The world is changing fast. Customers are in control. They expect to shop when and how they like, 24/7. Rising customer expectations present a challenge for retailers and other suppliers who are having to extend their hours of business and the channels they support to keep pace with what customers are demanding.
Companies are responding in a variety of ways. Omnichannel, bots, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, big data, predictive analytics and smartphone apps are just some of the technologies and the science being adopted to keep up with the expectations of customers.
You can be forgiven for thinking therefore that my list of top tips for 2019 would start (and possibly end) with these ‘game changing’ technologies. Whilst they are key to improving response time, personalisation and so much more, strategy – and not technology – in our view needs to lead. I have framed all my top tips around the benefits to customers (and employees) and identified how technology can support the delivery of an enhanced, competitively distinct customer experience.
Tip 1: Shape a distinctive CX strategy
Customer experience is an enterprise-wide strategy in exactly the same way as product leadership and (low) cost leadership. As Forrester has reported, the number 1 reason why CX efforts disappoint is that companies have not developed a company-wide CX strategy. Technology has to follow strategy, not the other way around.
Tip 2: Develop a clear brand/customer promise
Customers’ trust in and their loyalty to brands has dropped in recent years. The importance of aligning the marketing message with the reality of the experience is key for companies looking to build brand trust. In addition, a critical element of a CX strategy involves the development of a robust customer promise. A customer promise is a detailed description of what the organisation is planning to deliver to customers. Its purpose, in contrast to an advertising strapline, is to provide guidance internally to the company’s leaders, managers and employees about what they should invest in, prioritise and the leadership and front-line behaviour that will drive higher levels of customer loyalty.
Tip 3: Engage ‘the people’ early in the process
The UK Institute of Customer Service concluded in their January 2018 The State of Customer Satisfaction in the UK report that trust, openness, transparency, over the phone conversations and how the organisation handles queries and complaints were the major factors driving high levels of customer satisfaction. Involving employees early is important – to get their input on improvements that will make a difference for customers and to ensure they support and are able to able to deliver the improved experience that will be introduced.
Tip 4: Focus on your most profitable customers
All customers are not created equal. By studying the promoters, those customers who are so satisfied they become brand advocates, companies will be able to identify the loyalty drivers – those factors that drive the buying behaviour of customers. The challenge then is to deliver these loyalty drivers to an ever-increasing percentage of the customer base in order to shift the bell curve further to the right on the customer satisfaction scale. Personalisation, made possible by the analysis of customer preferences, is what drives emotional loyalty. Spotify curates tailored playlists and Amazon offers product suggestions that are relevant and life-enhancing– which is why so many of us are prepared to pay £8 per month for the privilege of becoming Amazon Prime members.
Tip 5: Ensure access is easy and seamless across channels
Making it easy for customers to buy, use, access after sales support, complain and obtain a refund or an exchange is recognised as important. Many organisations track their Customer Effort score and focus on how they can make life easier for customers.
Customers expect to be able to easily contact companies they buy from whenever and however they choose – and they expect a seamless experience across multiple channels and contact points. The fact that retail, the contact centre and the billing department have separate systems that do not talk to each other is the organisation’s problem. Customers do not expect to have to repeat their story each time they speak to an organisation which is why best in class companies ensure their systems are joined up and that they capture the customer’s history.
Tip 6: Build relationships with customers through data
By leveraging predictive analytics and other database techniques that enable companies to understand the preferences, usage patterns and life stages of their customers, organisations are able to build a personal relationship with customers. Front linebranch staff at Allied Irish Bank are prompted by ‘next best actions’ to discuss the products and services likely to be relevant for individual customers, based on their financial history with AIB. The AA – the roadside motoring organisation – have been developing their Connected Car technology through which they can predict a fault with a member’s car before it breaks down. The AA patrol on the roadside will become a much rarer sight in the future thanks to predictive analytics.
Tip 7: Move from products and services to experiences
As Ikea, John Lewis, Disney and other best in class companies understand, the creation of experiences builds strong brand commitment. Whether it is a pop-up restaurant built around Ikea’s products, a night in a store to try out a JohnLewis bed or the smell of freshly baked doughnuts, the experience creates strong emotional memories for customers. The advent of Augmented Reality apps enables customers to ‘try’ a product and see how it suits them before they buy – whether it be a beauty product from L’Oreal or a sofa for their home from Ikea.
Tip 8: Balance high tech and high touch
Artificial Intelligence, bots and online solutions are increasingly being used in ways that benefit customers. Online banking and sophisticatedATM machines enable customers to conduct routine banking faster and more efficiently than ever before. Bots have revolutionised customer support. Up to 30% or more of the calls into a contact centre can be deflected and handled by bots, leaving agents to deal with the more complicated issues that require human judgement and high touch. However, we have all experienced the frustration of being referred to a company’s website, to the FAQs and been given the run around by call centre IVR systems when we are trying to get some help or advice not available online. As those of us who bank with First Firect know, the customer-drivenorganisation makes it easy for customers to speak to a human being quickly and easily.
Tip 9: Increase speed and urgency
In additionto the easy access referred to in tip 5, speed is also a critical deliverable. Researchwill help identify where the speedof response or follow up falls short of where it should be and best in class companies focus their improvements at those touchpoints where the customer’semotional state is heightened (positively or negatively). We recently helped a banking client shorten the time it took them to process applications for a new banking facility. The reduction from over 40 days to 14 days made all the difference to their clients and dramatically changed the uptake of this new product by their existing customer base.
Amazon managed to surprise and delight me recently when I returned a product. Having deposited the tracked item at the post office in the morning, I received a notification before I had got home that the refund was on its way to my bank. Now that’s fast!!
Tip 10: Measure what matters to the customer experience
Over time, as customer experience has grown in importance, companies have adapted the financial and operational metrics they have long captured to inform them about the success of their CX efforts. The problem with this approach is that existing measurement methods often do not measure the right things. Here are some key principles that should inform the development of a customer experience measurement framework that is fit for purpose:
- Get clear about what you want to deliver. As outlined in Tip 2, developing a customer promise – a granular statement of what you intend to deliver for target customers – is key. Armed with a clear customer promise the next step is to map the promise across the main customer journeys. The measurement framework should focus on delivery of the promise, by journey, as well as the capability and performance of the organisation’s people, processes, systems, technologies and the strength of it’s products and services.
(See our blog on measuring the ROI from your CV investment: https://www.cp2experience.com/measure-retail-customer-experience/5324/)
- Bring together all sources of customer intelligence. In addition to on-going customer research (which should cover all available channels), customer complaints and compliments and social media data should all form part of an integrated voice of the customer system. Missing out any of these key data sources runs the risk of providing only a partial view of how customers are feeling.
- Build a continuous improvement culture involving the front line. Create a closed loop feedback system enabling people at the front line to provide their feedback on what is working well and where improvement is needed. Feed this data into the teams working on the redesign of the end to end customer experience – under the leadership of journey owners appointed, with cross functional authority.
Direct Line Insurance in the UK have been very successful in creating front line ownership for the customer experience. The first thing their call centre agents do is to listen to the previous day’s customer feedback