SOCAP International

The Future of Customer Engagement? Going Retro

Customers want a focused, individualized approach that meets them where they are, not where you want to drive them. Here’s how you can deliver that.

Before the days of mass marketing, email blasts, drip campaigns and mailboxes filled with postcards addressed to current resident, customer engagement was about, well, the customer. When you think about the last time customer engagement was focused at an almost individual level, what time frame do you recall? Is it during the 1930s before advertising geniuses wrote books on the subject? Before mass transit? Were people on horseback, dealing with artisans in small communities that provided them unique products?

Customer engagement begins with a thorough understanding of how your customer interacts with your company. This goes beyond the contact center and into multiple departments such as sales, shipping and even accounting. In fact, organizations that understand customer engagement know that every department is “customer facing” rather than assuming that customer impact belongs to only those teams who have personal customer interaction. With continued adoption of technology and the expanding use of social media, it might seem that customer engagement has become less personal. However, customer adoption of these tools is actually the very thing that calls for a more customized approach. Customers want to be reached, focused on and communicated with based on their preferences. And they expect those preferences to be very personalized, based on their own behaviors. The end result conjures images of long ago, when artisans had great relationships with their customers, knowing each one by name and ensuring they received exactly what they needed.

Engage in Long-Term Conversations

Practically every business model since the birth of free enterprise was intended to be customer focused. The same will hold true going forward. The only way a new model is effective is if customers receive a personalized benefit. When the customer becomes the catalyst for change, such as in the case of digital music or smartphone technology, organizations begin to truly understand the meaning and level of engagement that customers desire.

Gathering this information did not happen overnight. It was not the result of a few blog post comments and didn’t appear as the result of a single customer survey. Successful customer engagement is the result of continued conversations, gathering insights over extended periods and applying the learned results in such a way that the customer actually feels engaged with the brand. From the customers’ perspective, it’s as though someone in the office literally thought of them while creating a campaign, developing a new product or rolling out a new service. At the end of the day, customers only understand one thing—themselves.

Customer engagement is radically impacted by technology and the speed with which new technologies are developed. The fast pace sets new expectations for the long-term conversation simply because customers today are accustomed to accessing information at the touch of a button. With a simple Internet search, customers can research, compare and understand more about your brand, while also getting information from others who have used your products or services. Now engagement takes on a whole new meaning.

Organizations that understand customer engagement know that every department is “customer facing.”

Unlike the Past, Customers Have Technology

There is one constant of technology: It changes all the time. With this change, comes increased customer demand. Customers have rapidly become accustomed to instant telephone and electronic communication, and the ability to watch television programs on demand. Therefore, expectations are quite high that businesses instantly resolve problems and make whatever demand the customer has a reality. This environment of instant gratification, instant communication and instant results allows a customer to make demands and publicly shout to anyone who will listen if they aren’t met.

Customers don’t just want great service; they want an integrated customer service experience, whether they call into a customer service center, send an email, make a Facebook post or tweet or conduct an online chat session. Multichannel communication is now part of our daily lives, so the company that makes the customer’s life easier, more convenient and more organized through fully connected access to the company, will win the hearts of the empowered customer and succeed in positive customer engagement.

The impact on customer engagement is immense. With the do-it-now environment, the length of time it takes for a business to really learn about its customers can create impatience among the very people the business wishes to serve.

So how do you get in front of the customer expectations?

1. Gather intelligence … Every interaction with a customer, whether they visit your website, make a purchase, call for support or tweet about you, says something about them. By gathering those clues and analyzing them, you can get out in front and start anticipating your customer’s needs. What channels do they prefer? What types of products do they enjoy? What have you done lately that they really liked and supported? All of this information is out there for you to gather and to use proactively to help assist with significant strategy decisions.

2. … And do it quickly. When it comes to customers, it’s not about what your company or your consulting partnership has to offer. It’s about your organization’s ability to understand the specific challenges that customers are facing, including their immediate needs and their future needs. You must gather insights quickly so that you can anticipate customer desires.

The ability for a company to respond requires a holistic approach to customer engagement. Much like the artisans we discussed earlier, the company must engage with customers as though they are old friends. However, the speed with which these customers can now interact requires strong interactivity between all departments, the ability to align with customer needs and development of a culture of customer focus.

Many organizations find that developing a customer engagement strategy to keep up with the constant technology changes, multichannel communication implementation and continued customer satisfaction requires additional and alternative resources. The good news is that those resources are available and can improve an organization’s ability to develop customer engagement tactics for today and tomorrow.

The only way a new model is effective is if customers receive a personalized benefit.

The Case of the VIP Client

The following case study will showcase how partnering with service providers can offer strong customer engagement tactics that position organizations for future needs while also ensuring solid customer satisfaction:

The partner-company we work with is a corporate travel management company that supports businesses via an integrated solution offering world-class, full-service travel management. It serves a clientele of conscientious corporate travelers who expect quality and do not have time to waste.

Corporate travelers expect precision. Delays cost money, and even the most well planned travel can run into unexpected challenges. Yet, it is still possible to manage corporate travel with high levels of quality, if you have the right agent and the right system to support flexibility.

The solution was to provide the partner-company with a team of agents to support to all types of corporate travelers, including the white glove accounts. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • Handles over 234,000 inbound interactions and 36,000 emails annually
  • Maintains 80 percent agent utilization across all channels
  • Handles VIP client bookings
  • Sole after-hours support
  • Provides three specialized teams of agents to ensure quality service
  • Team grew by 300 percent over three years The engagement resulted in many overall positives, including:
  • Provided flexible work model, staffing for both specific intervals and weather-related spikes in volumes
  • Improved quality and set the bar for finding experienced agents that meet the difficult hiring profile required for this type of support
  • 92.6 percent positive customer satisfaction rating
  • Improved competitor vendor by an average of 7 percent in 10 months by setting the standard for quality customer engagement

The takeaway here is that customer satisfaction is maintained at very high levels and the team leads all other partners in this area. The leadership position around customer engagement created an environment that caused our own competition to increase their performance.

Think about what that means for this organization we serve and its customers. The bar was set so high that it motivated other partners to step up. Why? Customer engagement is the one tactic that not only results in improved customer satisfaction, but also in brand loyalty and advocacy. And the metrics gathered within this program reflect that fact. The improvement in customer satisfaction proved that the corporate travelers and their support teams are happy with the service. The end result? Over 85 percent say they are likely to recommend the service. Recommendations and referrals are proven methods to build a business quickly and result in higher levels of conversions, meaning positive impact to the bottom line.

Build it Forward

Focus on the customer will create the roadmap for the future of customer engagement strategies. The key is to be flexible, hire the best talent and then equip the entire team with the best tools to get the job done right.

The key is to be flexible, hire the best talent and then equip the entire team with the best tools to get the job done right.

Customer engagement in the future will look like a science- fiction version of the past. Customers will demand more individualized service and expect brands to deliver. Unlike days gone by where the general store owner could greet each customer by name and then throw in that little extra something to keep him happy, many companies will never see their customers. Or if they do, they will not have all the conversation at that time. Conversations will continue via social media. Customers will interact directly outside the confines of a store or building. Online transactions will increase and the pace will get more frenzied.

The company focused on customer engagement will have to track more metrics, gather more customer data, engage in more reputation management, understand more about what the customers want and then do the one thing that seems counterintuitive: distill the information to meet the individual customer needs. At the end of the day, all the reporting in the world will not help if you do not keep this one central idea in mind: It’s about knowing your customers, their expectations and the experiences they desire to keep them for life.

Houlne_Tim---HEADSHOTTim Houlne, CEO of Working Solutions, has more than 25 years experience in the contact center industry including sales, customer service, technical support and warranty management. He has held various leadership roles at West Corporation, GE Tech- Team and Connect Services. A recognized leader in the homeshoring movement, he has been featured on FOX, ABC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Businessweek. In 2013, he co-authored “The New World of Work, From the Cube to the Cloud.”