Placing customers’ interests at the heart of your business has never been more important. It’s our contention that companies wanting to thrive now and after the Coronavirus pandemic will have to pivot from focusing on ‘Customer Experience’ to ‘Customer Appreciation’ through showing customers that they genuinely care and are there to support them in times of challenge through authentic actions and then, crucially, that they truly value their custom once things return to normal.
We’d also contend that customer loyalty drivers will shift long-term, so that companies that act in customers’ interests are significantly more likely to thrive.
In this blog, we will look at how re-deploying data science and re-pointing customer decisioning to act much more in the customer’s interest (rather than from the typical business commercial side) is a more compelling imperative than ever before. Now more than ever, your business’s objective should be to focus on customer sentiment with customer metrics (NPS, customer satisfaction, etc.) being even more important metrics for future business sustainability.
Traditional disruption comes in the form of a new entrant to your market or a game changing product launch; although different and unprecedented, this disruption caused by Coronavirus requires the same characteristic in response, namely ‘focus on the things in your control’. You can take steps to proactively improve the relationship you have with your customers, including re-connecting with customers who may not have heard from you for a while. Engagement needs to be authentic, timely and consistently deployed across all channels, requiring efficient use of data, insight, technology and ways of working.
What do we mean by shifting from Customer Experience to Customer Appreciation?
The general view is that various aspects of the world we know will reset as we emerge from the current crisis (with employers likely to have a different view of remote working amongst other things!) and there’s the opportunity in consequence to reset the relationship between business and customer. The common definition of ‘appreciation’ is ‘holding something in high regard’ or ‘having a feeling of thankfulness towards something or someone’, but historically how many brands have really had that view of their customers?
Customers are going to remember brands that looked after them in the current crisis – do that right and that may well translate to increased loyalty and increased share of market as customer advocacy also grows. We’re seeing banks offer customers mortgage holidays, mobile phone companies increasing data allowances or moving tariffs to unlimited minutes, and credit card firms removing late fees or increasing credit limits. Speaking from a customer’s perspective, we always want to know that our providers care – and not just in a time of need. There are lessons to be learnt here and brands that see the positive reaction they create can drive lasting change in the way their customer relationships are viewed and managed.
Commercial metrics are important, but all marketers should now give equal weighting to customer metrics (NPS, Customer Satisfaction, etc.). A colleague always reminds me that ‘you get what you measure’ – businesses will need their customers more than ever and moving from creating good customer experience (make it easy for customers to do business) through to showing them you genuinely care and appreciate their business (creating positive sentiment) will enable businesses to steal a march on their competitors post-crisis. By giving at least equal emphasis to measures that value how well-treated your customers feel, you increase the importance your business places on that outcome. Simply re-examining your objectives can be an achievable first step towards a customer-centric future.
Why it’s more important than ever that customers sit at the heart of your business’s strategy
Customers have been through the mill over the years from the mis-selling of endowments, the financial crash of 2008, PPI and now Coronavirus. This predicament feels different and is impacting every aspect of our lives – customers want assistance and businesses are providing it where they can. However, the landscape of the economy and competition within each sector is likely to be significantly different when restrictions are lifted, and normality begins to return. Consumer spending patterns will have changed remarkably, in terms of both essential and discretionary spend. A consequence of Coronavirus will be the forced digital adoption from slow-to-adopt segments with customers forced to change their behaviour and habits due to the lockdown; whole new groups of the population are now getting to grips with Zoom, WhatsApp, etc. and becoming familiar with online shopping and engaging with brands digitally. Whilst the digital experience will become ever more important, so too will every human interaction – with every in-store experience, every inbound call and every branch appointment being a vital opportunity to create a positive brand impression. Joining up the online and offline journey will be ever more important in demonstrating that you care about and understand your customer.
We have the tools to tackle these challenging times
We are in unprecedented times, but we should remember to focus on the things we can control and for me, that means focusing on how we make our customers feel – it’s sentiment towards your brand that they will remember. (The famous quote ‘People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’ never seemed more appropriate.) We have the tools in our armoury to create positive customer relationships through this crisis; data science, artificial intelligence and customer decisioning technology are chief amongst them, and now is the time to deploy those in the direction of the customer and apply them from the customer’s own perspective. Can we make our customers feel truly valued? Can we anticipate customer needs? Can we engage in conversations on subjects that are important to them, not what we as a business want to discuss? All these things are attainable if we now choose to walk in the customer’s shoes and deploy our technology and analytical capabilities to detect customer sentiment and understand their changes in circumstance and resultant behaviour.
Agility is key
Many businesses are reaching out to their customers to share their approach to Coronavirus and how their business operations are changing. What separates companies is the effort and speed required to design and deploy comms and the customer experience that this sets in motion. In a fast-moving situation, there needs to be agile working practices, quick access to quality data and a range of customer-appropriate and ideally unique-customer-preferred channels through which to distribute the message.
We’re seeing some great examples across our client base of instances where businesses are quickly making strategic changes within their customer decisioning toolkit to ensure vital service messages are prioritised and displayed to their customers through all channels in which they choose to interact with their brand. These brands are leveraging their data science capability, artificial intelligence self-learning algorithms and technology stack to understand changes in customer behaviour and then ensure appropriate messages are communicated. In this current fast-moving situation, these businesses can reassure, support and educate their customers by giving key information and highlighting activities that they are undertaking to assist them at this important time.
When should my business act to drive this change?
We can and we should always be reflecting and learning. Yes, there is disruption in the economy, but brands can take the current situation as an opportunity to reflect on their business processes, the way their people work and the technology they use. Through the current crisis, brands have been trying to communicate quickly and effectively with their customers – some have been more successful and effective than others! Businesses struggling to share their messages with customers should reflect, identify sources of any bottlenecks and consider what more efficient capability might look like. As challenging and unsettling as this period is, it is ultimately a stress test of customer engagement capabilities, with speed being critical.
So, what areas might you want to review to fine-tune your customer engagement abilities?
- Data – accessibility and availability of data plus engineering ability to shape and present to the desired tool or platform
- Insight creation – data visualisation; ability to explore and investigate the problem
- Customer journey mapping – use of processes to design and create the best customer engagement ensuring consistency of message, effective call-to-actions across all appropriate channels
- Application of technology – ability to ‘make it happen’ across digital and offline channels through a central customer decisioning brain to co-ordinate and deploy
- Ways of working – use of agile methodologies to move quickly from idea conception, solution design through to delivery; are colleagues working effectively?
To sum up...
A well-known Chinese proverb states that ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now’. If there are gaps and points of weakness in your customer engagement capability, or if you realise the use of data and data science can be improved, then don’t put off exploring how it can be fixed. Customer expectations are continually increasing and customers always want to know that their provider cares – not just in time of need!
Get the move from ‘Customer Experience’ to ‘Customer Appreciation’ right and the chances are your customers will remember how you made them feel, which will increase positive brand sentiment, increase customer retention and improve the chances of developing positive relationships in the world post Coronavirus. Take advantage of the propensity to change at this turbulent moment – take control, be positive, and don’t just ride the rapids.