Customer relations in the digital age
Customer experience remains a missed opportunity in 2019. According to Oracle, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better brand experience, but only 1% feel that vendors consistently meet expectations. And for good reason, the digitisation of the customer relationship has some companies thrown. Now, responsiveness, personalisation and the increasing importance of an omnichannel strategy can’t be ignored but many businesses are struggling to keep up.
No one is experiencing this shift as acutely as the SME. Often, in these types of company, all these functions fall within a single person’s responsibilities – anyone from the CEO, the agency’s own marketing lead or even the office manager. In many cases, you’ll find the same person ticking off jobs that belong to very disparate job sets: everything from tracking leads to scheduling invoices, issuing marketing communications to chasing late payments. Running between tasks to put out one fire after another, it’s not difficult to see why customer experience can fall to the bottom of the pile.
So what are the new considerations for smaller businesses to be mindful of as they weather the storm that is the digitisation of customer experience?
- The savviest customers of all time
Recent research shows that, even in offline environments, the pervasion of digital cannot be avoided. In fact, 82% of smartphone users consult their phones for purchases they are about to make in-store; 45% read reviews before a purchase. The digitisation of consumer habits means that even the smallest companies need to invest in a substantial online footprint. It’s about more than ensuring an informative and responsive website – businesses need sophisticated marketing to support inclusion on comparison websites, buying guides, tutorials and online reviews. Every piece of content on the web provides valuable clues that help your prospects make the right decision.
- Customers that never sleep
As a consumer, you probably appreciate being able to place orders online at any time of the day or night. The same is true for customer service. The shift towards an always-on world means that consumers expect to find answers to their questions and have their queries addressed at any time of day. Many businesses are looking to artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technology such as chatbots, virtual personal assistants, navigation apps and streaming services to meet that need. For always-on customers who expect a smooth, seamless service 24/7, AI interactions are the new norm. The trouble is, a single customer could pose the same request to a company online, by phone, via social media channels and then on email. Often, the challenge for companies is to centralise these customer interactions so that monitoring is as fluid as possible and AI can truly create the efficiencies it has the potential to deliver.
- Being everywhere, all at once
The flipside of that is that customers also don’t want to find themselves repeating their issues to multiple representatives and across several channels. Companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, 56% more than companies with weak omni-channel strategies who retain only 33%. We’ve all been there. There are more touchpoints for us to connect with brands than ever before – email, telephone, social media, mobile apps and live chat portals. But that should mean the experience is smoother, not more painful. However, still, 87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a consistent experience.
- Personalisation is a must
Personalisation is everything in today’s customer interactions but it’s about making that personalisation productive. Each segment, and then each sub-category of a structured marketing and customer engagement strategy requires a nuanced approach, which can be very time-consuming if managed manually. To help optimise the relationship with potential customers, new tools have emerged, such as lead tracking and scoring, sales automation and re-marketing.
With lead tracking tools, you can store and log a visitor’s journey on your site. With scoring, you can set a different value for each page of your website. For example, you could give a higher score to a customer viewing your prices than one viewing a blog post. A customer enquiring about price should naturally be further along the buyer journey than one simply reading a blog. These features are critical as they can help gauge a customer’s interest in making a purchase, enabling a business to more accurately tailor communications to deliver the best results.
Doing more with less
Without the budgets and resources of large businesses, SMEs must look to technology to fill the gaps. Customer experience is a responsibility that touches on a number of different skillsets and job functions – ensuring a significant digital footprint to draw customers in, providing 24-hour communications to guarantee fast responses, maintaining multiple channels while ensuring that responses are informed by a collated view to avoid losing out to competitors, personalisation to drive sales at the most opportune times. It all takes time and a specific knowledge set.
New advances in scalable, collaborative software means that small businesses can reduce time spent coordinating different functions, to aid smoother operations. Small business owners need to make sure they have the technology infrastructure to, remain compliant, enable collaboration and support marketing. Investment in the right technology in a modular fashion means that these resources can scale and or be easily removed in line with business needs. SMEs need to take a step back and look for technologies and systems that will best integrate with their existing systems and enable for a more fluid, admin-light business.
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