By Stephen Pickett
The past decade has seen technology grow and evolve at an exponential rate. According to a recent Ernst and Young report, by 2020, 80% of people in the world will have access to a mobile phone, and more than 60% will have access to smartphones and tablet computers. These advances in technology and communication are intrinsically linked with how brands need to mould their business propositions to attract and retain customers. With routes to different services at the click of a button, and the option to make an informed choice based on review websites, social media conversations and page rankings, consumers are now more empowered than ever before and have higher expectations of the service or product they seek.
With the latest Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) survey indicating that customer satisfaction rates have remained static in the past six months, more needs to be done to meet customers’ needs. Although the index unearthed a number of high performing organisations such as John Lewis and Amazon, there is a clear disparity between high flyers in the customer services league and those who are struggling to engage with consumers. Put simply, there is no room for complacency in an environment where customers are increasingly expecting more and competition is high.
To engage with consumers effectively, brands need to install both a customer centric and customer-focussed attitude in the workplace. Customer centricity – recognising a customer’s lifetime value to the business – should be at the heart of every business decision and deployed throughout teams. And value doesn’t just allude to monetary terms, it also means the impact a customer can have on a brand’s reputation. A 2013 study conducted by Dimensional Research showed a third of consumers tell five or more people about a good experience, whilst over half tell the same number about a bad one.
Technology enables customers to express dissatisfaction quickly, and review sites and social media platforms act as a stage for customers to publicly shame brands. It takes a few seconds to click one out of five stars and a couple more to write a scathing post that has the potential to reach many people. And the power of the online consumer should not be underestimated. As the importance of a brand’s digital status overrides its physical one, a poor online reputation has the potential to be detrimental to sales and put off potential customers in the future.
At the other end of the scale, a strong customer service strategy can have long-term, positive implications for sales and reputation. Take Sainsbury’s for example. When three and a half year old Lily Robinson wrote a letter enquiring about the origins of the name ‘tiger bread’, suggesting it looked more like a giraffe, customer support manager Chris King responded by explaining the story behind the name to the child. After the letters went viral, the company even went the extra mile and renamed the bread ‘giraffe bread’, showing they had taken Lily’s feedback on board.
Instead of just responding in a stock answer manner, Sainsbury’s listened and kept the conversation going with Lily even after the first letter. They continued to interact with her on a personal level, as although she isn’t yet be able to feasibly purchase anything from the store, the company recognises the wider value of their brand, and the role it plays in the family market, and the importance of that personal correspondence.
As Sainsbury’s has shown, brands should never just have one point of contact with a customer – an ongoing personal relationship is inherent to a good customer services strategy.
Technology allows brands to accurately track customer movements, to see what they are purchasing, where from and how often. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software allows companies to log interactions with customers and draw a profile based on behaviour, likes and dislikes. This information can be collated to map individual customer journeys, and build an accurate profile of how best to engage with each consumer as appropriate– whether it is advising on a new t-shirt to buy on email, or sharing information on train times via text message.
Personalised messaging doesn’t have to be limited to sales. As The Government’s ‘nudge unit’ has shown recently, advanced technology can also be used to influence customer habits and increase engagement in areas apart from purchasing. For example, the unit sent personalised reminders to a target group of people resulting in on-time tax payments.
Although technology enables companies to have personalised conversations with customers through a variety of platforms, there is no replacement for human interaction. Ensuring customers have access to a highly trained team that understand how to use technology to efficiently communicate with customers, whilst also delivering a highly personalised experience is vital.
Whatever a company’s customer retention strategy may be, the real challenge is to keep pace with the regularly changing and growing demands of technology and how this impacts evolving consumer needs. Truly savvy businesses will be able to harness the value of technology along with a highly trained team to build solid relationships with customers, and gain rewards through loyalty and increased sales. Ultimately, ensuring the consumer’s voice is at the heart of every business proposition will ensure you’re at the top of your game when both retaining and attracting new customers.