Welcome to 2014 and more importantly the era of the entitled customer, rightfully entitled that is.
For many years a customer’s experience didn’t really matter all that much. A single bad experience might lose you a customer, or a handful of customers through word of mouth, but companies didn’t really care because they could drown out negative experiences with marketing spend. Clever marketing trumped user experience.
But the advent of social media has changed all that: customer’s voices, amplified by social media, now trump even the cleverest of marketing. Combine that with a massive surge towards subscription & freemium models, increasing saturation of digital marketing channels, increased competition and decreasing customer loyalty, and you have the recipe for an era where users, not brands, wield unprecedented power.
Going forward, customers will feel entitled to an amazing customer experience and woe to companies that don’t give it to them.
However, if you want to provide an amazing experience you really need to understand, and be in close contact with, your customers. You need to be engaged with your customers. Unfortunately, that’s not something companies are doing well. In fact, a recent IBM study found that only 35% of CxOs believe they understand their customers well today. Yikes.
82% of the CEOs said they were going to spend time changing their customer strategies in 2013. That’s good because they’ll need to if they’re going to solve this problem. To help nudge these changes onto the yearly action plan, I have some insights and suggestions.
I believe a big part of the problem is that a lot of companies and even vendors are approaching customer engagement all wrong. Paul Greenberg’s definition of customer engagement which I favor is:
“the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.”
The key phrase here is “chosen by the customer.” How many customers are really choosing to spend 30 minutes to fill out your annual survey? How many customers are joining your community and posting things on the forums? How many customers are sharing your promoted Facebook post? The answer to all of these is, of course: not many.
That’s because a lot of what’s been pushed as customer engagement by companies is pretty unengaging. The value is all for the company. The entitled customer isn’t going to do you any favors, they’re going to say “what’s in it for me?” So, sure you might dangle the chance of a free iPad to someone for filling out that awful survey of yours, but prizes and any extrinsic motivations are ultimately not sustainable.
Companies need to be offering truly engaging interaction options that both company and customer derive value from.
The other problem is the scale of most customer engagement programs. What % of your customers get involved in focus groups or customer advisory panels? What % of them are clicking on that survey banner flying across your site? What % are navigating away from their core online experience to interact in your customer community? Again the answer is, you guessed it: not many.
It’s no longer enough to collect data from a representative few to inform our customer experience decisions.
In a social media world, the real opportunity is if companies can keep all their customers engaged and in the loop on how they’re actually improving customer experience with them.
Call it customer co-creation or whatever you like, but the point is “feeling heard” is just as important to entitled customers as the product changes that come out of it.
So the challenge for all companies in 2014 is to create a customer engagement program that users actually want to engage in (but that still generates useful data for making CX decisions), that garners double digit participation rates and that you can scale to the thousands or millions of customers.
It’s not easy.
Here are some key insights that I’ve learned.
The first key insight is that if a company is going to achieve high participation rates it has to target engagement where the users already are.
And no, I don’t mean Facebook. For the purveyors of digital products (web and mobile apps) this means embedding everything that would have traditionally been off-site directly into the app.
Customer portals are great for power users but casual users, who make up the majority of any user base, simply aren’t going to click away from what they’re doing to go to another site. And just like the successful social apps, all engagement needs to be simple and built into the existing product or service experience. You can vary the depth of interaction (think “likes” versus “comments” in Facebook) but a single open ended text entry box is the most a company should ask of a user if they want to keep participation rates high.
The second key insight is that customer support is the first form of customer engagement that you should offer.
It’s something users want to use (when they have an issue) and, if we’re smart about how it’s tracked, is a key datapoint for how to improve customer experience. Just even having high quality support in-app is often an improvement to the customer experience on its own. Further, for all the talk of social media support, if you provide an easy way to get help directly where the problem happens (inside your product) then very few people take their issues to Twitter, or as I like to call it: the small claims court of bad support.
One challenge with in-app support is scaling it. Though that too can easily be accomplished by baking in smart, automated suggested self-service options. The real problem with customer support is low participation rates: participation is limited to only those users that have a problem. A high participation rate via support implies much bigger problems for your customer experience. All of these reasons are why you’ve seen so many companies, and vendors, focused on upping their customer service game over the last few years.
The final insight is that the way to customer engagement nirvana lies in user feedback.
People love being heard. They love giving feedback. What they don’t love is how most companies don’t seem to truly want their feedback (and burying “feedback” link in your footer doesn’t change that impression) nor do they do very good job of following up on feedback given. Can you blame them? How often do you get an email from a company that says “Hey we looked at your survey response and made these changes because of it”? Probably never.
When you give people a simple, accessible (in-app) way to give feedback, they take you up on it. Especially if you give them a direct line to getting updates on how their feedback affected change. Again, these aren’t flying banners asking you to a take a survey, they’re single question surveys that pop-up in-app and can be answered with a single click.
When companies put all these learnings together the result is customer engagement data from support interactions to customer feedback (both qualitative and quantitative) to user analytics (activity rates, customer spend) all in the same database. This allows companies to make true data-driven customer experience decisions a reality. And with high participation rates, it means that when decisions are made, companies can inform all their customers affected (hopefully positively) by it.
And that, my friends, is the future of customer engagement: a recipe for creating amazing customer experiences.
But you better hurry because customer expectations are rising faster than the tide.
Photo courtesy of Torley.