Are you in danger of turning connected consumers into disconnected customers?

18th Aug 2011

John McGee discusses how getting to know consumers and enhancing customer experience should be considered a priority by service providers to avoid disconnected customers.

For large organisations, understanding the unique context of each customer relationship and providing them all with personalised and relevant communications, over the preferred method of communication for each, is arguably a challenge. Social media has been both a help and a hindrance in this process. On the one hand, it enables organisations to understand what consumers think of the service/ products they provide, while at the same time consumers can air their complaints (or praise) to the world. In addition, social and digital channels have increased consumers’ expectations of the way their service providers interact with them, as these platforms can provide a vehicle for more direct and personal communications.   
However, while responding and listening to consumers via social and digital media is an important first step in getting to know consumers, the impact of digital channels on their own should not be over-hyped. The advent of a ‘connected society’ has exposed many limitations of print-centric mass communications, which for many consumers no longer serves as the most convenient or preferred method of interaction with brands.
But although incorporating digital and social channels into existing processes is a valuable step, organisations need to ask consumers how they want to be communicated with, rather than treating social and digital channels as the metaphorical band-aid to repairing and mending poor customer engagement. This is because communicating over multiple channels only scratches the surface when it comes to improving customer experience. If a cat owner that doesn’t like receiving letters in the post is sent an email about insurance for dogs, she won’t be any more impressed because she’s received it via her preferred method of communication.
In the same vein, a customer who has just opened a 12 month savings account with a bank will not be impressed if he later receives an SMS informing him of a different account with a better interest rate. To address this, service providers need to build a complete picture of their customers based on the context of past interactions, as well as understand how and when they like to receive information. With this knowledge, customer service representatives and marketing departments need to work together to deliver personalised incentives to consumers. This, according to research by YouGov, commissioned by Thunderhead, would make 78% of those 6000 UK customer polled likely to renew their account.
The disconnected customer
Put simply, service providers need to get to know their customers and understand what they want in order to avoid what we’ve termed The Disconnected Customer’. They need to identify the preferred communication platform for each consumer, understand the individual relationship each customer has with the company and have the correct systems in place to deliver the same brand experience regardless of channel. By ensuring that the correct tools and systems are in place, that allow for multi-channel, multi-thread communications, brands can ensure they are prepared for the arrival of future communications channels, rather than ‘bolting on’ systems to existing processes. Otherwise, organisations will find themselves in the same situation they were in with the arrival of SMS and email where existing legacy systems needed to be ‘modernised’ and updated to facilitate these new channels.
By making sure the tools are in place to deliver on customers’ demands for more flexible communications, service providers will be positioned well to win customer loyalty by creating a tailored customer experience for each individual. With 32% of the 6000 UK consumers polled willing to pay more for excellent customer service according to research by YouGov, commissioned by Thunderhead, it pays to get it right.
Although the concept of ‘excellent service’ is subjective, the research highlighted areas in which service providers are currently failing consumers. For the majority of consumers this lies in the lack of ‘personal touch’ they receive. Although face-to-face contact with service providers may not always be appropriate, 29% of consumers said they would be more likely to recommend their service providers if they had a single account handler to manage their relationship with the company, and 31% would recommend a company if they received timely and relevant communications. As it stands, only 16% would be ‘very likely’ to recommend their service provider based on the communications they currently receive.
With service providers standing to gain so much from enhancing customer experience, meeting consumer demand for convenient, timely and relevant communications needs to become a priority. To do this, organisations need to put systems in place that can deliver the same brand experience to consumers, whether via SMS, smartphone app, email or letter. It is about the careful integration of these channels based on what companies already know of their customers that delivers true ‘multi-thread’ engagement.
Although it is unlikely that a consumer would choose a service provider based solely on the information they receive, the research revealed that the majority of consumers (61%) would switch to another service provider that offered a better service if it was easy to do so. Therefore, either service providers keep up with demand for relevant, timely and convenient communications, or inevitably they will miss out.

John McGee is president and COO at Thunderhead.

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