SOCAP International

LEAD to Provide Differentiated Consumer Experiences

Here are four steps to help you get ahead of the curve.

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Consumer experience is the new competitive battleground, according to recent Gartner research. A big part of that is how consumers feel when they engage with your brand. While simply keeping up with the ever-changing market of consumer engagement is a difficult task, actually getting ahead of the curve through differentiating will pay great benefits. One approach to achieve this is LEAD: listen, evaluate, anticipate and drive.
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1. LISTEN to what consumers are saying about you and to you.

It’s a consumers’ world. Gone are the days of companies opening their doors to selected consumers for particular inquiries. Consumers are having an on-going conversation about your brand and just as importantly, your competitors. Not only do brands need to be paying attention to those conversations, they need to be a part of them. There is an ever expanding number of channels in which to have these conversations and consumers are exploring them all.

The good news? They are not trying to be mysterious. While expectations continue to rise, consumers are not keeping their wishes a secret. Quite the opposite, they are screaming it from the mountaintops. Social networks are now the No. 1 source of research by consumers and are quickly rising as a primary source of research for companies trying to understand where they stand in the mind of consumers.

Vornhagen_3In fact, research suggests that 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, but only 14% trust advertisements. Information is available in many forms, including company owned (CRM data, customer surveys, service response cards, etc.) as well as public data (social posts, blogs, forums, etc.). Data can be structured or unstructured. Unstructured data is anything that is in free form and requires some interpretation versus structured, which could have been sourced from survey data derived from a form on a web page or a conversation.

More good news: Technology is keeping pace, which will make listening and understanding your consumers less unwieldy. It’s important to have a system in place to help you listen to what consumers are saying about your products, sort the signal from the noise, interpret unstructured data, analyze information and provide meaningful insights in a flash.

Good solutions will be able to provide in-depth comparative evaluations and share voice analysis. Machine learning and natural language processing are imperative to ensure that data is being interpreted correctly and trends are being identified quickly
and accurately.

2. EVALUATE your strengths and weaknesses.

After understanding what consumers are saying about you, about your industry and about your competitors, it’s time to take stock. In order to put together a cohesive strategy, it’s important to understand where your brand currently sits, what opportunities there are to change and improve, and what the ultimate goal is. It may sound simple, but it requires open-mindedness, self-awareness and a willingness and desire to hear the truth.

SOCAP International’s Customer Engagement Framework is a valuable tool for evaluating how your company is performing. By breaking things down into the four key areas of strategy, people, process and technology, it makes the evaluation process more manageable. It provides a snapshot of how a company is performing in those key areas, including a clear description of each phase and guidance on how to advance along the continuum.

Looking at the completed model will provide clarity on the current state of things and also indicate the areas where future investment should be focused. One strategy is to attack the weakest area and move it to the next level. Another strategy could be to take the strongest area and invest even further to widen the gap in this area between a brand and its competitors. The answer for your strategy will depend on your brand’s core strengths, current position in the market and company goals.

While strategizing, remember that this is a journey, not a destination. It’s important to take an honest look at where you are and then determine which areas can help you
stand out from the crowd. It’s important to differentiate on something, but it isn’t necessary—or even advised—to try to differentiate on everything.

3. ANTICIPATE the needs of tomorrow’s consumer.

Listening to consumers and assessing your current position in the market are certainly key inputs to a strategy. But, building a consumer engagement strategy solely based on catching up or keeping up would be wrong. To ensure a more holistic approach, brands also need to consider what consumers aren’t saying. This requires some forethought and anticipation of the needs of the customer at both the macro and micro level. 

At the macro level, it’s crucial to keep a finger on the pulse of emerging channels, technologies and key changes in the market. For example, Ernst & Young reports, by 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices globally, with mobile being the primary internet device for most individuals. Companies that don’t have a solid mobile strategy in place before then will be left behind. Most of us couldn’t have imagined how mobile would change the landscape of the consumer experience just a few short years ago. 

At the micro level, brands must try to predict what consumers will do during the course of an interaction. Knowing what drives consumer behavior is arguably one of the most difficult things to do, especially during a real-time conversation. According to Forrester, 77% of consumers expressed that “valuing my time” is one of the most important factors in their consumer experience.

Additionally, studies show that the effortlessness of an interaction raises the value of it. Anticipating the path a consumer may want to take through a particular contact with the company, then paving the way for that path to be friction-free is vital.

In its finest form, anticipation addresses consumer expectations in a way that both surprises and delights them. A great example of this is Domino’s “tweet
to order.” Consumers have expressed a need for speed and ease. Domino’s took a really creative approach to solving those needs with their recent “tweet to order” campaign that allows customers to simply tweet the pizza emoji to Domino’s and their favorite order is delivered immediately. While they hadn’t specifically demanded the ability to order dinner with a simple tweet, they are thrilled with the new ability to. The “tweet to order” functionality goes beyond their expectation of speed and ease and resets the bar.

4. DRIVE your strategy to execution.

Once you have your strategy for differentiation, go after it. The best laid plans can only be realized when you take the steps to execute them. Be well prepared and well tested, but don’t spend so much time evaluating that you lose your edge, especially when evaluating new channels and new technologies. Expectations are admittedly high, but research also shows that consumers are exceptionally forgiving when they see an effort to try something new or creative.

That said, being too ambitious can result in a frustrating swirl of chaos. Take things in
controlled, constructive steps. Look for solutions that are flexible enough to support pilots and allow you to make adjustments via quick and easy configuration changes. Platforms that are able to handle all channels in a single interface require less training, lead to an improved agent experience and ultimately a better consumer experience. Evolving technologies such as intelligent escalations and orchestrated agent availability can provide a seamless mix of virtual and live channels giving a multitude of possibilities for enhanced consumer engagements.

Use the LEAD method to develop a winning strategy to set your brand on a path of service differentiation. If you are already providing differentiated consumer experiences, congratulations! But, don’t fall asleep at the wheel of contentment. The most skilled practitioners of LEAD will use this approach as an iterative process requiring a balance of swift execution while continuing to evolve the plan.




Shellie Vornhagen is senior director of product marketing for Astute Solutions, a top provider of consumer engagement software.