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Seven ways to carve out a superior customer experience in 2014

22nd Jan 2014
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Study after study has demonstrated that 21st-Century consumers are becoming ever-more high maintenance. It’s not just about the product any more; suppliers are figuratively having to wine and dine their customers to ensure satisfaction and - ultimately - loyalty. 

For the most obvious example of how critical a role customer experience management (CEM) can play, we could look to the centre of many UK towns and cities. Over the last couple of years, the High Street has been a major casualty of not only the current financial climate, but also the technological boom, which has forever changed the way people spend their cash. Talk about a double blow.

For many High Street retailers, the only way to stay competitive is to pull out all the stops when it comes to customer experience – starting in-store. Success stories come from the likes of Ted Baker, who have introduced in-store Wi-Fi and interactive installations, and made attractions out of their shops by way of outlandish design and customisation.

As brands strive to keep their heads above the rising High Street waters, the development of the in-store experience weaves itself throughout the predicted trends for CEM in 2014. Here's how you should respond.

1. Make sure mobile is central to your plans

As smartphone technology improves, PCs are fading into the background. Indeed, it’s predicted that in the first half of 2014, the number of smartphones in use will overtake that of traditional computers. Over half of the planet’s population now own a smartphone, with 50% of all mobile users accessing the internet from their phone as opposed to their PC.

In Argos' latest 18 week trading statement, the High Street retailer revealed that mobile commerce sales were up 75% against the same period in 2012 to represent 20% of total Argos sales, up from the previous figure of 12%. Quite simply, mobile is soaring and retailers must have skin in the game. 

Pat Phelan, vice president of client services for EMEA at Bazaarvoice, predicts how the rise of the mobile will affect the world of CEM in retail: “The role of the smartphone is going to expand outside of that of the content provider. Currently, customers are accustomed to using their devices for ‘showrooming’ and to compare prices and validate purchases throughout the purchase cycle. Over the coming year, sales are going to convert more through the mobile channel as a result of the normalisation of mobile payments and specific geolocation targeting. Equally, it will be essential for retailers and brands to have a mobile presence either via an app or mobile-optimised website, in order to ensure the customer experience is as smooth and trouble-free as possible, no matter what channel they use." 

2. Examine how hyper-targeting could work for your brand

In line with the growing uptake in smartphones, Rakuten senses that it’s going to be all about location, location, location in the 2014 marketing industry. In the retailer's 2014 predictions it notes: “The long-held dream of being able to target shoppers in real-time, with relevant and personalised, location-based offers took a big step forward in 2013 with Apple’s launch of iBeacon, which allows precise, low-cost indoor tracking in stores.

There has been much excitement about the prospect of hyper-targeting shoppers on the go and in 2014 retailers will begin to take this proposition more seriously. We expect to see a number of high profile trials of hyper-targeting technology as retailers grapple to deliver the highly personalised experience that shoppers now expect online in their high street stores.”

So, for instance, shoppers could receive mobile notifications detailing relevant offers and information as they enter a store or stroll past certain displays. As big-brother-like as this sounds, hyper-targeting has all the ingredients of success; companies can direct their marketing more specifically for improved results, and customers receive the convenient and tailored service they require. Smiles all round.

3. Keep an eye on developments in predictive analytics

Using data to learn from the past is all very well but, with the novelty wearing off this year, companies are to start asking more of their data. Just in case you haven’t already noticed, personalisation is a key motif in 2014’s anticipated CEM trends, and one crucial tool in facilitating this is the power to predict consumers’ behaviour. Seeing into the future would enable businesses to plan ahead, avoid risk taking, and implement strategies that will get the best response – no crystal ball required.

Predictive analytics, being the most effective way of capitalising on Big Data, can facilitate this fact-based type of fortune telling. However, up until now, the analytical processes involved in interpreting Big Data have remained highly complex, requiring the niche skills of data scientists. In 2014, these analytic systems are set to become demystified; customer experience managers will gain valuable insights in terms of future behaviour, while the consumer receives a more seamless and better tailored experience.

4. Start to build a robust omnichannel strategy

In recent years, organisations have been exploring the many new channels available to them to interact with, market to and sell to their customers. As a result, social media, SMS, telephone, email and apps are just a handful of the ways 21st-Century consumers now expect to be able to communicate with suppliers. However, the benefits of such convenient means of contact are limited if there remains a disconnection between these channels. A customer may wish to purchase an item on an app and collect it in-store, or raise an issue on twitter and have it followed up by email, and their supplier must be able to keep up if they want to retain their custom.

Not only could a company’s customer service be enriched by unifying all these channels, but the quality and depth of the data they collect would also improve. Rakuten predicts: “In 2014, a top priority for retailers will be to join up the dots between multiple platforms and devices so that more comprehensive customer profile can be developed. Insight garnered by analysing the purchase journey of shoppers will help retailers to streamline the channels through which they sell and personalise the shopping experience.”

5. Work on your response time

Technology has bred an impatient consumer with a reduced attention span. Over the next year, companies should be cottoning onto this and realising that there really is no time like the present. Customers are set to have their issues understood and resolved with more speed, and their queries heard and answered with increased haste.

The opportunity to provide feedback of a service is to be extended pretty instantaneously, too. Real-time data not only promises to grab the engagement and attention of the customer more easily, but also improved quality and increased value.

Handling data at such speed is made possible by the many communication channels new technology affords, as well as the development of sophisticated software which make unstructured data more accessible and easier to interpret. Thus, companies will be able to up the pace not only for translating raw data, but acting on it, too.

6. Appoint a senior figure responsible for customer experience

As the world of customer experience expands and management focuses shift from selling products to selling services, the call for experienced CEM leaders also grows. Even in as little as three years, the number of customer experience jobs has boomed, and the position’s ranking within the corporate hierarchy is also set to soar. So, those who already have a well-staffed CEM outfit in place will do well to reexamine its structure.

Martin Calvert, marketing manager of SynGro, gives some insight as to how exactly CEM staffing structures may change in 2014.“In 2011, industry analysts estimated that there were 2,200 customer experience directors worldwide. Today, there are 12,000 senior figures with responsibility for customer experience. A recent survey of 150 leading CEOs has revealed that customer experience management is their number-one area of investment, but that this increased investment has been matched by a similar increase in expectation about what the customer experience programme should deliver. However, only 25% of customer experience directors report directly to the CEO. In 2014, look for more and more directors to become part of the boardroom inner circle, especially as the financial case for customer experience continues to resonate.”

7. Prepare to stretch the budget

Regardless of whether you’re a newcomer to the CEM game or an old pro with a structure already in place, if you want your customer experience strategy to really pay off in 2014, it’s going to cost you. Forrester’s new report, Predictions 2014: Customer Experience discusses the need for big investments this year. “Most organizations will play a grim ground game. Companies just starting to repair their broken experiences will find themselves in a struggle that’s hard, slow, and increasingly costly. They’ll focus on getting key infrastructure in place to assess what’s broken, manage a portfolio of fixes, and measure the results they need to build enterprise-wide support for customer experience.

“Differentiated firms will come on strong with an aggressive passing game. The customer experience elite won’t miss out on the fact that competitors are trying to close the experience gap and disrupt their competitive advantage. They’ll build on their past success with well-funded efforts that leverage their skills in strategy, customer understanding, and design.”

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