Marlon Bowser, CEO at HTK, examines the importance of Customer Experience Management and explains how personalised automated customer contact technology can help.
It is widely recognised that personalising an experience can significantly influence a customer’s perception of quality and enhance their overall experience of doing business. Organisations can’t avoid creating and adding to that overall experience every time they interact with a customer - whether it results in a positive or negative outcome.
Traditionally, how we think about our customers has been the domain of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). However, CRM strategies are typically designed to focus on ‘rational’ aspects such as product, price and process, with minimal or no focus on actual customer needs and desires.
Research  has shown that only 50% of a customer experience derives from the physical performance of an organisation, such as the product and price. While it’s true that customers will always want ‘better and cheaper’, it’s clearly not the full story.
At least half of any experience is made up from largely subconscious factors such as stimulating the senses or evoking emotions; and these aspects play a tremendously important part in customer behaviour and decision making.
CRM alone is not enough to underpin a sound and competitive strategy for customer-engagement.
The goal of Customer Experience Management (CEM) is to create customer loyalty that drives financial value, by moving customers from ‘satisfied’ to ‘advocate’ and by reducing the number of poor experiences that can lead to unsatisfied customers and the destruction of brand value.
The first step when seeking to improve the customer experience is to remove negative emotions such as feeling stressed, neglected or frustrated. These can destroy loyalty and bear a significant financial cost to the organisation; not just through customer churn, but through the processes associated with complaint handling.
More recently, many of these emotions have become synonymous with spam email and outbound voice marketing; inbound call queuing and ‘bouncing’ between departments; and poorly designed interactive voice response (IVR) lines that masquerade as self-service. These technical capabilities, introduced primarily to reduce cost, have undermined the very essence of sound business practice – of customer service
Organisations clearly need to automate certain aspects of their marketing and services programmes, to provide the breadth of reach and the required scale of operations to reduce costs. But traditional approaches have left customers cold, frustrated and demanding - and deserving - more.
Customers who feel valued and cared-for are more likely to be loyal; and loyal customers are more likely to recommend a product or service to others.
However, even today, organisations fail to acknowledge the fact that customers desire to be treated as individuals. They will not differentiate their marketing or the way they serve customers on a daily basis. The emails they send, the products and services they promote, and the way they respond to inbound enquiries, are the same for everyone.
Marketing and customer service are anything but routine tasks, and companies who treat them as such will find it increasingly difficult to create the emotions that stimulate loyalty. Indeed, they are more likely to create negative responses.
It is particularly important to remember that the brand is purely and simply the sum-total of all customer experiences served-up. The brand is the experience. Word of mouth is powerful, and we all know that bad experiences travel faster and wider than good ones – particularly with today’s social media networks.
Organisations can’t control what people say, but they can influence the experience they have as a customer. More vitally, they can recognise that each and every interaction will add to that overall experience; whether the exchange is in person, on the web or by phone.
Key business metrics such as market share, retention, profitability and customer satisfaction, all directly relate to CEM performance. Recent Forrester research  has shown that the annual revenue gains from a modest difference in customer experience can total $311 million for a large hotel. Leading companies who focus on the customer experience will grow, on average, two and a half times faster than their closest competitors who don’t.
With products becoming commoditised, price differentiation no longer sustainable and customers demanding more, forward-thinking companies are focusing on the customer experience as a differentiator and a competitive advantage.
Particularly in a challenging economy, where customers shop harder for value and competition is fierce, showing a demonstrable commitment to the customer through sharper marketing and personalised service can reap significant dividends.
In the endeavour to reduce costs as times become increasingly tough, businesses must not continue to compromise the customer experience through the use of impersonal marketing and customer-service automation tools. It’s bad business, and there’s simply no excuse.
Instead, businesses should look at the opportunity to harness their existing CRM data and acquire new data that can be used to micro-target their prospects and existing customers. By personalising the customer experience of automated contact channels, inbound and outbound, costs can be kept low but customer loyalty can be improved. A real case of doing more for less.
Most of all, organisations should use their data and technology in a much smarter way, as part of an endeavour to bring back the values and standards of good old fashioned service.
 Qaalfa Dibeehi, Beyond Philosophy “The Need for Customer Insight to Support the Full Customer Experience”
 Bruce D. Temkin, Forrester “Customer Experience Boosts Revenue”
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