Competitive companies these days are able not only to meet expectations for good service, but in many instances, exceed them. Underpinning the ability to do that is the concept of customer awareness, which in turn rests on data – but the magic doesn’t lie in the data itself, but how it is created and used.
That’s according to Lisa Halim, Microsoft Dynamics APAC GM, who said the backbone of a successful customer service strategy is delivering the right answers at the right time, conveniently, and via the channel of choice. What makes that happen? Customer data.
“However, the goldmine of customer data has always been an asset closely guarded by marketing departments. This meant that every other employee who wanted to learn more about their customers needed to go through a long and complicated process to lay their hands on the data they required.”
Meanwhile, customer delight has become a ‘thing’; powered by technology which includes big data, artificial intelligence, ubiquitous networks and accessible computing capability, mass-personalisation, convenience and ease of access to essential services is not just possible (it is), but expected.
The information advantage in practice
The ‘traditional’ approach of restricting access to customer data may have had noble reasons, but in an age where customer expectations are being changed – not necessarily by direct competitors, but any kind of consumer facing organisation, like Uber or AirBNB – taking advantage of the possibilities offered means a more powerful value proposition. It also means staying ahead of the game, because if your organisation isn’t the first mover, your competition might be.
Halim used an example to demonstrate what she means by ‘customer awareness’. New Zealand homewares and furniture company Citta Designs has shown how and why using data matters to any business.
Initially a wholesaler, Citta focused on customer experience as part of its expansion into retail across New Zealand and Australia. By choosing a cloud platform which combines ERP, business intelligence, infrastructure, analytics and database services, Halim said it was equipped to pull data together with ease – and then do something special with the resulting information which allows every worker in the company to be customer aware. “Sales, customer and supply chain data is accessible via mobile apps, giving everyone complete and comprehensive visibility. The result is amazing agility right across the organisation, as Citta’s people are in real-time contact with their customers.”
That means the ability to instantly evaluate customer responses to new product lines, tailor promotions for specific markets, and target merchandise offerings to customers. Every customer interaction is tagged, and every customer-facing employee has immediate access to all relevant information. With deep customer awareness made possible by cloud, data and analytics, Citta is equipped to provide a uniquely engaging customer experience – and hit that goal of delighting the customer.
There’s more to it, too. Another major factor, apart from an engaging experience at any level, that makes customers happy is convenience. Indeed, Halim said that Microsoft has found that a majority of customers – up to 91 percent – are loyal to brands which offer low effort interactions. ‘Convenience; is practically a synonym for ‘self-service’, too. “We know that 84 percent consumers use web self-service to solve issues on their own,” said Halim – but there is an upshot to that. “The issues that do require assistance are increasingly complex, making the role of service agents more difficult.”
You know where she is going with this; solving more complex problems requires access to more information. It also requires easier access to subject matter experts.
Every employee working for the customer
And taking it further than that democratisation of data, she said the possibilities are for companies which are so connected that every person working in them could enjoy an almost intimate connection with customers. “Imagine if everyone in an organisation had their finger on the customer pulse like Citta’s people do. That means everyone can ‘sense’ customer behaviour and expectations. Imagine if all employees could be receptive to new ideas, services and products, throughout the supply chain.”
Such a situation, she said, would mean an organisation can position itself to be more agile, driving transformation.
She described it as an ‘imminent reality’. “The giant pieces of the customer awareness jigsaw are starting to fall into place. There’s information and data, which with cloud technologies can flow immediately from multiple sources to multiple destinations, with smart analysis along the way. It means companies are starting to work in very different ways, where decisions can be made instinctively and almost spontaneously.”
Halim said that in customer aware companies, all employees get in on the action of innovation and customer delight. “Employees responsible for product development, service delivery, operations, and input procurement – all become instinctively customer-aware if they are ‘connected’ with the customer through cloud and data analytics which enable everyone to see what is working, where it is working, and all in real time.”
The result is organisations responding naturally to customer behaviour and preferences. “Everyone engages with customers proactively, and not after deliberation. From one end of the supply chain to another, people are equipped to constantly attune themselves to what the customer likes.”
It’s a breath-taking vision which changes the ‘siloed’ or departmentalised approach to doing business, putting the traditionally hidden back end of an organisation in contact with the people who have always been the reason for being for every organisation – its customers.