The term “customer experience” is being heard more often now as companies compete in a crowded market with increasingly similar products. Anyone can cut prices to stay competitive, but that’s not viable over time. For a sustainable advantage, companies are focusing more on creating great customer experiences, but this is harder to do than it looks. To help businesses succeed along this path, I’ve summarised six tips to be mindful of for 2016.
Tip 1 – Focus on the customer journey
All customer experiences are part of a broader journey, and to understand that, the business must get beyond looking at every customer interaction as a standalone event. This may be important in terms of evaluating internal processes and the performance of contact centre agents, but that’s not how customers think. Every customer has taken a personal journey with your business, sometimes going back well before actually buying from you.
The more that end-to-end journey is understood, the better you’ll be able to keep serving customer needs over time. This is what the emerging field of Customer Experience Management focuses on, and as Big Data becomes more mainstream, businesses will have unprecedented capabilities for mapping that journey and extracting rich insights to keep it moving forward.
Tip 2 – Understand customer engagement
While the journey reveals the big picture, you must also know how customers do business with you. Thanks to today’s technology, customers can engage in many ways, but that mix isn’t static. Going into 2016, companies will have to be more mobile-centric, simply because that’s where customers are now. To illustrate, the number of mobile users surpassed desktop PC users in 2014, and they also spend more time there.
However, it won’t be enough just to have a new mobile app to engage with customers. You also need to know how they engage with mobile devices, and increasingly they’re using short form text to communicate rather than voice. On top of that, social media is playing a growing role in how they engage with you, other customers and the marketplace at large. Customer engagement is complex and must be constantly monitored, and don’t assume once you’ve figured this out for 2016 that you’ll be all set for 2017.
Tip 3 – Make it personal
More than anything else, customers want to feel valued. They may like your products, but in 2016 they also care about your values and what you stand for. Millennials in particular want to feel part of something bigger than just being a consumer, and want to make personal connections with the companies they buy from. Social media has a lot to do with this, but businesses have to go deeper to create personalised experiences.
This is where we return to Big Data, and the need to establish trust with customers. When trust is in place, you have agency to request personal data from customers – their preferences, perceptions, values, etc. Customers will always be willing to share some of this, provided they trust you and there is something of fair value in return. This is a fine balance to strike, but you can deliver highly personalised experiences this way and ultimately boost the lifetime value of your customers.
Tip 4 – Build the relationship
Beyond the products lie the relationships, and this should always be a cornerstone of your customer experience strategy. As cited above, the relationship needs to be personal and reflect your understanding of their journey. Most businesses are more successful at retaining customers and growing sales organically than chasing after new ones all the time. This is where the contact centre earns its keep, as agents can focus not just on solving problems, but creating engagement experiences that strengthen the relationship. When that happens, it becomes easier to do business, they buy more, and they refer you to others.
Looking to 2016, expect to see this thinking extend beyond the contact centre to all employees. With so many touch points available now, every employee has the potential to directly impact the overall relationship. Not every company will do this, but this is part of having a customer-centric culture where the relationship is the driver for long-term growth.
Tip 5 – Be proactive
Most forms of customer service are reactive where engagement is initiated by the customer, and usually only when there’s a problem. This is the conventional contact centre model, but going into 2016, it’s not the only one. Building on the earlier tips, companies now have multiple channels available to engage customers, but they also have a great deal of history about both their products and their customers. As such, they know when products will break down and they know when your next service call is due.
All the elements are in place for contact centres to be more proactive with outbound initiatives such as reminders, alerts, opt-in advance notices/offers, post-incident follow ups, etc. While there is a fine line between making intrusive, sales-focused calls and timely outreach that makes customers feel valued, when done right, proactive engagement strongly reinforces all the other tips covered herein.
Tip 6 – Deliver a singular experience
As a way of tying all these tips together, this is the overall outcome that businesses should be striving for in 2016. Omnichannel is now a driving force for helping contact centres deliver a singular experience, and if you’re trying to build a customer-centric culture, this should be a top priority. The objective is for customers to see just one side of your company regardless of the need, rather than dealing with multiple contacts that don’t talk to each other and duplicate effort and waste the customer’s time.
All businesses have complex processes – or worse – but that should be transparent when providing customer service; the experience should be seamless and consistent every time. Legacy technologies don’t allow contact centres to do that, and while omnichannel can be complex to deploy, the results will be worth it once you move along the learning curve. Of course you can stay with the status quo, but as you fall behind your competitors, recovering lost ground may prove an even bigger challenge.