From call centers, to blogs, Facebook and Twitter, today's customers have a myriad of ways in which to keep in touch with business. But if companies don't capture and harvest that communication to optimize the customer experience (CX) they risk losing customer loyalty - and a lot of top line revenues.
It usually falls on IT to use customer experience applications, tools or other technologies to integrate these streams of information, make them searchable and manageable and, ultimately, useful.
The most direct route to know and then deliver what customers want is to start with Voice of the Customer (VOC). A VOC program captures, categorizes and prioritizes customer goals, expectations, preferences and likes or dislikes. This data becomes some of your most valuable customer intelligence when integrated with the CRM software 360-degree customer view so that customer insights can be forwarded to any customer interaction to deliver a relevant, personalized and contextual CX.
There's no consensus structure for VOC programs, however, in his book "Voice of the Customer Marketing", Ernan Roman lays out a five step implementation process as follows:
- Perform VOC research—Conduct in-depth interviews with segmented prospect and customer research cells to understand how each segment defines value and relevance with your company;
- Implement VOC-driven opt-in relationship strategies—Engage customers to indicate their contact preferences and tell you exactly what communications, types of content and offers they want, and how often they want them;
- Create a VOC-driven multichannel mix—Launch an integrated multichannel campaign program that deploys the type of media, messaging and frequency requested by each customer class learned from the prior step;
- Create a VOC-driven social media presence—Further leverage the VOC data to create strategies for relevant, real-time engagement and conversations in social media channels;
- Integrate customer service as part of the program—Marketers must include customer service to help improve the post-sale experience or the program will fail to gain traction.
Also, if you're truly going to integrate VOC data and help the company chart its course with the customer as its North Star, telephone interviews are much more effective than surveys. Real discussions, with structured but more flexible call scripts, provide insight that simple surveys may fail to capture.
Not every customer will engage in telephone dialogue, but for those that do, you will achieve qualitative and specific input in how that customer wants to be treated, and for those that don't you can employ other techniques as a fall back.
Social Media is a Powerful Tool
In addition to company-managed communication channels and VOC, businesses should integrate social media into their CX strategies.
According to Bruce Temkin, managing partner of CX consultancy Temkin Group,
"Social media tools like wikis and blogs, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, will be increasingly used to facilitate and stimulate communications and experiences with customers." In particular, "Customer service organizations will become increasingly social; blending agent interactions, self-service applications and multi-channel knowledgebases with customer-to-customer interactions."
This rich tapestry of information will give companies a fuller picture of consumers' likes and dislikes, empowering them to provide better products and services, more accurate price-points and distribution outlets, and ultimately resulting in better sales and profits.
Social media also allows companies to create an emotional connection with consumers. "The social web is becoming a very human place where people are connecting with other people in an emotional way. Only humans can make other humans feel valued — computers can't do that," Kimarie Matthews, vice president of customer advocacy and loyalty at Wells Fargo Bank, told ClearAction LLC. "Social media is an opportunity to engage and communicate with customers, listening to them, showing them how we're acting on their feedback, and giving them feedback on what we're doing."
In fact, CX strategy requires a blend of human and technology integration: Businesses must train employees at all levels to ensure buy-in and consistent understanding of the consumer's point-of-view. Customer-facing employees should be empowered to act upon the consumer's requests or escalate a concern, thereby creating a balanced customer service team that acts on customer feedback.
Also on the technology front, the business should access and act upon an integrated deluge of information steadily streaming into its call centers, its order-entry departments and websites, offering a constant and consistent experience to customers whether they shop by phone, catalog or website.
Consumers have never been more powerful or more vocal. Satisfied customers are a powerful, unpaid sales force, and one that can dramatically boost revenue and reputation if you listen and act upon what you hear.
A Case Example
CX software solutions provide insight to maximize the customers use of online channels and also give businesses visibility into consumers' online activities, for example allowing organizations to see why consumers leave a company's website.
Art.com, for example, emailed a coupon to loyal customers but the back-end system failed to correctly process the coupon code during check-out, causing a majority of shoppers to abandon their transactions. The e-tail site's Tealeaf CX analysis software's real-time alert system notified Art.com about the high rate of abandonment and the customer service department noted many shoppers had a problem with the coupon. Art.com identified 300 "lost" customers who abandoned their orders due to this error and emailed these customers with a new purchase incentive, curtailing dissatisfaction with their experience.
The Business Benefits
Those businesses that proactively integrate CX strategies, policies and tools reap impressive rewards.
Forrester tracks CX and its impact on three elements of loyalty: Consumers' willingness to purchase more, reluctance to switch suppliers and likelihood of recommending the provider. The research firm then looked at the percentage of loyal customers at 100-plus businesses and determined that "customer-experience leaders had an advantage of more than 14% over laggards in all three areas."
Further, Forrester found that "The annual revenue gains from a modest difference in CX can total $311 million for a large hotel." Banks and hotels garner the largest gains from their current customers, while airlines get the most from an increase in positive word of mouth. Executives who recognize customer experience is a business mandate should use this information to build customized business plans.
In a Forrester CX ranking, CX management leaders included Barnes & Noble, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, and Hampton Inns, while Charter Communications took the bottom spot. But no matter where they ranked, 90% of those surveyed stated that CX is very important to their companies, and 80% are using it as an area of differentiation and increased profits.