Profits depend upon effective customer experience strategies, for consistent consumer engagement and satisfaction drive continuous, long-term results. Nevertheless, many brands have yet to implement the methods necessary to retain customer interests and maintain maximum profitability.
Therefore, as brands look to boost the bottom line, leaders must establish customer-facing strategies that support strong brand relationships and sustain long-term loyalty. Here, we speak with a Gartner & 1to1 Media CRM Excellence award winner, a 1to1 Media Customer Champion, and industry analysts to examine the types of customer-centric tactics that impact the bottom line and how businesses can drive profits and positive outcomes.
In this discussion, we feature insights from:
- Karen E. Mangia, senior director, insight innovation & diversity business practices at Cisco
- Urvashi Sheth, senior director, global customer support at SanDisk Corporation
- Jeanne Bliss, president of Customer Bliss and co-founder of the CXPA
- Brent Leary, co-founder and partner at CRM Essentials
1to1 Media: What types of customer-facing strategies are crucial for companies looking to drive profits?
Karen E. Mangia: Be a great listener. Listen for contextual clues, underlying meaning, and unstated needs. Define success from the customer's point of view to develop understanding that will help you tailor your solutions and approaches. Also, consistently follow up and follow through-communication is foundational in building trust with customers.
Urvashi Sheth: Successful products and services require a solid plan to continuously listen to customers. With the explosive growth of social media, cloud computing, and mobile usage, flow of information happens so fast that, if a company doesn't have good listening mechanisms, chances are that they are missing vital customer feedback. Global companies must also implement good strategies to serve their customers located around the world. Such strategies must be tailored to the culture in which they are selling their products and services. In other words, avoid using a "one-size-fits-all" approach. You can't sell your products and create customer loyalty if you don't understand the cultural needs of your customers. Profitability grows when a company's product and/or service becomes a recognized brand in a region or a country.People will pay a bit more for the peace of mind that comes with buying from a company they trust will listen to their needs.
Jeanne Bliss: Enable the frontline to deliver value. Many companies' service delivery and reliability is dependent on the frontline's ability to navigate complex systems, uncoordinated data, and clunky policies and procedures. In addition, when the frontline reaches out to someone at the corporate office to assist them, they are often bounced around, just as customers are. "What's on the inside shows up on the outside." The experience that customers receive from the frontline has everything to do with how easy the back-end processes and procedures are for the frontline to deliver. We require these folks to do heroics customer by customer, exhausting them and delivering unreliable experiences. The outcome of each experience remains dependent on the person who calls upon the customer, answers the phone, or responds to requests.
Brent Leary: Focus more of your marketing efforts on lead nurturing and conversion. The majority of marketing activities and resources seem to focus heavily on lead generation.But as important as lead gen is, having the strategy, rules, and technology in place to process promising leads not quite ready to be full blown sales opportunities through to conversion can have a very positive effect on the top and bottom lines. Also, we're seeing more strategy around the mobile wallet concept. Instead of sending offers in emails and having them die, companies like Men's Wearhouse have added "Save to Passbook" buttons that push the offer into the iPhone, where they say customers are much more likely to use the digital coupon. And with iBeacon technology, customers can even get push notifications reminding them of the digital coupon when they get close to the store.
1to1: How do these specific strategies impact the bottom line? What elements support this desire for continued growth?
KM: There are vital elements for creating the right solutions for customers to help them solve their business challenges and also create competitive advantage. Knowledge of key care challenges for their verticals-healthcare, finance, and retail, for instance-helps brands avoid pitfalls, eliminate blind spots, and accelerate opportunities.The best customer-facing people are well tuned to nuances and managing details.
US: Once a company establishes listening mechanisms, a lot can be learned and implemented from their customer's voice. It may seem clich?but in almost all cases, the old adage that "the customer is always right" still applies. The trick is in listening carefully and understanding exactly what the customer is telling you. An example of this can be seen in how customers prefer to interact with the company. Email works as the best way to provide verification for returned merchandise in countries with ubiquitous computer access.However, in many places around the world, SMS verification is much preferred by the consumers who don't generally have access to computers.The smart company will tailor its practices accordingly.This in turn will demonstrate that the company is "listening" to its customers and will drive sales growth because the buyer will know that, if there are any problems with the product, the company will "listen" to them and help them.
JB: The companies that take care of their employees are the most beloved and earn the right to grow. There's overwhelming evidence of this. For example, the Container Store, which only hires a small percentage of the people who apply, has experienced growth every year that they have been in business in large part because of how they take care of and honor the frontline. Wegmans Foods, widely heralded as the best grocery store chain in the U.S., shares this commitment to employee education and trust.
BL: More focus on optimization of lead conversion helps to improve the ROI from dollars already spent on lead generation efforts.Even incremental increases in conversion rates can lead to the substantial uptick in revenues for companies generating thousands of leads each month. On the back end, more focus on content marketing and personalization to existing customers can extend the lifetime of the relationship, while also improving upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
1to1: How can companies go about implementing these customer-facing strategies and establishing the foundation necessary for maximum profit?
KM: Consistency and collaboration are key.Ask questions and refine. Follow up and follow through. Consistently frame your thinking from the outside in,and then engage an ecosystem of people around you who have expertise and experience that matters to the customer. Were your customer records just hacked? Engage an information security specialist.Are you struggling with quality?Engage your corporate quality leader.Build a team that advocates for what your customer needs.
US: To implement these customer-facing strategies, global companies need to have strong listening mechanisms to hear what customers are saying.Thus, robust structures for all channels must be created, maintained, and constantly upgraded. However, that's not sufficient.There also needs to be internal structures in place that take the data generated by these listening mechanisms and connect them to both better future customer service practice and future product development, manufacturing, and marketing to build the basis for maximum profit.
JB: Start with hiring. A company needs to have clarity of purpose in what it stands for, and for how it improves customers' lives. That clarity will then define who it will and will not hire. Then comes the work to educate, train, and develop employees to enable them to deliver value. This means getting rid of 'stupid rules' that impede employees' ability to have the knowledge that they need and ability to serve. Try building an employee journey map with as much rigor placed in developing an employee as you do in building a customer journey map.
BL: Meeting changing behaviors, needs, and expectations is causing organizations to adjust their cultures, processes, and technological foundations to be data-driven in their approaches to content creation and interaction development to improve overall engagement with modern consumers looking for relevant, contextual, and personalized interactions.
1to1: What factors may threaten profits in the future? How can companies use such strategies to nurture progress and achieve positive outcomes?
KM: Regardless of how world demographics and economics shift, companies that perform well over the long term live in the present and plan for the future.Clinging to your own legacy and looking in the rear view mirror creates opportunities for niche competitors to grow and thrive.
US: Traditionally, customer service has been viewed as a cost center. However, when implemented well, the listening mechanisms within a top-notch customer service department can generate data both about current products and provide a way to anticipate future areas for growth with regard to product demand and the need for new, innovative products to serve unmet customer needs. This can nurture progress and push future demand, often giving the company first mover advantage, which can lead to unprecedented profitability.
JB: Lack of reliability, especially in a world of social media, is a profit killer. If customers can't say to another what they receive from you, how they receive it, and how they feel at the end of it, then you won't win their raves or their recommendations. More importantly, their voices could become very loud megaphones telling future customers to avoid you.
BL: I think the thing that will threaten profits the most is for companies not to stay aligned with the rapidly changing needs and expectations of their customer bases. Being able to leverage data coming from social platforms, transactional systems, direct interactions, and other systems should help to improve customer engagement overall. But this is true only if companies have systems-systems of record, systems of engagement, and systems of analysis-alignment and culture/strategy flexibility developed to stay aligned with the customer's evolution.And those that aren't or can't maintain this alignment will not only lose revenue, but they'll also lose customers and face the daunting challenge of having to rebuild those relationships.