The tribulations of trying to exceed customer expectations have been significantly shaking the B2C world. Yet, these demands are now taking their toll on every enterprise regardless of its business model. Notoriously, customer expectations that originate in such industries as retail spill over to others – in banking, healthcare, telecommunications, and so on. To deal with this challenge, companies resort to customer experience as their last competitive differentiator.
The thing is, customer experience won’t help if you regard it mostly as coping with the immediate aftermaths of bad service or learning from your mistakes retrospectively. Customer experience has to be replaced with customer care as its proactive, more human-like version if you want to reap visible results in relation to customer retention, loyalty and ultimately, sales.
The idea of care
Replacing experience with care shifts focus from customers to those who provide experience, which also places more responsibility on them at every stage of interacting with a customer. In a sense, care means reducing customer efforts at all times while targeting each customer individually, not a particular segment of them or your customer base on a whole.
On top of that, care is also about predicting what your customers need before they voice it, without explicitly asking them upfront. Sounds difficult? Because it is. That’s why conversations about and around customer intent prediction keep springing up here and there, now including more AI than before.
It’s not the same as customer service
It’s blatantly obvious, but this distinction needs to be made. Customer service is plainly another business function carried out by dedicated departments and call centers. Its scope is usually to handle customers’ requests and complaints while helping them to figure out how to use a product or a service.
Though part of the overall strategy of building strong customer relationships, customer service makes up only a fraction of the entire journey. Still, many improvements can be applied here to deliver on customer care. For example, breaking down silos between data repositories and letting customer service representatives into the pool of customer data. This way, they could own the context of customer requests and personalize communication in each particular case with the necessary customer details before their eyes.
Care is for new customers, too
Yet another adjustment needs to be made. While customer experience management was traditionally reserved only for the bulk of existing customers, the idea of care can be well extended to new customers, too. Firstly, this would make them feel welcomed, which earns you a few points by itself. And secondly, proactive, indiscriminate care would propel your relationship and make them come back for more.
This is not to say that this job is easy. With near zero information on each new customer’s needs and intents, it’s extremely difficult to deliver on those expectations of personalization, responsiveness, consistency and continuity.
Yet, the latest innovations suggest some ways out. Taking it from here, let’s look at the strategies, approaches and technology that contemporary enterprises need to adopt to bring true customer care to life.
Customer journey mapping, revisited
It’s greatly debated today that both traditional and digital businesses are faced with the so-called market of one, where the one-size-fits-all approach can be no longer effective. Instead, companies need to serve each customer individually as if it was a separate segment in itself. This is where the call for full-fledged personalization and customization comes from.
To make it worse, customer journey is no longer predictable. It varies from one customer to another, and there are gazillions of such variations. So this advanced approach to customer experience as customer care also calls for revisiting classic customer journeys. In its Micro-Moments Guide, Google has even come up with the term customer decision journey, where the buying decision is made through an almost endless string of sessions across screens and channels. As Eddie Lopez, Lead Consultant, Customer Experience Group, has put it in the webinar about the irrelevance of customer journey mapping, “It’s the remembering self that makes the decisions,” referring to Daniel Kahnemann’s theory of experience vs. memory.
The term micro-moment marketing became popular around 2014 where it became obvious that device usage had started to gain pace as people interacted online more and more. Micro-moments stand for people’s deliberate intents to look up information online, and as Google has divided them in the guide mentioned earlier, these intents fall into 4 categories:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to buy
- I want to do
One essential point about micro-moments is that they can hardly be owned by brands. In fact, the stats prove just the opposite.
As the search happens in search engines, brands can only use targeted search advertising to get noticed. In this context, the first ever brand encounter would happen in a highly competitive environment which is not even controlled by the brand itself.
This makes landing pages and the content served through them highly important. Remembering about being helpful, quick to deliver useful information on the spot and entice visitors with tempting offers (read: deliver on their intent plus ad some extra value on top) will be signs of a truly caring brand.
Now, this is theory – but what about practice? Treating each customer as a market of one, predicting customer intents and serving up precisely targeted information are all table stakes that are impossible without the underlying technological foundation. This is where the major battle is happening.
So what are the new battlegrounds?
In times when making relationships human is critical, delegating this responsibility to the machine can be frightening. Technology becomes that unpredictable, often incontrollable intermediary that’s in charge of creating and fueling heartfelt relationships. Yet, in the absence of face-to-face interactions in the digital realm, it’s the only possible way to go. In fact, when backed up with strategy, this process becomes more predictable and less frightening.
Yet, dispersing efforts and budget on every technology can do no good. Instead, it’s always more efficient to zero in on the areas that have a truly decisive impact on customer relationships. In 2017, these happen to be mobile and business intelligence. One is about touch points; the other is more about the foundation for all of your operational and marketing decisions.
Mobile sums it all
To recognize that customers today do favor mobile over other channels is to make one step forward to customer care. Citing Google’s guide on micro-moments one more time, mobile has made 70% of companies totally reconsider the customer experiences they provided. Today, mobile is the holy grail of engagement, and ignoring this fact would be a major omission.
Whether you’re a traditional or digital business, mobile will permeate the majority of your interactions with customers. Which means, in essence, that focusing on mobile-first experiences is bound to be a win-win situation. This can be anything as little as your new mobile app development to complement your online website, to releasing mobile-exclusive offers such as mobile-only loyalty cards, branded mobile wallets and mobile extensions for engaging customers in-store.
Business intelligence as a major enabler
The pillars of customer care – intent prediction, personalization and relevance – are impossible without scooping essential details about the customer you are going to serve. This is where business intelligence comes into play, but there’s one little yet important detail to it.
Big data consulting has been traditionally dealing with the strategies and tools to mine data and recognize patterns in it – to act on the discovered insights and improve or adjust business. Just recently we’ve covered the topic extensively for eCommerce SMBs. Yet, in the market of one, it’s all about micro data – the one about each particular customer. Ultimately, this is where true personalization plays out – not with trends that apply to segments and strata, but with little facts about real people, one customer at a time.
Go a step further, and you bump into cognitive analytics – a convergence of data analytics and cognitive computing that is to aid real-time decision making, customer service and, yes, personalization. Accenture and IBM are taking the lead with their flagship products, but as the cognitive computing market is maturing, watch out for more household names.
To wrap up the business intelligence topic, it still pays to remember about ethical data collection policies. Whether it’s big data or micro data, security is key. Increasingly, customers want to control what data they provide and how, and crave transparent and comprehensible privacy rules. Not accidentally, over half of them (58%) want only the personalization that’s based on the data provided by the customers themselves with their consent.
Is it reality yet?
Seems like it is, although technology behind the customer care described here may sound more like science fiction. Forward-looking brands have already taken some incremental steps, and they did seem to pay off.
Where completely plunging into unknown waters is too risky, the customer care approach can be tried through a range of pilot projects. As you can see above, putting some imagination, marketing thinking and determination can bring incredible results when coupled with empowering tech.
Have you been considering taking the customer care turn in your business? What were the challenges and your response to them? Let us know in the comments below.