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How to understand your customers – ask them ‘why?’

How to understand your customers – ask them ‘why?’

By Chris Hancock, Managing Director, Gasbox
Marketing has rightly moved on from the traditional ‘monologue’ approach, where consumers were bombarded with sales messages in the hope that they would respond positively by buying products and services. 

As part of this evolution it’s become increasingly important for brands to develop a real understanding of their customers; what products and services are actually of interest to them, what engenders their loyalty, and of course what will motivate them to make a purchase. 
But in the rush to acquire data as a means of driving a more considered and relevant approach to marketing, most brands have missed a vital opportunity to engage personally with their customers whilst simultaneously accessing a rich vein of insight.
Think about the way ‘traditional’ call centres interact with consumers on the other end of the phone.  Generally the focus here is on meeting the consumer’s requirements in an as efficient and cost effective manner as possible. 

Call centres long ago became mostly commoditised. And even though they tend, in this multi-channel age, to be one of the only means of human contact between brand and consumer, most stick to the preconceived formula for servicing a ‘transactional interaction’. 
There are two missed opportunities here. Obviously the first is making good use of this human contact with the customer. 

The second is less obvious, but has the potential to change fundamentally the way we enact a dialogue with consumers over the phone. Ask the customer ‘why’?
Let’s take banking as an example. A customer calling up their bank to find out their credit card balance will most likely be serviced by an automated interface, enabling them to extract the information they want whilst the bank itself invests as little human time as possible servicing the call. 

Of course, if the automated response is tailored correctly to fulfil the customer’s requirements and preference as well as reflecting the customer’s value to the organisation, such an approach is more than justified.
However, what if a human operator answered, and in an interested, polite tone, asked the customer why they wanted to know their balance?  Granted, some customers may not be responsive to the question, but in my experience, most would be more willing to impart their reason.
Are they checking their balance to make sure they’ve got enough funds to make a big, luxury purchase? Or are they seeing if they’ve enough to buy the essentials from a discount supermarket?

Each customer’s motivations for finding out their balance can tell a dramatically different story, and by enabling call handlers to record this information and act on it (either in the short or long-term), it can be harnessed to enrich and personalise further contact with the individual.
In the short-term, the interaction the customer experiences can be greatly improved, not least because the call handler is taking an active interest in them.  It’s important to note that at this early stage, indiscriminately trying to turn the call into a cross-selling opportunity may do more harm than good; the customer’s motivation in finding out their balance may well be a cry for help at the same time as being a trigger to offer other products and services. 

Instead, the opportunity for the brand, via the call handler, to take a genuine, caring interest in the customer shouldn’t be underestimated.   And regardless of the customer’s personal situation, in the context of forging a long-term relationship, the option of using this insight immediately or further along the line in an intelligent and relevant way is likely to be much more valuable.
Brands are beginning to realise how the value of the voice channel has been grossly underestimated, and with improvements in data management it’s now possible for skilled call handlers to input and recall more personal and anecdotal information provided by consumers that can be used by information systems as well as read by other agents later.

But it’s important to see beyond the opportunity for data capture to how voice communication can be enriched by a personal approach.  If even a simple ‘why?’ has the ability to unlock insight perhaps we’ve only scratched the surface of dialogue’s full potential.

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