Where Customer is the King
Today’s customer is very different from his counterpart from the past decade. He is more informed, he has more options and he has social media. The customer of today really is the king. The 2019 edition of Customer For Life, presented by the Economic Times and Freshworks, witnessed a burst of thoughts on why today’s customer is at the helm of things and how companies need to work strategically to retain him for life
MAKING OF A HAPPY CUSTOMER
Customer obsession is a new phenomenon. For the longest time people just needed to have factories. Legend has it that Henry Ford, when asked by a Model T customer if he could get the car in the colour of his choice, told him: “You can have any colour car as long as its black”. Later companies like Unilever and P&G believed in controlling distribution. That’s not the case anymore. Globally, companies are focussed to attract new customers and retain them for life. Ritz-Carlton wants to build its business around personalised experiences and emotional connections for its guests. Harley Davidson wants its buyers to join the Harley Owners Group, or HOG. Amazon offers free two-day shipping and ad-free movies and music. Netflix collects customer data to create hyper- personalised recommendations. So, is that the way forward? A panel of experts who deal with customers on a day-to-day basis, share their thoughts on why companies are obsessing over customers, and how they can retain them for life. At the core of customer-centricity is listening to them. “One way to have your customer stick to you is to listen to those who are not happy,” said Akhil Gupta of NoBroker, an online real estate platform.” All the founders at NoBroker get every complaint on their email… When a grieving customer gets a response shortly after writing his complaint, he feels better.” An unhappy customer is more dangerous than any product failure. With artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, among other new technologies, following the customer where he is, staying relevant to him through their life journey, and understanding their requirements, has become easier. But, can personalisation be delivered at scale? The answer perhaps lies in the nature of the company. As Anurag Saran of Quikr, the online classified platform, puts it, “It’s critical for a diversified platform as ours with such a varied user base as if we don’t personalise we may fade out.” With more than 30 million users, Quikr tries to customise its home page for the customer. To serve the customer better one needs to understand him and engage with him, feels Sarvesh Deshmukh of Happiest Minds Technologies. “I recently read a survey that 76 per cent customers feel that sellers don’t meet their expectations. The issue is when we are trying to improve one aspect of the spectrum, the dynamics change so it is an ongoing process,” he says. It is also important to keep innovating. “We think for our customers and give them a set of solutions after identifying their problems,” says Sundar Subramanian of Mpahsis, a technology firm. For Subramanian, two things really matter: Data insights and contextual information. Both should compliment. “We use data insights to get upfront benefits through contextual information of the customer,” he says. It helps in understanding the end consumer and allows brands to engage with the customer for a longer span. To sum it up, there are four basic rules to engage with customers better, believes David Thompson of Freshworks: collaborative engagement, predictive engagement, contextual engagement and anywhereengagement. “Depending on the business one or the other rule can have more prominence.” For example, if a company is bleeding customers because of a product issue, collaborative engagement is the best thing to do. “It’s an emergency and you need all hands-on deck. One can apply that one strategy tactically and the problem is fixed, and you can look at getting new customers through social media, etc., applying anywhere engagement,” he explains.
FOCUSING ON CONSUMER, NOT TECHNOLOGY
Today’s customer has all the power. And, they will leave you if they have one bad experience. In fact, close to 74 per cent of companies are grappling to go multi-channel and develop several mediums of communication with the customer to provide a seamless experience. But, are they successful in doing so? Perhaps not. So, what really should be a strategic approach towards creating a ‘wow’ experience for your customer? Let’s begin with collaborative engagement. You have to be there with your customer when they need you. So, rely on your people the most (though these days’ bots too can be relied upon in certain cases). Second is contextual engagement. You cannot personalise an experience unless you have all the data and you are able to leverage that in an algorithm. Utilising that data and applying predictive algorithm to that is the next key strategy. Finally, be anywhere your customer is – on any platform, social media or even physically if possible. If you have these strategies in place, you may just earn a customer for life. We also need to understand the real strategic value of AI and ML. It literally means being available 24/7. So, if a business cannot afford a 24/7 customer care centre, an automated bot can help you remain connected with your customers all the time.
DAVID THOMPSON, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, FRESHWORKS