Real-time communications have become a necessity, especially since today's customers are used to immediate gratification to their needs. Just like they're able to pick up their mobile phones and connect with people in their personal lives, they also expect their business interactions to take place in the moment, allowing them to resolve any issues and satisfy their needs without having to wait.
Technology has been a catalyst for real-time interactions. "It is no secret that technology is speeding everything up," notes Don Peppers, founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group. As advances in technology make real-time interactions an everyday reality, organizations have had to make investments and embark on projects that allow for immediate communications.
The media industry has been shaken by this shift in expectations, leading to changes in the way many of the major players do business. Despite challenges that include cutthroat competition, the State of the News Media 2014 report notes that in 2013 and early 2014 there was "a level of energy to the news industry not seen for a long time." This boost includes an expansion of digital players, which, although once scoffed at, have been gaining audience share.
This change shouldn't come as a surprise. As 1to1 Media notes in this article, "The Media Industry's Social Mix," social channels and their ability to provide information as it's happening, has completely shifted the media landscape. Customers no longer have to wait for the next news bulletin or to purchase the next day's newspaper to know what's happening. Instead, armed with a smartphone and a social channel account, every person can share news as it happens, as evidenced following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when the Boston Police Department itself used its Twitter account to share updates about its extensive manhunt.
Some media outlets are taking this shift seriously and finding ways to be the first to provide information as it happens. Customers, for example, can download a media company's smartphone app and opt-in for alerts, allowing them to remain in the loop about breaking news. And following media outlets on social channels also provides access to their feeds with information about news as it happens.
Relevant messages are key
Yet, even as the media industry recognized the need to change, and is leveraging social channels and the Web to provide more real-time information, many outlets are still struggling to be relevant to their customers. Peppers explains that part of this struggle stems from a failure to gather, analyze, and act upon individual customers' information consumption. He uses his own experience with a science magazine to depict the situation. "I'm really interested in science, but no matter how many times I click on an article, they don't remember me and make follow-up recommendations," he says. This shortcoming is taking place despite technology that allows organizations to understand their customers, even new ones, and deliver the right messages and, as noted in this article is being leveraged by the marketing industry.
On the other hand, there are companies that are making the effort to get to know their customers in order to deliver relevant content. This is a strategy that Pandora has invested strongly in. In fact, as this article explains, the music company is leveraging its huge repository of customer data to make in-the-moment decisions about what music to play for individual customers. The company uses data from customers' listening habits to make targeted recommendations that even take into consideration the time of day and the device on which an individual is listening to music.
While investing in a robust data strategy is of foundational importance, this is not enough. In fact, even organizations that are investing in data management sources that allow them to determine customer needs and preferences in real time are at times encountering difficulties reacting to these insights.
Amit Avner, CEO of Taykey, notes that a major challenge revolves around lack of automation processes. "They try to become real time but still approve everything manually, which takes hours," he notes. If, for example, an individual is reading an article or watching a video about a particular subject, he doesn't want to wait until the next day or even an hour later to be presented with options for similar content. Unless organizations have the ability to make that split-second decision for a relevant recommendation, they risk losing a customer's attention and not gaining it back. This is especially true for new clients, for example someone who clicked on an article from social media, and whose interest could be retained through tailored recommendations.
David Dague, Neustar's vice president for corporate marketing, agrees. He notes that the ability to access and utilize insights derived from data allows organizations to create "a consistent and personalized dialogue across all channels." Ultimately, when this leads to messages that resonate more with customers and prospects and which have the ability to entice immediate action and remain top of mind for longer, the result can be seen in greater ROI.
The Boston Globe's immediate service response
Customers' quest for real-time information is also fueling their need for immediate service from the media companies they are following. This was a reality that The Boston Globe identified, understood, and sought to address. As Robert Saure, the organization's director of customer experience and innovation, underlines, the move towards digital is allowing brands like the Boston Globe to provide information as it's happening. Further, previously static media, like newspapers, have the ability to be more visual thanks to digital channels, providing their customers with a more interactive experience, for example through video, polls, and photo galleries.
And the access to information in the moment, that has only been possible for a few years, has led to another need-customers expect to be able to access their chosen media channel at all times and don't tolerate problems that stop them from getting the information they want. "There's a link between breaking news and the need for real-time support because customers don't want to miss a beat," he says. This, Saure explains, is pushing media companies to develop robust customer service strategies that allow for always accessible support. For example, when news breaks, a customer wants to be able to access that piece of information immediately, and any problems, for example with a password reset, need to be fixed in the moment. Whereas in the not-so-distant past customers might have been willing to wait until the next day if their newspaper isn't delivered, today they want to have the issue rectified immediately. "They're not going to be satisfied later if it takes time to reset their password," he stresses. "If there's something happening, like a major fire, they don't want to put off finding out more until the next day."
The need for immediate service delivery could also be seen in the increase in Web and mobile-based support requests, which grew by 400 percent in the last year. "People want immediate support. They don't want their reading experience disrupted," Saure notes. In fact, even print subscribers are using real-time support, mainly through the organization's chat function.
Further, The Boston Globe's business leaders recognized that since customers wanted to get service as quickly as possible, they didn't want to waste precious time identifying themselves when they reached out to the organization for help. This led to the launch of a smartphone app with a chat function that transmits the customer's information to the agent and also retains a history of the conversation avoiding the customer from having to repeat himself if the problem persists and he needs to contact the organization again. The My:Time app hasn't been marketed and only a few hundred customers have been part of the soft launch, but Saure voiced commitment to expand, even when it comes to the transactions that the app will be able to handle, including bill payments and notifications, for example if a credit card gets rejected.
Developing a real-time enterprise
Despite organizations' willingness to become real-time enterprises, the road is long and fraught with stumbling blocks for those that don't make the necessary preparations. A solid foundation is created by gathering the necessary data to be able to deliver real-time and personalized messages. "First make sure you have, or have access to, the deep customer intelligence, including complete identity information on customers and prospects in real time and access to all of your functional customer touchpoints in a secure, privacy compliant manner," Dague stresses.
The next step revolves around augmenting identity information with demographic, lifestyle, and media consumption information and apply a layer of real-time predictive analytics to better understand who you are interacting with and can determine not only what information or message to present next, but also identify the right channel to reach that target audience. "Finally, as you activate campaigns, make sure you have media intelligence in place to measure and optimize campaigns in real time," Dague notes.
The media industry has encountered a number of challenges that have required organizations to change to survive. The move to real time is no exception and entities that haven't yet embraced immediate interactions will need to make the necessary changes if they don't want to lose their existing customer base but instead remain competitive.