Customer loyalty is the holy grail of brand.
Less than a decade ago, consumers told marketing research company IPSOS MORI that they trusted certain household brands (Heinz, John Lewis, Walmart) more than the Government. And trusting a brand to do, as one might say, what it says on the tin, is the fastest route to long term customer loyalty.
A highly personalised, highly individualised journey is at the heart of the customer experience that we’re all trying to create for our consumers. But, as with so many other facets of our everyday lives, Covid-19 has changed the way we think about some of the central principles of how you achieve that.
The things you measure are the things that matter
The metrics have changed – as we went in and out of various regional and national lockdowns, mounting concerns over vulnerability pushed the “empathy metric” to the top of the agenda. Amid the challenges of the pandemic, many customer care-centres defocused any metrics around call duration and are actively encouraging agents to spend more time on the phone with clients.
As we move on from the pandemic, that won’t go away. In fact, people seem to be craving more personal interaction given the isolation we have all been through during the pandemic. And as customer experience moves increasingly to AI and machine conversations, these too will need to reflect that change – chatbots tend to be limited to short burst interactions, for example, but technology will now need to support multi-channel, multi-level conversations. Organisations must be able to have a managed overview of all customer interactions for a persistent and continuous relationship. Customers don’t care that they are having a series of engagements (through various channels) with a brand – as far as they are concerned it is all part of one long, meandering conversation. The need to take a more conversational approach to service will continue to accelerate and we should be looking to use data to make conversations contextual, and therefore extract maximum value out of an interaction – for the customer’s sake as much as ours.
The call centre is far from dead
The pandemic has pushed the call centre back into the centre of the client experience. On/off social restrictions (plus cost cutting) are bound to continue to affect customers' ability to receive in-person customer service – so contact centres will grow rather than shrink as the primary way the brand faces into the market. A good deal of the customer insight we need to improve the customer experience will be captured by the call centre, and then deployed elsewhere in the business. Customer centres are going to become increasingly strategically important – as are the people who work in them. And though a distributed workforce will become the norm, that isn't to say the workplace will cease to exist, but rather it will evolve into more of a creative space to meet and collaborate. Ultimately the holy grail lies in joining together costs or service with revenue and connecting this with physical and digital space to understand holistic eco-systems. It is essential that we look at the bigger picture as we move forwards.
The devil is in the data
The pandemic has changed a lot of things but our relationship with personal data is one we might not have foreseen. However, a year into lockdown and despite all the restrictions that have come with that on our personal freedom, the general population is much more comfortable with surrendering personal information.
In part this is because we have seen that the economies that have responded most effectively to Covid-19 are those that have relied on tackling and using data. Information really is power. The outbreak risk system Canadian BlueDot was able to track the spread of the outbreak days before initial reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. BlueDot’s algorithm picked up early warning signs by applying natural language processing machine learning to data sets including news coverage, social media searches, global flight patterns, and government reports. And as we soon came to understand – time meant lives.
This prompts a renewed debate about the balance between data and privacy. Mounting public frustration over cancelled holidays, regional lockdowns, and ongoing economic shockwaves mean that there is a growing demand for central systems that use data and testing to apply rational, manageable and effective measures that save lives AND keep the schools and shops open at the same time. However, organisations and governments will need to do more to demonstrate that they can be responsible with our data. In return individuals will increasingly be asked to provide time-limited access to personal data – in the pursuit of the greater good.
Excellence in customer experience comes in very large part from the acquisition and deployment of rich personal data – data that we give up voluntarily, data that we reveal through our use of portals, social media and websites, and data that can be gleaned from wider behaviour – our location or our travel choices for example. There is a delicate balance to be struck between what we’re willing to reveal for our benefit (or the benefit of others) and what we really feel we want to be kept within our own firewall. Building a trust-based relationship – where data is kept safe, is used appropriately and sensitively, and improves the experience of the customer and doesn’t just boost sales – will be crucial in retaining customer loyalty. It is worth remembering at this point that when trust is damaged, repairing it requires a multiplier action – something significant enough to repair the damage and start to rebuild the relationship. In other words, it’s cheaper and simpler not to damage it in the first place! And it’s equally important as the economy recovers that organisations see data as a key way of growing revenue and as a means of competing with new entrants who are digital and data rich, rather than taking the more defensive approach of cutting costs and manpower as a way of combatting shrinking profit lines.
Customer behaviour shifted in 2020 and customers aligned themselves more with brands that they saw as trusted, helpful and valuable to them. Companies (and governments!) that behave well now will build up a bank of trust to sustain them post-Covid-19 and drive deeper, more rewarding and thoughtful customer experiences that have a unique chance to drive better outcomes for everyone.
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