At Gartner’s recent Customer Experience and Technology Summit, analyst Don Scheibenreif highlighted nine trends set to dominate how brands will engage with their customers in the near future.
Taking into account the Internet of Things, smart cities, artificial intelligence and conversational systems such as Siri and Amazon Echo, Scheibenreif paints a picture of a world underpinned by complex technology systems, sometimes only tangentially linking brands with their customers.
With the speed of change and the sheer number of channels causing the disruption, it’s unsurprising that brands often fish for excuses to put their customer engagement strategy on hold.
However, as Darren Loveday, VP customer engagement at Thunderhead and Martin Hill-Wilson, CX expert and founder of Brainfood Consulting explained during a recent MyCustomer webinar, many of the excuses are more fundamental issues that must be overcome.
1. True customer engagement is too complicated
Darren Loveday: “It’s completely understandable that businesses don’t want to know because engagement is something that’s built up over time and traverses your whole organisation in terms of people, process and technology. It can be quite consuming.
“The reality is that you need a starting point. Understanding your end game and working towards it. If you look at John Lewis as an example, they’ve been on this engagement drive for 5 to 8 years and really embracing the digital side of things, and now they’ve got a new CEO in charge saying that the ‘plumbing is in place’. On the way to doing that, they’re experience significant gains in terms of brand understanding, satisfaction and ROI.”
2. No one person holds the customer reins
Martin Hill-Wilson: “You see this in the way people are trying to organise themselves. The most fashionable role that’s popped up in recent years is the Chief Customer Officer (CCO). There’s roughly 90 in the UK so far, and the job is to provide the perspective of the customer at an executive board level. This may be someone in your organisation who’s been invested in it for a number of years and knows their way around it, and is able to bring the agenda to bear.
“It works to have one person in charge of customer experience. Seldom does a business orchestrate this though, it often comes down to someone in the business seizing the need to push this mandate forwards. “Ask for forgiveness, not permission”; a lot of the great customer-centric work I’ve seen has often been driven by a small group of people in a business rolling up their sleeves and getting on with things. They see the problems arising in their own areas and step across the boundaries of budget, internal silos and collaborate to get things done.
3. A single customer view is a hard nut to crack
DL: “This is more of a legacy issue than anything else. If you go back in time 10 years to the days of on-site, on premise CRM and marketing automation systems where data is held and the silos that then caused, then a single customer view was very hard to crack. I think technology has moved on and engagement is driven by this.
“Modern frameworks give you massive agility, allowing you to piece together your channels and data sources through very simple API mechanisms and making single customer view a much more realistic goal.
“In our work we’ve had experiences where we’ve been able to join up 8 or 9 channels in less than 3 weeks, in some cases. Those channels can range from an anonymous visitor on a website through to someone who’s visited a retail outlet. You can bring that sort of information together to better understand where a customer is in their journey with you. In many cases now it’s actually about getting your single customer view first, before you interact with the customer.”
4. There are more important priorities than customer engagement
DL: “There can’t be a higher priority than understanding your customer and providing value for them. Without the customer, you don’t have a business. In the real world, when you think of technology and business processes, there have been a set of boxes that have existed for many years that people can tick. Do we have CRM? Do we have marketing automation? Do we have business process management, change management? It’s easy to tick those boxes but those things always need updating and will always go through stages of becoming higher priorities because they are existing boxes that you tick.
“The context of a customer engagement strategy may be new, but it has to now be a priority, there can’t be anything more important than understanding your customer and retaining that customer than the traditional mode of attrition and acquisition. You used to be able to take the line of thinking because most established companies were able to rely on their acquisition rates trumping their retention rates in the past.
“We all now know the metrics around the cost of acquisition being so much higher now than the cost of retention. It’s now massively polarised, so you have to take engagement seriously.”
MHW: “Customer engagement is a business philosophy but not always widely recognised. Many companies are currently hitting their numbers these days not because of growth, but cost reduction. So, many more people believe in efficiency and cost reduction as an agenda as opposed to outcome, effectiveness and growth. So they see customer engagement as being part of the latter but in actual fact it’s also part of your efficiency because it drives retention over the less efficient acquisition.”
5. We're already doing a great job
DL: “This largely depends on people’s definition of customer engagement. That’s where there’s been a lot of movement across industries in the last couple of years. Most organisations may have a fantastic operational set-up in their contact centre and will be doing some form of web optimisation, or harnessing the email channel or app notifications or Facebook likes, and so it’s tempting for a brand to say ‘look how engaging we are’.
“What we’re finding in those scenarios is that you’re brilliantly optimised within the context of those channels, but you’re not actually engaging your customer. If you don’t understand your customers’ journeys, you don’t have visibility of them and the interaction points, in real-time. If you don’t have that view, you’re not engaging your customers. You have brilliant in-channel optimisation but your customers are traversing that channel. They want to interact on any device on any channel at any time they wish. To understand that need you have to understand all of those interactions.”
MHW: “The proof has to be in growing customer lifetime value and advocacy, but that’s the only way to truly measure successful engagement.
“Engagement in a single activity is the sum total of the relationship between brand and customer. An experience can be postitive or negative depending on a single interaction. Measure the endpoint.”
Listen to the webinar now: Why true customer engagement shouldn't be on your "too difficult" pile
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.