The internet and social media have made customers more networked and connected than ever, and their influence is continuously increasing. When considering a purchase or vetting a new vendor choice, most consumers turn to that brand’s customers, particularly friends or family, to hear about the experience. If their best friend had a brand experience above and beyond the rest, that prospective customer will likely sign up themselves. Brands are now even calculating Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to gauge their customers’ loyalty and willingness to recommend their products and services, and using it as a KPI of their marketing and customer experience management programs.
On top of that, customers’ expectations have never been higher. The onus is now on brands to exceed those expectations, but most are still falling short- putting them at risk of experiencing major customer churn.
If you take a look at the banking industry, for example, a recent survey by my company NGDATA found that 41 percent of consumers cited bad customer service as the reason they would switch to a new bank, an increase of eight percentage points from 2016.
Further, recent Forrester Research studies around the Customer Experience Interest shows that making customers feel valued and respected is the number one factor leading to customer loyalty. In the digital world, a customer feeling valued means you remember their names, preferences, and purchase history, and you do not make them waste their time by providing irrelevant info, double data entry, etc. Instead, you go the extra mile and offer them something that is relevant and of value to them.
Consumers want to spend their money with companies that demonstrate that they understand and attend to each customer’s individual needs and truly value who they are. I like to call this “humanizing” the customer experience.
Adding the “Human” to the Digital Customer Experience
The key to “humanizing the customer experience” is authenticity, and creating a true people-focused core in which all interactions are individual.
Traditionally, companies looked for customer relationships from product planning and selling perspective, with little regard to who the customer was, or what gave them personal value. But customer relationships need to be earned; and companies have to start down the path of regularly earning the respect and admiration of their customers so they come back, time and again. And, so they promote you to others.
Embedding the human element means focusing on long-term relationships and on true partnerships with customers. That is more powerful and more enduring. To become a partner, companies will need to shift their thinking, and replace the immediate sales goals of the past with proactive interactions that align with the goals that customers have for themselves.
The more goals a company helps people achieve, the stronger the partnership, and when the customer wants something you are supplying, they will come to you first. When customers succeed, so does the company. That’s why authenticity is key for a company that can successfully humanize the customer experience – faking customer-centricity for the sake of profit will not work in the long run.
With that, here are five keys we have found that are working today that help our clients to humanize the customer experience.
1. Be People-Based
Traditional marketing endeavors involve segmentation – you create marketing programs by segmenting customers collectively, mainly through static information, such as age range, zip code, etc. But, do all the people in the same age range and zip code have the same wants and needs? Do they have the same income, product affinities and communication preferences? Do they all want to interact with you about the same topic, at the same time and through the same channel? Definitely not.
Here’s an example: a media company that segments customers will make me watch commercials for diapers during the break of my favorite show because that’s their best fit-or guess-given my age and gender. But this is ineffective and a waste of media spend because I don’t even have children. Rather than knowing and understanding me as an individual, this media company placed me in a segmented group of customers based on my demographics. Instead, brands need to be people-based.
People-based means getting personal and knowing your customers individually. It means having a central profile for each customer’s data, and having the ability to recognize your customer or anonymous visitors across all channels and devices.
A company that is people-based will only aim relevant and tailored messages to the individual customer. As a customer, I’ll feel respected (my time is not wasted), and I will feel valued for receiving proactive communication that is tailored and relevant to me.
2. Strive for Full Data Density
Full data density means that all data about the individual customer should be available for the company so that they are able to deliver the most relevant experiences all along the customer journey.
People-based means you can target customers individually, but the volume of data (i.e. the data density) is what will ultimately increase the accuracy and the relevance in targeting and engagement. The fuller the data-density, the richer the relationship with your customer, and the better you’ll know them as a person individually. Starting now, you can begin with what you have on the customer. As you gather more data from many sources, including interactions, you’ll become better equipped to consider all the aspects of your customers’ lives, personalities and behaviors during your interactions with them. That will make your engagements more relevant, more effective and more human.
For example, I recently vacationed in Napa after researching options online. It was a fantastic trip, but as I continue to browse the internet this week, I’m being shown advertising for the same location and even the same resort, no matter where I go.
What are the chances I’m going to actually book the vacation I just took? Zero. Clearly, only my last purchase has been considered, demonstrating a lack of data density. The company advertising to me isn’t keeping up because they don’t know me.
The point is to provide the customer with relevant recommendations they wouldn’t have thought of themselves or remind them of things they want to know about but haven’t been keeping track of. Something you can do when you have full data density.
People-based and data density are the foundational keys. You need a central customer profile to store all data about every individual customer, and you need to feed that customer profile with sufficient data.
3. Become AI-Driven
Incorporating AI into your customer experience process allows you to have a deeper knowledge of each individual customer that continues to get smarter over time. The keys to that deeper knowledge are continuous feedback loops, and automated continuous learning.
Feedback from every customer interaction should be fed back into the customer profile. You need a closed-feedback loop to continuously learn from every interaction and “fill in the blanks” about your customers by learning from other people. This allows you to become constantly smarter about your customers, their needs and their behavior.
Say I registered for a marathon using my credit card. My bank may provide me offers from an athletic clothing partner based on knowledge from that registration transaction. Although I’ve never purchased sports clothes from this brand, an AI-driven brand will have some very specific, targeted recommendations for the best apparel I need for the marathon. Offers are made based on my own credit card transaction history but can also take into account what other customers like me have purchased. My response to the company’s offer will be fed back to optimize the future customer experience.
4. Act in Real-Time
As you deepen your customer knowledge through great density, AI, etc., a clear advantage is to be able to act on that knowledge in real-time. Every interaction – whether next best offer, alerts etc. – needs to be delivered in a timely manner to ensure impact and results.
In the digital realm, customers expect a personalized relationship with your brand without the need for human intervention or manual and timely decision-making. Becoming AI-driven not only makes you continuously smarter, it uses the individual customer context to automate many processes. This is important because it means you are instantly ready to respond to and anticipate a customer’s next step. It also guarantees you’re ready to continue the dialogue with context and relevancy across every single channel.
Let’s revisit the financial industry for an example. Say I just called my credit card company’s customer service department due to an unusual charge, and the agent I spoke with told me the issue would be resolved within the hour. Ideally, if I were to check my credit card app on my phone, I would be alerted that the issue was resolved. I wouldn’t necessarily have to call back the customer service agent for an update. This proves that every customer interaction I’ve had with my credit card company is tracked in real-time, and the conversation continues with relevancy no matter which touchpoint I engage.
5. Drive Connected Experiences
As explained above, being people-based and having full data density lay the foundation. Real-time and AI-driven then build on them. Connected experiences tie everything together to humanize the digital customer experience: it’s where the rubber hits the road, where the customer gets to experience the benefit of the five keys.
Connected experiences is the ability to connect with your customer on their multi-device, multi-channel journey, in the digital and physical world and provide a seamless and continuous experience.
Final example: As a platinum customer with a hotel brand, my check-in at one of their hotels in a new location is not limited to “Thank you for being a platinum customer, which newspaper would you like?” Rather, “Your gym towel is in your room, the Wi-Fi code has been enabled for your devices, your favorite Pinot Noir will be brought up to the room, and we have an opening for a massage between 8pm and 9pm. Shall I book you in?” Bottoms up!
That accuracy and relevance, the fact that this brand knows what I like would take my customer experience to a whole other level, and might turn me into an active advocate.
Bringing it All Together
So, what is humanizing the customer experience? It’s having an individual-level understanding of every customer, and putting those insights into action. Being people-based by making use of all your available data is fundamental to building a complete view of each individual customer. But the action needs to occur in real-time, and therefore context behind customer behavior is essential in order to anticipate their every next move. Action also needs to be seamless across every channel through which you interact with your customers – and they interact with you. Remember, connected experiences fuel long-term customer relationships and loyalty – and help grow NPS and long-term customer value, too.
Is your company humanizing the digital customer experience?