How to Rethink Customer Relationships in the Age of the Consumer
Technology has redesigned relationships as we know it, including the consumer-brand relationship.
Brands used to call all the shots. Price and product used to be the pillars of the marketing mix, the levers that would yield loyalty. But the digital world has caused a seismic shift. Consumers now hold more sway and it is all about their experience.
The quaint old days of window shopping is now a world of personalised screen shopping any time, anywhere, with an intuitive nudge from AI along the way.
The age of the consumer, the age of continuous connection, the age of disloyalty, however you want to call it, one thing is certain, the consumer is well and truly in the driver’s seat steering the way companies do business.
Here’s a snapshot of consumer behaviour today:
- 73% of consumers use multiple channels to shop. – Harvard Business Review
- 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that offers personalised experiences. – Edelman
The gap between what customers expect and what companies are actually delivering is widening. Instead of sitting back and waiting for customers to come to them, companies are now on the front foot.
The chase is well and truly on.
So what do customer relationships look like now?
Companies are now investing heavily in adopting a customer-centric approach, finding new ways to meet customers where they are and using AI to monitor customer relationships.
Customer service is now about being proactive. Preempting needs before they arise in favour of reacting to negative outcomes. Surprise candle-lit dinners over apology flowers.
To get a full picture of what the new customer relationship looks like, we sat down with six key industry figures who are leading the chase to meet consumer needs.
The latest State of Service report from Salesforce has found that consumers are now using an average of ten channels to communicate with businesses. Further, voice-activated tech in customer service is projected to grow by 152% in the next 18 months.
For Kylie Kelly, an Enterprise Account Executive at Salesforce, changes in the online experience, the speed of engagement and global competition has meant that “traditional businesses have had to become digitally savvy and omnichannel”.
Whilst after-sales service is vital to customer retention, Kelly considers the initial period of the sales journey to be the most critical point. “As a salesperson, I ask myself: How can I establish and build trust? How do I give the prospect confidence that they will receive good quality service now, during and after the sale?”
Customer relationship management tools are a no-brainer. “if you don’t know your customer, you are behind your competitors”, says Kelly.
“A quality CRM platform with AI built in can allow you to predict and improve customer engagement, with better outcomes at every stage of the customer journey.”
Kelly believes that creating an exceptional customer experience at Salesforce begins with exceptional employee experience, whether it’s consistently appearing in ‘best place to work’ lists, giving members access to the right tools and structures or having one of the most generous parental leave packages in Australia.
For Zendesk and its Sales Manager, James Slattery, being customer-centric means “allowing your customers to contact you when they want, where they want, via any channels they want, to solve what they want. It also means listening to customers intuitively and understanding their needs”.
Self-service is the main talking point in Zendesk’s latest CX Trends Report. Customers now value companies with online resources that enable them to answer their own questions before reaching the customer support team.
In response, Zendesk is looking to capitalise on improving live chat tools. Something which Slattery finds to be incredibly agile: “Businesses can implement them on their websites in a matter of minutes with a short piece of coding and trial it for an hour per day to test it. It’s just one of the many easy and efficient ways to trial the technologies now widely available to us.”
Research shows that while 80% of CEOs believe they deliver an exceptional customer experience, customers say only 8% are really delivering.
This has left Chris O’Brien, Head of Customer Success at SAP ANZ, wondering, “do we really understand what customer expectations are?”
O’Brien believes that the key ingredients for a customer-centric organisation are culture and intelligence.
Culture requires commitment and leadership from the top. “In 2018, a significant shift in approach was needed and a new organisation called Customer First was created to lead our post-sales engagement teams, and to create and roll out an engagement methodology that puts the customer first in all our engagements – particularly sales.”
Intelligence comes from timely data. Whilst SAP has invested in a full range CX suite that can scale up or down as needed, what’s equally important to O’Brien is knowing where to point your efforts in the right direction.
Earlier this year, SAP acquired Qualtrics, an unprecedented tool that lets brands place micro-surveys in front of customers at any point of the sales journey, and then analyse the responses to better understand customer needs. “It’s now possible to capture not only ‘what’ is happening for your customer but ‘why’ and therefore what action you need to take that makes a real impact”, says O’Brien.
Like SAP, Juniper Networks also believes customer centricity is best achieved when it’s injected into the DNA of the company. According to Global Head of Customer Success, Keri Keeling, “Great customer centricity comes from the entire team being tightly aligned on the customer experience.”
While there is a myriad of CX tools on the market, Keri has this caveat. “Before choosing a technology to assist with your CX approach; ensure that you’ve fully vetted what you’re automating and why. Don’t automate for the sake of automation. Have an honest look at all of your customer journeys and engagement points and determine where your friction is.”
Industry figure, Yoshikazu Shinnai, has another name for the current age – the age of hyper-personalisation, as seen by the personalised experiences offered by subscription services like Spotify and Netflix.
Yoshikazu has also observed that “rapid growth and change of technology sometimes make people uneasy”. To create a culture that embraces innovation and leading-edge technology, he believes it must be instilled in schools first.
Hubspot is a perfect example of how to form a customer-centric mindset into the DNA of a company as demonstrated by Customer Success Manager, Ashley Kim.
It begins with the ‘Customer Code’, an internal set of principles and beliefs launched in 2018 to ensure the company doesn’t veer away from being customer-first.
Next, the tools to gather customer feedback and then to analyse them. “Loyalty feedback (NPS), experience feedback (CSAT) and customer support/service feedback (CES) are all important measurements of customer satisfaction that companies can take into account based on their business model.”
But getting feedback is half the battle. It’s equally important to know what to do with it and Kim believes that “having a central source of truth for customer relationships is important so that any member of the company can provide customised and targeted resolution for the customer based on the feedback they’ve given and the experience they previously had with the company and their product/service.”
And finally, it all comes back to the development and investment of the team. Kim explains that all new HubSpotters go through an extensive training period filled with workshops and boot camps and they have access to education and training programs throughout their time at HubSpot.
The brand-consumer relationship has always been a dance, but now in the age of the consumer, this dance just got a little harder. The beat is faster, the steps are more intricate, and the consumer is leading all the way. Try to keep up.
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