service and a heightened discernment of his rights with a tendency to sway towards litigation in event of service failure.
Never has customer experience excellence been more fundamental to business success as it is now.
With all this analyses in place and predictions of the need to work harder to better understand customers in order to provide delightful customer experiences, it remains that emotional drivers rather than functional deliverables will continue to be the basis for customer perception and assessment of the value brands bring to the table.
That said, there is need for clarity that despite all that is happening in the brand and business world today – human needs are not changing. The delivery of solutions to meet those needs is what is changing, and so should the strategies to ensure their needs are anticipated, met and exceeded in this so called ‘ really changing’ world.
But what does today’s customer really want? Has sufficient ground work been done to determine the direction to take? The response to this is currently summarized into three A’s – the access to information and services Anytime, Anywhere and on Any device. This then forms the immediate basis that calls for organizations and brands to retreat to their thinking rooms and plot the ‘how’ to deliver value with these customer needs in mind, and to place technology as an enabler for customer experience excellence, at the centre of focus.
Technology is indeed a crucial facilitator and customer experience practitioners need to embrace the central role innovative technology plays in creating seamless experiences. To ensure an anytime, anywhere and on any device experience, calls for adaptation of products and services to meet these needs.
The ICT department of any organization will need to be in close and continuous contact with those in charge of customer experience and new product development, to harmonize initiatives towards successful outcomes.
Customer experience diehards quite aptly harp on about customer convenience being the new marketing tool and that convenience is truly king over all other customer perspectives.
This paradigm is closely backed up by the need for customer connectivity as the new anchor for delivery of experiences that not only last, but create hunger for continued patronage. The world being more aligned with the need to collaborate, requires that players from all sectors of the economy innovate around products and services accessible on smartphones, tablets, or computers of all sizes and dimensions.
The connectivity of an offering is becoming as equally important as the offering itself. Maybe more. New product development teams working closely with those in charge of listening to the voice of the customer in the institution, need to ensure that in order to tailor offerings to tap into specific customer needs – with a view to understanding specific customers and what works (or does not work for them), the organization must devise data capturing systems to ensure customer data is tracked and retrievable.
Utmost stringency must be employed to ensure that this customer data is not unethically exploited, or shared without the customer’s consent that would lead to breach of trust.
The reverse flow of data must be instituted to ensure customers have access to information about the brand itself, the products, and services on offer and any help facility in place to streamline the customer journey. This data needs to be easily accessible and customized for different device options.
The interface that customers connect with need not vary based on their connection options. Customers abhor complexities, and standardization is the name of the customer experience game. They need to experience the same brand atmosphere that attracts them to partake of it from the get go. User interfaces (be they on mobile applications, online portals website, social media or on any other communication channel) need to have the customer experience created and to be as similar as possible.
Some organizations have taken the endeavour to offer parallel experiences for customers quite seriously, and ensure their physical customer touchpoints including offices, stores and different location set ups, are thematically aligned, harmonizing both the digital and physical experience. With the A of ‘Anywhere’ concept being applied in this way, the customer’s experience of the brand as such, does not change based on the specific interaction point.
Rotating customer experience excellence around technology, also allows customers to provide real time feedback with ease. Effortless access to a brand’s customer communication portals creates avenues for spontaneous communication. Customers have the luxury to whip out their devices at any time and send updates of their experiences at any of the brand’s touchpoints.
These would typically include: the upload of images of items of preference that require clarification or assistance of some sort to procure, recordings of customer interactions with brand representatives that may not be going as expected, logging of customer complaints or customer conflict situations that need attention or escalation for resolution or specifications of preferences ahead of engaging with the organization to save time and ensure clarity.
Gathering this information serves to have customer data well harnessed and accessible, to ensure that identification of the individual, and customization of preferences, is done to enhance personalized delivery.
Providing anytime, anywhere access to customers in addition to being a source of customer preference data, has the advantage of harnessing insights into brand performance.
When customers have an easy option to provide feedback, they feel emotionally engaged given that their perception and quite rightly so, is that the brand cares enough to provide a ‘listening’ avenue. This not only spurs the inflow of feedback on shortcomings in their experience of the brand products or services, but also has the natural outcome of customers scouting out other competing brands and sharing their thoughts.
With the almost ‘selfish’ view point to improving their own experience, engaged customers will at the touch of a button, stroke on a keyboard or activation of their voice recording app, provide useful information on what they feel works well that they would like incorporated in their product or service experience, or the negative outcomes experienced elsewhere that their favourite brand should watch out for in advance. Up to date real time market intelligence information is important to enhance product and service offerings, and evaluate brand positioning from a competitive angle. The tradeoff between the technological and ensuing financial investment in ensuring customers can reach the organization with ease, and the value accrued from the cost effectiveness of incoming information that would have otherwise required commissioning market surveys and other competitor intelligence analysis activities, cannot be downplayed. And as with all other customer experience initiatives, this return on investment needs to be quantified in business terms for reporting in the boardroom.
The Triple ‘A’ approach to customer experience needs to be embraced across industry for it empowers the customer and provides access for the provision of decision making information.
Empowered customers are truly good for business, for in the words of John Tschhol of the Service Quality Institute “Empowerment is having millions and millions and millions and millions of over happy customers”.Happiness for today’s customer is the ease with which they can transact.
Focus on empowering customer interactions allows for the transition out of the current emphasis on operational efficiencies, service transactions, resolution of issues, and outbound information initiatives that currently form many corporate strategic pillars, to leveraging on the customer centricity that underlies the constructive management of customer journeys, proactivity of customer engagement, consistency of customer information and creation of connected experiences.
Technology and innovation need to be centred around making the customer’s experience seamless. Therefore, both big and small enterprises across all industries, whether purely product or specifically service oriented, need to be constantly thinking about how to create and re-create customer touchpoints that glue the customer to the brand.
Carolyne Gathuru is the founder and director of strategy at Lifeskills Consulting. She has over 17 years experience in customer service strategy development and training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org