By Bob Violino
The way customers interact with companies is changing dramatically, largely because of the rapid emergence of social media and mobile devices. At the same time, consumers—thanks in part to the Internet—have become much more discerning and knowledgeable about service quality and market alternatives.
Companies that ignore these trends do so at their own peril. Businesses have a huge opportunity to improve customer relationships—whether it’s through consumer-driven technology, cloud services and data analytics or via new business processes that emphasize enhancing the total customer experience. By failing to take a strategic approach to building stronger customer relationships, companies can risk losing out to competitors that do.
Industry research shows that customers are more discerning about the services they receive and are open to dumping one provider for another when they feel they’re not getting good service. Of the 10,000 consumers in 27 countries surveyed online in 2011 by consulting firm Accenture, 66 percent switched companies as a result of poor customer service.
Accenture’s Global Consumer Survey, released in January 2012, shows that the proportion of consumers who switched companies for any reason between 2010 and 2011 rose in eight of the 10 industries covered in the survey. The report also found that just 23 percent of the consumers surveyed feel “very loyal” to their providers, while 24 percent said they had no loyalty at all.
In the face of these challenges, companies need to find ways to more effectively engage their customers. Social media can be a prime mechanism for improving customer relationships, and gives customers additional ways of getting in touch with companies.
are much more empowered by today's social Web, says Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of
Web Marketing Therapy, who develops marketing relationships via the Web. “They
read reviews and are influenced by their peers,” she says.
sites are playing an increasing role in consumers’ purchase decisions, adds
Robert Wollan, global managing director, customer relationship management at
Accenture. “A growing number of consumers—and not only younger ones—are posting
comments about products and services, trusting the comments posted by others,
and reporting that such comments are influencing their purchase decisions,” he
says. “The consumers’ cravings for personal interaction and engagement with
providers are growing, and are becoming a significant factor in their choice of
and spending with a provider.”
company Best Western International in Phoenix is rolling out a social media feedback
program to its more than 4,000 global locations. The program will enable hotel
operators to manage customer relationships via TripAdvisor, Twitter, Yelp and
other popular social sites.
understands that public responses on sites such as these affect bookings and
increasingly have a bigger impact on the bottom line, says Michael Morton, vice
president of member services at Best Western.
has been using an application from Medallia that allows it to get feedback from
guest surveys. Over the past year-and-a-half, it has been eyeing the
possibility of using data from travel review sites such as TripAdvisor and
other social sites to help improve service and draw new business. But since
many Best Western properties are smaller hotels that don’t have the resources
to analyze online travel and social media sites such as Facebook, the company
needed a way to gather such data in a central location that could be accessed
by hotel operators.
looked at several technologies that could aggregate such data, but when
Medallia agreed to develop a cloud-based application for this purpose, Best
Western decided that staying with a familiar vendor made sense.
year, Medallia had the software as a service
(SaaS) app ready, and in January 2012, Best Western began rolling it out to
hotels. Managers can now analyze customers’ reviews and reply to them when
appropriate. It will soon have the ability to compare their own hotel’s
performance with that of competitors.
“If we’re able to get their response, respond appropriately and show that
[we can] react sooner and address their concerns, it helps us from a customer
care perspective,” Morton says.
to giving hotels a direct and immediate feedback mechanism, the social media
program gives Best Western’s marketing team a tool for tracking customer
trends, which can help it shape marketing campaigns. The team can use positive
feedback from customers as part of its marketing efforts, Morton explains.
Best Western is looking into making the application available on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, so hotel managers can access the program from virtually any location.
Another trend that’s helping organizations get the most out of customer
data and improve relationships is the growing use of business analytics, often
in conjunction with CRM systems.
“CRM solutions are most
associated with sales automation, service automation and marketing automation,”
says William Band, vice president and
principal analyst at Forrester Research, but adds that limiting CRM to
those functions is narrow and outdated.
“We see CRM
to be encompassing all those data-centric types of solutions, but also
including other sources of customer information,” such as order management
systems, e-commerce sites and social media, he says. “The explosion of
structured and unstructured customer data places a premium on robust business
intelligence and analytics capabilities around what do with that data. This
gives companies insights to interact with customers more effectively.”
customer information located in one central location rather than taking a
siloed approach continues to be an aspiration of many companies, although it
has been difficult to achieve, Band admits. “The data warehouse did plug a hole
and made it easier, but a lot of [organizations] have never been able to get
all the data in one place,” he says. “That’s still the vision, but people are
no longer thinking in terms of one system; it’s much more a matter of federated
data architectures being put in place.”
The idea of
“one version of the truth” when it comes to customer data makes sense for
organizations hoping to build stronger relations. Consolidated data spares
companies from service errors, so “interactions are done based on history and
custom notes that relate specifically to the customer,” Ross, of Web Marketing
Therapy, says. “In today's tech-savvy world, customers demand service and a personal
touch. Companies can't afford to be siloed and miss the service mark.”
In 2008, Cemex
USA, a provider of building materials in Houston, deployed a CRM system from
SAP to obtain a 360-degree view of its customers with a single point of contact
to enhance the customer experience. The system enables the company to
facilitate interactions, fulfill customer expectations on delivery performance
and provide reliable and on-time account information.
“If we had this information in several places, we would not be able to
provide best-in-class service to our customers across multiple channels and
departments,” says Ven Bontha, customer experience manager. “Today, we handle
order fulfillment on a 24-hour basis at a lower cost, at a high rate of
accuracy—99.97 percent for order-taking—by having a centralized operation with
a single point of contact.”
A consolidated customer data strategy has also worked well for
1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a junk-removal service provider based in Vancouver. The
company uses several tools to manage its customer relationships, including
SalesForce.com’s CRM offering, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Google
Analytics. “All these tools plug into our in-house BI [business intelligence] platform,
allowing us to roll up and report 'a single version of the truth’ to our
corporate, executive and franchisee business stakeholders,” says Scott
Rutherford, the firm’s director of technology.
Having accurate customer information readily available to users allows the company to better serve those customers. For example, on their way to a job or on the job site, the firm’s truck team members can access data from original customer sales calls to enhance their service provisioning with context about the customer’s needs, Rutherford says. “For customers who contacted our agents via Website chat, a transcript of the chat is also available in the same way,” he says.
created a system that allows conversations that its call center agents have
with customers to be uploaded within a proprietary booking system called JunkNet.
team members can now listen to the recording of the call prior to arriving at
the customer’s home or business,” says Michel Falcon, customer experience
coordinator. “This has proved to be valuable from a customer experience
perspective because we are able to continue the original conversation on-site,
understand the scope of the customers’ junk-related [needs] and build rapport
in a unique way.” For example, a truck team member can arrive with a birthday
card for a customer after learning through the call-recording program that the
customer’s birthday is on the day of the pickup.
program has helped improve the customer experience “because we are now better
prepared to help our customers’ unique situations,” Falcon says. “We have
experienced an increase in our customer loyalty rates, and our truck teams now
feel better prepared to perform their job.”
Another organization dedicated to improving the customer experience
through data gathering is Benchmark Assisted Living in Wellesley, Mass. The
company, which provides senior housing in the New England area, uses a platform
called Voice of the Customer (VOC) from Allegiance Software to gather customer
feedback from email, social media, phone calls, Web forms and other sources. It
manages the data via a cloud-based platform from Allegiance called Engage.
“Establishing and maintaining positive relationships with our clients
and their families is the lifeblood of what we do,” says Brenda Abbott-Shultz,
vice president of customer experience at Benchmark. “Therefore, investments in
those relationships have to be thoughtful and strategic.”
VOC, which Benchmark implemented in 2011 to replace a paper-based
process, enables the assisted living organization to
recognize and promote what is working well and to make timely, focused changes
when necessary, she says. Benchmark uses the platform to survey about 4,000
residents and 12,000 family members. The Web-based surveys determine how
residents are weathering the transition to assisted living and help assess whether
employees are anticipating and meeting all of their needs.
Every seven days, Benchmark analyzes comments from the various feedback
mechanisms and sends a report to the company’s senior team of managers in each
of the residential communities so they can make needed changes. It also
performs annual surveys of residents and families to measure overall customer
satisfaction and perceptions.
Feedback and survey results have led to operational changes that helped reduce the number of residents who leave the company’s housing within the first six months. From April to October 2011, move-outs due to dissatisfaction were 12 percent fewer than had been reported from April to October 2010. The company achieved a 143 percent ROI on the application in the first year, Abbott-Shultz says.
One of the most important things companies can do to enhance customer relationships is give clients the option of getting in touch with them by whatever means they prefer.
Companies have to be prepared to engage with clients by phone, email, instant messaging, Twitter, blogs and other tools.
“Today, consumers expect a multichannel experience,” Accenture’s Wollan says.
A majority of the consumers Accenture surveyed reported frustration when they
weren’t able to access company information or purchase a product through the
channels of their choice.
“We currently maintain contact with our customers through various
channels, depending on the mode by which they initiate [contact] with us,” reports
Rutherford of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? “For example, our call center manages inbound
live phone calls, as well as email, [Facebook] messaging and chats from our
public Website. We pride ourselves on providing world-class response rates
and customer service.”
As an early
adopter of many of these technologies and communication channels,
1-800-GOT-JUNK? has relied on a series of cobbled-together solutions to provide
this service. However, in March 2012, the company launched a contact center
management platform, based on Microsoft’s Lync 2010 and Aspect’s Unified IP 7 unified communications
offerings. The platform makes it easier to manage a variety of customer
communication channels. In addition, the company built a complaint resolution
that monitors communication channels, such as phone calls, emails,
social media, etc., for customer feedback, and enables agents to quickly take
action based on their comments.
“We use the data gathered from this system to train our franchisee partners how to better deliver an exceptional customer experience,” Falcon says.
the complaint resolution system, “we can now commit to timelines to resolve our
customers’ complaints,” Falcon says. “Our goal was 80 percent [of issues]
resolved within three business days, and we have achieved 90 percent resolved
within three business days. We have also been able to individually address
certain [issues] and reduce how often they affect our customers.”
customers becoming ever more discerning, demanding and tech-savvy, companies
will need to make these types of service improvements to hold onto their
clients and create even stronger relationships with them.
Tips for Strengthening Customer Relationships
Keep customer data clean, fresh and available to the people in the organization who need it. If you want all this data located in one place, be prepared to do the work necessary to achieve that.
Ensure that key stakeholders of customer touch points (call center, on-site, Website, etc.) are closely aligned and meet regularly to discuss customer experiences. By having better collaboration, systems and strategies, you’ll improve service to customers.
- Give customers benefits that matter to them. Today, customers want more than just a smooth experience—they want to be recognized and rewarded for loyalty.
- Provide meaningful ways for consumers to engage with the company, including via digital channels. Boosted by social media, customers crave personal interaction.—B.V.