Top U.K. Companies Miss Opportunities in Face-to-Face Contact


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When you can meet your customers face to face, you can gain tremendous marketing advantages.

You protect your brand image at its most vulnerable point. Your service levels can be delivered consistently.

You can gather additional customer intelligence and validate the relevance of remote communications.

Contact permission can be obtained from customers and prospects, and market research questions asked.

And most importantly, you can help your staff talk more relevantly with customers; the problems and costs of staff churn and training are reduced; and the chance of immediate sales closure is improved.

And yet, a new study by Ion Group finds that fewer than half of the top 1,000 companies in the United Kingdom take advantage of that face-to-face contact by using data-driven marketing. The study findings were collected in the report, Up Close and Personal. Respondents were asked to assess their own and other industries’ ability to use individual customer data to manage face-to-face contact.

The overall results of the research were both encouraging and disappointing. Almost 48 percent of the top companies were found to be conducting some level of data-driven face-to-face contact, using the individual customer intelligence they held to improve the impression made on customers in the store or the branch or at an event.

As an average, this is higher than expected. Nevertheless, it is of great concern that the proportion of top 1,000 companies applying data-driven techniques to high-brand exposure, face-to-face contact is still (just) in the minority.

The figure below shows penetration by industry.

Financial services

Three financial services sectors were above the all-industries average: banks, building societies and the insurance industry.

Banks have invested the greatest sums of any single sector since the late 1990s in CRM systems. Moreover, the normal interaction with customers requires that customers identify themselves, or their account, for security purposes. The fact that banks are the top sector for deploying customer knowledge shows that this expensively-bought data-basis is being generally employed.

The same is true of building societies. However, at the same time, the research raises questions of why more than 40 percent of banks are


using customer data in the branch to improve the relevance and impact of that person-to-person contact. Evidently, there is still a rump of banking organizations that remain account-centric, rather than customer-centric, an issue which leading players were addressing in the early ’90s.

Far more laudable is the position of the insurance industry, which is still 80 percent intermediated. Given the structural hurdles that intermediation presents for marketers and CRM professionals, we regard the insurance industry’s penetration of data-driven, face-to-face customer management to be a remarkable achievement. This effort mainly consists of providing brokers and independent financial advisors with rapid access to customer information (usually over the web) to support client meetings and their preparation.

Also noticeable is the mobile telecoms sector, which scored above the average. Deregulation and oversupply in the market has led to fierce price wars. Therefore, players are keenly exploring ways of cementing customer loyalty and delivering an added-value proposition to customers that will help stem defection. Much customer service is delivered through high-street outlets or dealers, and easily retrieved individual information on customers, along with automated value scoring, is being used by many to up-sell, cross-sell, reward loyalty and usage, grant individually based privileges and capture additional details on interests and preferences.

The relative investment in different customer touch-points (in terms of marketing budgets in general and data-driven marketing in particular) is directly inverse to the importance of those touch-points and their impact on the customer.

Most money still goes into above-the-line TV advertising, yet in terms of its effect on the customer in an increasingly media-fragmented world, its influence is on the wane and is certainly the most distanced and remote form of advertising and customer communication. In short, this research project reveals that the top U.K. companies are generally under-utilizing database marketing techniques in the ways that customers are dealt with face-to-face.

This is a major mistake for British business, in that live experiences have the greatest impact on the consumer, but if they go wrong, they can almost invariably waste all the investment that may have gone into other forms of data-driven marketing.

By investing sufficient time and money into training staff to interact well with customers, businesses can fully exploit the opportunities that face-to-face presents as a customer touch-point. Your staff will be able to engage the consumer with both the product and the brand€”and influence the point of sale. Staffers can deal with queries and issues, and generally, the face-to-face experience can act as a test base to gain and act upon consumers’ reactions, to improve the impact of their CRM efforts.

The theory of CRM has always been to treat customers consistently and relevantly across all channels. For more than half the country’s largest companies, face-to-face is the forgotten channel.

Graham Ede
Graham Ede, managing director of Ion Group Ltd, established the company in 1994. Since then, Ion Group has enjoyed year-on growth in turnover of 25 percent. Tim Cooper has 16 years of senior management experience within the marketing communications industry.


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