The Power of Data in Customer Experience
Although much of the world’s attention is focused on the explosion of technologies such as the Internet of Things, mobile devices, and the blockchain, it is vital for executives and senior decision makers to recognize that these tools are primarily drivers of a much more powerful force – customer experience. Globally, marketplaces have expanded and connected, giving access to innovations and direct customer transactions on a much larger scale. Yet with that expansion comes a fascinating counterpoint. For all the hundreds of millions of people that your company can potentially reach, each of those people expects to experience your brand on a uniquely personal level.
Time is of the Essence
Key Fact #1: Senior Management must recognize the power of data
The first thing to take note of is the speed of customer expectation which translates into one of the central pillars of customer experience. No matter what sector you look at – retail, services, industry, the theme is the same. Customers expect immediate feedback and consistent, high-quality service.
To know what they want and to deliver it accordingly requires an intelligence rooted in data and supported by a policy that clearly states: no customer must be forced to wait. This opens up the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and predictive analytics as tools to directly affect customer experience and business success.
Data is King
The most direct way to understand how to shape superior customer experience is by ensuring there is enough data, and that the data is being used reactively and proactively.
Some obvious sources of data include:
- Tracking customers’ online browsing habits as they explore your website
- Observing analytics on search words and country of origin
- Keeping records of purchases made by each customer
But there are many less obvious and more subtle ways of collecting data, for example, using AI to parse unstructured data, such as comments within blocks of text. These include:
- questions submitted by online form
- commentary on social media such as Twitter and Facebook
There is also a rich payload of data to be harvested from in-person interactions that orbit around the idea of “free” or “freemium” services. In these situations, products or services are provided at no charge in exchange for customer data. In this sense, this means they are not being given away at all. It’s a matter of the currency involved. Old-school commerce mindsets might focus primarily on cash as the currency of choice, but newer approaches recognize the long tail of data as an equally valuable asset.
In the following example, observe how something as simple as a Customer Returns Desk represents an ongoing opportunity to learn something about a customer, enhance customer experience, and improve your brand:
EXAMPLE: THANK YOU FOR ASKING FOR A REFUND
When a customer brings an item back to the shop it was purchased from, some retailers view this as a costly failure: a dissatisfied customer, an opened package, and the potential for confrontation and disappointment. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Every interaction with a customer becomes an opportunity to collect data, and that data gives businesses heightened understanding of each customer’s needs and preferences, such as:
- How much they spend per year
- What promotions motivate them to buy
- What products they purchase
- What products they do not purchase
Every retailer wants the customer to be happy, but something that is much better than a one-time happy customer is a long-time happy customer. The smart retailers are the ones who reward a customer for visiting the returns desk. The value of the data collected in this interaction far exceeds the cost of the returned sale.
This retailer return desk story also applies to business-to-business (B2B) and professional services.
Opening up the Aftermarket
Many companies define their traditional markets and stay within those boundaries, leaving spinoff activities to unassociated aftermarket companies. A simple example is that of the relationship between automobile manufacturers, petrol stations and coffee/restaurant chains. For decades, a car was built, marketed, and sold solely as a mode of transportation. Car owners made their own choices regarding where to buy fuel or stop for food.
But with the advent of wireless technology, the car has become a mobile lifestyle system, complete with full entertainment and communication technologies, both onboard and compatible with its owner’s own devices. This opens at least two major aftermarket opportunities.
- The first is directly with the customer, using apps to steer customers to specific brands of fuels and restaurants, offering points and loyalty incentives in exchange for their business. Once again, data can be collected at every moment in terms of customer purchases, but so too, proactive AI can detect slight errors in driving ability brought on by fatigue that spurs a prompt to the driver to pull over and rest, while offering a discount on coffee and food as an incentive.
- The second is the parts and service aftermarket. With cars, and similarly with industrial machines of all types, servicing and supplying the device with the parts required for its ongoing use has largely been the choice of the customer. But advances in the Internet of Things and predictive analytics help a manufacturer capture much more of the aftermarket by having the machine itself speak up about its upcoming needs.
No matter what type of marketplace a business is in, the diligent use of data powered by mobile technology has opened vast new areas of opportunity.
The Customer is Mobile – in Two Ways
Key Fact #2: In retail and industry, the individual customer has the power.
It is plainly obvious that customers in retail and business-to-business (B2B) turn to their mobile devices to do everything. They are mobile in the sense that many of their activities can be done from anywhere via dedicated apps and centralized, cloud-based data. This changes the rules of the game for a range of activities within any business cycle. Take contracts for example:
EXAMPLE: CONTRACTS ARE GETTING SMARTER
Contracts are just one of many types of documents that need no longer be signed in triplicate back at the office. The growing expectation is that all kinds of documents now must be mobile and cloud-based, signable on a smartphone or tablet on location, wherever that might be.
Added to the existing security that allows these documents, which also includes manifests, purchase orders, and operation manuals to be instantly accessible and usable, is the concept of sealing them within a blockchain. Blockchain is a new technology that records and locks transactions immutably inside a global ledger that has no single point of failure. This allows contracts to evolve from static documents to smart “scenarios” that will deploy and become enforceable once a set sequence of activities has been met and proven, usually via mobile technology.
Customers are also mobile in terms of knowing that they have the power to switch suppliers quickly and with little effort. The idea of customer loyalty has taken on a sharper edge in an era where shoppers or corporate buyers can comparison shop through their smartphone. The marketplace is entirely in the hands of the customer.
The Journey is More Important than the Points
This mobility revolution means that the process of attracting and keeping customers in business relies on a vital understanding of the fact that their relationship with you is a journey and not a series of discrete events. It is more like a flowing narrative, from the moment of early awareness and interest, through first contact, the purchase experience, the usage experience, and finally becoming an evangelist or supporter of the product.
These transitions should not be specific points along the customer experience timeline, but instead, periods of transition as they move along the path.
Key Fact #3: Customers are on a journey, not a sequence of steps.
This makes it essential for a business to place that journey experience at the center of a sequence that starts with the refinement and retooling of your internal cultural organization and ends with constant, intelligent analysis of customer experience metrics.
Data drives action throughout the organization. A properly prepared culture focuses on customers and puts them at the center of its philosophy. It then prepares to collect and curate data throughout the journey. Concepts such as change management are converted into real-time, continuous activity, and traditional silos between departments are converted into more open concept collaborative spaces.
Five Core Dimensions
At GICC, we believe a customer experience strategy should be built around five core dimensions:
Each of these delivers a set of procedures to support the strategy, that pairs intelligence and application and helps it to flow along the journey. For example, in the people need to be trained. Training is a collection of facts and rules that transforms into engagement, which is an emotional connection to the quality of work. The same even applies to technology, which moves from data-based architecture to the development and deployment of solutions for the customer.
EXAMPLE: PAYING A UTILITY BILL
Most adults alive today have lived their whole lives (up to this point) knowing that utilities were singular and all-powerful. The electricity bill, for example, had to be paid to the electricity company – the one and only electricity company that provided all the power to homes and businesses in the area.
This, too, is changing, as deregulation meets up with more dynamic modes of delivering power, water, or natural gas, that have allowed smaller, more agile suppliers to break the monopoly.
In fact, it is becoming common in several markets for the traditional consumer of electricity to be able to generate more of their own, through solar power and advances in battery storage, cooling management and heat retention techniques. Any excess electricity generated by a household that exceeds its usage or storage needs can then be sold back to the utility, essentially turning a consumer into a prosumer – a seller, with the utility becoming the buyer.
This major reversal of a century-old model further reinforces the notion that even the most invincible of enterprises – utilities and banks – must pay close attention to customer experience – not just collectively, but individually, focusing on the experience of each and every customer’s journey.
The twenty-first century is nothing short of breathtaking when it comes to the speed and the breadth of business, as well as the opportunities still available to those who are sufficiently fleet of foot to capture them. Data and metrics are central pillars of one of the most essential parts of business – the customer experience.
It is up to senior managers and decision-makers to recognize this and factor it in quickly to their current strategies. Across the globe, from Uber and Amazon to DiDi and Alibaba, agile companies have already changed the landscape of commerce, wrestling ownership away from those whose models were built in earlier decades and have not change much since.