This content ran previously on Forbes BrandVoice.
The customer experience needs of today’s nonstop, always-on customers can be summarized with two words: relevance and context.
Relevance is providing customers the answers or information they need based on what’s known about them along with what is likely on their minds. Context is using real-time data to deliver that relevant information in the moment, with an understanding of the customer’s mindset, as well as their information needs.
If you’re like me, I’m insulted when a brand is always selling me, especially from a script that is more about what the company wants than what I need. The exchange is simply not relevant. I’m also baffled when a company has no visibility that I have clicked on specific website information, abandoned a cart, or have answered an agent’s question in a way that signals my intent. The lack of relevance and context departs from what we expect in a real one-on-one conversation, where the exchange of information guides the conversation and the outcome. Most companies are bad at this because they don’t really listen.
How to lose a customer in six steps or less
We have worked with companies across the globe on this very issue for more than ten years. Some of the leaders in this area are in global telecom. Here’s an example scenario when relevance and context were missing from a customer’s experience with a mobile carrier.
- The customer’s calls keep getting dropped.
- The frustrated customer calls to complain – repeatedly.
- The customer starts researching competitive plans.
- Another important call is dropped.
- The customer calls customer service which has no record of past service issues or complaints. That lack of understanding compounds the problem. A scripted marketing offer on an unrelated topic doesn’t help.
- The customer switches carriers.
A variation of this scenario played out for global carriers for years, creating massive churn and dismal customer satisfaction scores. The cost of this churn is high in any industry. The Harvard Business Review reports that cost of acquiring a new customer is from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer. Rather than simply treating this as the price of doing business, many companies answered by turning inward to develop new culture, processes and systems centered on the customer. Technology and predictive tools were applied to turn generalized brand interactions into personalized human interactions.
Bridging customer experience gaps
As much as technology is part of the answer, the wrong technology compounds problems. Customers expect interactions with companies to mirror interactions with humans. They want companies to understand their history, what they are dealing with in the moment, and what they want to accomplish next.
In Closing The Experience Gaps, Forrester identifies four gaps that stymie a company’s ability to deliver great experiences: performance, convenience, personalization and trust. The first two, performance and convenience, are all about the customer’s need for “sub-second responses” across devices and channels. The second two, personalization and trust, speak to the customer’s need for relevance and context, while maintaining privacy.
While the customer need is clear, enterprises often fail to deliver due to gaps in culture and capability. Let’s start with culture.
While there’s lots of talk about one-to-one relationships, it’s often lip service if the company’s goals are to sell units or reduce average handling time by getting customers off service calls as fast as possible. I have observed that some marketers are tenacious in staying in their comfort zones of batch-and-blast campaigns, instead of understanding and addressing the needs of each customer.
Clients we work with who are making the biggest strides in enhancing customer experience are reworking everything from KPIs to workflow to treat a customer as if he or she was the only customer they have.
The capability gap is a result of legacy thinking that typically fixates on marketing campaigns with short-term acquisition or cross-sell goals. Campaign execution is easy. An offer is created. An audience is identified. A/B tests are implemented. Results come back to compare against benchmarks. Then the process is repeated. But the CRM systems that power these campaigns are implementation tools created to deliver efficiency and aren’t equipping company’s with the analytical and predictive dexterity required to meet real-time customer expectations.
Companies who are truly focused on the customer take a fundamentally different approach. They change corporate culture to focus on the customer. KPIs are focusing more on retention, satisfaction and lifetime value. Senior stakeholders work collaboratively to set budgets and initiatives based on what is right for the customer.
Predictive analytics, self-learning algorithms and technology create a connective thread powered by data to fine-tune customer interactions and experiences. This enables a company to use real-time data to calculate and anticipate customer needs, delivering the next-best product, service or experience for customers.
When we talk about predictive analytics here, we’re not referring to the creepy banner ads that follow you around the Internet. In fact, these banners are often driven by rudimentary contact information – and not the rich behavioral data that makes for delivered value. What’s truly meaningful to customers is the ability to deeply tap transaction, interaction, product, call center, location and other behavioral data to learn, refine and personalize responses for each customer. Instead of feeling marketed to, the customer sees experiences that pivot around their unique needs.
In The Power of Customer Context, Forrester’s Carl Doty states “personalized interaction data creates context,” pointing out that proprietary algorithms “will enable the application of machine learning to customer interactions, using the context of the moment to proactively guide the customer to the next best interaction.”
The science and art of the next best action
As a technology company working with global clients, we approach solutions by simply remembering how people treat each other. Mutual understanding, respect and the ability to read subtle emotional cues are all requirements critical to a positive customer interaction.
With predictive analytics and decisioning, understanding comes from constant refinement of data. As a company, we understand who the customer is, how long they’ve been with us, their value, along with the benefits and risks of fulfilling their requests.
Respect follows. We respect that customers have been with us for a long time. We respect that they have had previous issues. We respect that they have taken steps on their own in advance of an interaction.
The moment, for customers, means now. Real-time data means immediate data, not day-old or week-old data. People talk to each other in real time. They expect the same from enterprises. This means that customer data should be current and that data captured on service calls, chats and emails should be added to the customer’s case. This increases the relevancy of the interaction, shedding light on the meaning behind interactions.
Emotional cues can be found in cold data. Multiple calls to fix an unresolved issue are cues of frustration. Bypassing IVR prompts to get to a “representative” or asking immediately for a manager are other cues.
Bringing these factors together helps shape strategies and tactics to guide customers to the next best action based on his or her immediate needs.
How to retain a customer in less than six steps
Let’s replay the mobile carrier scenario to put this in today’s context, driven by predictive analytics.
- The customer’s calls keep getting dropped.
- The frustrated customer calls to complain. That first moment of truth is vital. More than 80% of customers who switched to another provider say they would have stayed if their issue had been resolved during this first contact. After apologizing and getting facts (about the issue and the customer), a resolution should be offered and the issue noted. This is the first opportunity to retain a valued customer.
- Customer looks at competitors. In the old scenario, the customer may have started researching competitors. If the issue was resolved at first contact, you may have prevented the search for new providers. But a competitive threat is a constant, so this customer can be marked as high-value and a retention risk.
- Another important call is dropped. Regardless of the quality of service, some customer issues don’t have easy answers.
- The customer calls customer service. In this case, the customer rep is armed with a complete case of past issues and conversations. With this information, the customer service representative can anticipate both the issue and customer frustration. The dropped calls were pinpointed to the customer’s home, so a home Wi-Fi solution could be offered along with a discount to keep the high-value customer from leaving.
- The customer stays with the company. Even with the service issues and frustration, the company went out of its way to understand and make things right. A customer who could have been a justified critic may become an advocate. Churn rates are lowered and you save the substantial cost of replacing the customer by acquiring a new one.
The context revolution
Forrester’s Carl Doty uses the concept of a “Contextual Marketing Engine” as the system to bridge the gap between marketing and customer service, deliver utility, provide persistent engagement, redefine the purpose of campaigns and enable customer-managed relationships.
He contends that contextual marketing flips traditional CRM upside down. Instead of taking in customer information, customers manage their relationship with your company. Your enterprise responds by “sharing rather than taking, anticipating customers’ needs rather than reacting, and delivering value in the moment rather than just at the point of purchase.”
Anticipating customer needs with relevance and in context opens up a new world of creating deeper, more personalized and more valuable relationships with your customers.
It’s time to evolve. To stay competitive, you’ve got to keep up with your customers—and they’re moving fast. The right systems and software can help you stay out in front. Learn more about how Pega’s Customer Service app can help you evolve your customer service: Download the Pega Can whitepaper.