When it comes to customer service for brands, digital channels can often provide a cheaper alternative to standard channels- but companies that focus on cutting costs are missing the real advantages of digital. Mitesh Patel, Managing Director, Fifosys insists, after nearly a decade of economic travail it is now time for growth; it is innovation, not cost, that should be driving the customer experience and will deliver measurable rewards.
IT now permeates every fibre of every business – and increasingly it must extend outside the traditional business boundary. With 77% of people using mobile as primary route to the internet according to Google Think Insights, organisations need to think carefully about how best to interact with customers across multiple channels.
But while it is tempting to exploit online and mobile channels to streamline processes and encourage customers towards self-service activity, cost alone should not be the driver. Customer services will increasingly be delivered via digital channels. The onus is on organisations to offer choice and create an experience that engages the customer throughout the lifecycle.
Residents gaining up to date information from landlords; clients sharing real time data with accountants; and brands creating mobile apps to boost customer engagement – growing numbers of organisations today recognise the value of extending the corporate reach. But is there too much emphasis on cost saving, rather than improved service?
Customer behaviour is changing radically. Individuals can interact with an organisation via different devices, at different times of day; and they increasingly expect any organisation of any size to be able to deliver a high level of consistent, cross channel service. But they also respond positively to creative engagement. They share experiences via social networking and proactively advocate brands that deliver a good experience.
Rather than simply focusing on the use of digital channels to create efficient, streamlined processes and encourage the customer away from expensive face to face and telephone activity, organisations need to build a digital strategy that supports excellent customer service across multiple channels. The focus should be on increasing customer engagement and not just on reducing interaction cost.
So what are the issues that affect strategic decision making in the digital economy?
1. Understand changing customer behaviour
According to Deloittes, 71% of enterprises are deploying mobile apps – and customers are using them. Figures from Clickfox suggest that three quarters of app users report using a mobile app for customer services purposes and three quarters have a mobile app to make or assist with a buying decision. Both business customers and consumers are looking to interface with organisations at different times of day and via different devices.
From the individual comparing product information and prices in store on a mobile, to the small business owner updating financial information via the accountant’s portal on a Sunday afternoon, organisations have the chance to transform the quality, timeliness and relevance of the customer experience.
2. Maximise customer influence
From brand ambassadors to social sharing, engaging with customers in the right way can significantly extend the reach of an organisation. Rather than rely on the gut feel of the marketing team or the randomly selected focus group, organisations now have a myriad of ways of communicating with existing customers to support on-going strategy. Why not pilot a new product or gain feedback on the location of a new retail store with individuals who are already committed to the brand? In addition to gaining far more relevant feedback, the process of proactively communicating with customers on these strategic decisions adds further value to the relationship.
For bike retailer Specialized, an innovative iPad photo application that provided a picture of a customer sitting on a bike in front of a Tour de France screen at an exhibition provided an excellent way of capturing customer details – along with their imagination. In addition to using the information to create offers linked to the closest store, customers were also encouraged to share the picture via Facebook or Instagram, providing the company with further recognition across the social sphere.
3. Differentiate the business
Multi-channel customer communication and experience should underpin competitive strategy. Offering self-service to make life easier for the customer, such as purchasing train tickets or checking account balances, is already established behaviour. But there is far more that can be achieved. For example, tenants in East Village (the regeneration of the London Olympic Park) routinely use a portal to achieve direct communication with the landlord. Residents can log requests, report maintenance issues and communicate with the owner/operators in order to fix them, as well as securely manage rental accounts. The entire process supports anytime access to key information, improves the residents’ experience and provides a platform for proactive community communication.
4. Reflect the context
To deliver the most appropriate experience, organisations need to recognise the context. For example, short, sharp interactions via mobile to meet a specific objective, as compared with the ability to access deeper information via a portal. The experience must also reflect the environment: for beauty brand Clinique, the creation of a smartTV and iPad game to be used in store was all about fun and providing a way to build a relationship with consumers. Customers played the game and volunteered information in order to win prizes. The experience was short but compelling and encouraged consumers to get involved with the brand.
5. The IT implications
The changing way in which customers expect to be able to interact with organisations is not only having a profound effect on IT, but the two are becoming inextricably intertwined. Businesses that succeed in this new era must have an IT infrastructure that is inherently agile and adaptable in order to react to the evolving customer experience, and enable it.
Extending user interaction via a digital or mobile channel is not an add–on; to deliver the right user experience it must be embedded within core business processes and that has a significant impact on the provision of IT.
Every customer facing organisation whatever their size, now needs the 24×7 infrastructure of a multi-national to ensure that customers can interact at any time of day – and via any device. This raises a number of issues: how is the business going to deliver the robust, resilient infrastructure; ensure it is continuously operational; address the challenges of reduced backup windows; disaster recovery and business continuity? There is also a fundamental requirement to manage consumer device fragmentation: what is the strategy for developing and delivering future proofed applications that can be used by customers across the board?
As digital channels increasingly dominate the way customers look to engage with brands, organisations need to seriously consider how and where the requisite technical expertise can be acquired to successfully manage the extended enterprise.
But at the heart of any strategy must be the focus on the customer experience. Behaviour is changing: the desktop is in terminal decline, and the mobile playing field is continually in flux with new devices, makes and models. A purely cost-focused investment is not going to stand the test of time. It is only by concentrating on the quality of experience and service that organisations can maximise the value of new IT infrastructure and investment to create an innovative customer engagement that will continue to evolve.