How to Win in the Age of the Customer

Posted by Rodney Kuhn

2/26/15 11:04 AM

Service_Client_Gears_Image_2.26.15_postIn the past, it wasn’t uncommon for a customer to dial into an 800 number, wait on hold for over an hour and then be routed to an inexperienced, unpleasant customer service representative who couldn’t answer a simple inquiry.

A lot has changed since then.

Just think about how that same situation would play out in the present day. Would a customer sit on hold for over an hour to talk to an offensive customer service representative who couldn’t answer his or her question? Probably not. Instead, today’s customer would use live chat or social media to get his or her question answered in real time.

We live in the age of the customer, which Forrester describes as “a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.”  With access to a vast amount of information, consumers are more educated and empowered, holding higher expectations for brands and demanding a more personalized customer experience.

In fact, 37 percent of consumers say they will switch companies after a single poor customer service experience, while another 58 percent are willing to endure only two to three instances of bad service before jumping ship, according to the American Express 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer. That means that for 95 percent of consumers, businesses only get three chances at most to get service right—that’s a lot of pressure for companies.

So how do you win in the age of the customer in which today’s always-on customer rules the business landscape? It’s simple: become customer-obsessed. Below are five ways to succeed:

  1. Share the responsibility: While it may be the most customer-facing division, the customer service department isn’t the only one responsible for creating a better customer experience. Marketing and sales, for example, also influence how consumers view a business. It’s important, therefore, to develop a positive culture of customer service in which all departments feel a shared responsibility to always put the customer first. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all employees know how to properly treat your customers in a professional manner. These skills should be taught to ensure everyone from human resources to product development is on the same page.
  1. Perfect the multichannel experience: Consumers aren’t using just one communication channel to interact with brands, they’re using many. According to research from Ovum, 52 percent of consumers use three or four communication channels when engaging customer service. Not only is it important to give prospects various communications options, but it’s also vital that you deliver a seamless experience across multiple touch points. This can be done by launching a comprehensive multichannel strategy. 
  1. Invest in the right technology: To deliver the type of service individuals really want, you must first gain a better understanding of their needs, which is where technology comes into play. Investing in tools that allow you to collect and analyze data gathered through customer-agent conversations will allow you to better pinpoint common problems and inquires. This data can be used to anticipate consumers’ needs, drive faster call resolutions and improve the overall customer experience.
  1. Be data-driven: It’s not enough to just invest in technology that helps in collecting critical consumer data; you have to actually leverage it to make appropriate changes within your organization. Today’s top customer-obsessed companies (think Amazon and Zappos) put data into action, using it to improve the development of products and services, better predict and suggest best next actions and purchases, and create more-targeted marketing campaigns. Companies that have embraced a data-driven culture are three times more likely to rate themselves as substantially ahead of their peers in financial performance, according to findings by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  
  1. Focus on building loyalty: Many businesses think that the key to generating profits is to invest more effort into customer acquisition. The real money, however, is in customer retention. After all, research has shown that repeat customers are more profitable. In the age of the customer, in which consumers have no qualms about ditching a company, building customer loyalty should be at the forefront of your business. A truly successful loyalty strategy doesn’t just consist of a loyalty program; rather, it works to create a meaningful, valuable exchange between the company and the customer.

In the age of the customer, it’s not enough to simply “care” about your customers. You have to be customer-obsessed. Is your company ready for this new era?  

Topics: customer loyalty, Customer Service Best Practices