This is the last of four posts on the key attributes of customer loyalty.
If you want to successfully engage customers, or anyone else for that matter, it helps to have a model of what success looks like. This idea isn’t new. Elite athletes train themselves to see a perfect race in their mind’s eye, or to imagine the arc of a ball to its flawless conclusion. Scientists model physical and chemical reactions that occur at a scale too small to view directly. Business people use spreadsheets to specify business plans and they are really no more—and no less—than models for how a business operates and makes money. It is so common in fact that the business model is one of the most overused terms in business today.
But as good as we humans are at modeling, when it comes to the vendor-customer interaction we think we can wing it; but that’s a mistake. There are too many failure points for engaging customers, and too much is at stake, to wing it. We’ve all been customers and each of us has at some point had to convince others of our point of view and maybe we think that such modeling is just intuitive. But whether we make an explicit plan or simply go over what could happen in an interaction, we’ve modeled that moment and the quality of the modeling will help determine the success of the endeavor.
In the vendor-customer experience it’s best to plan things out concretely because people often act in unpredictable ways and it’s worthwhile to have some forethought about what to do next when things don’t go as expected in real time. If you look at customer sentiment sites and read descriptions of encounters that leave customers disappointed or even angry, you can’t help but notice that many of the stories involve things that went wrong that a vendor should have been able to predict—had there been a model to work from.
That’s what journey mapping is for and although we have been executing some forms of it for a long time, there’s now software that makes it all quick, easy, and accurate. There’s no longer an excuse for bad encounters where a vendor should have known. Moreover, in an era when we are letting machines take over some aspects of first customer encounters and triage for simple requests, it’s critical that we give our machines the ability to accurately carry out their tasks all the way to completion.
There’s nothing worse than a process that ends abruptly because no one thought the process would go that way. Journey maps help us discover all of the things that could go south and plan for how to prevent bad outcomes.
Journey maps have another, even greater, use. Once you have an accurate model of a customer journey you can develop metrics for key points in every process. Is a customer facing process taking too long? Where are the bottlenecks? Who are the customers most directly affected? How can we help the customer before he or she becomes frustrated and about to trash a vendor’s reputation? What is the effect of this frustration on customer retention?
You can quickly see that journey maps shouldn’t operate in a vacuum and that there are two key elements of the CRM suite that must be tightly interwoven. The first is, obviously, analytics. With modern metrics and analytics, a vendor can now easily manage by exception. If a small number of customers have trouble in a part of a process, analytics can help us determine which customers and pinpoint the processes so that no one reaches a dangerous frustration point. Ironically, sometimes even with the best intentions we develop metrics that we may think are important but that don’t enhance the journey.
The other interesting integration for journey maps is the application development and maintenance part of your platform. Ideally, a journey map should influence what code gets written; if your business process needs to branch, a good journey map should be able to drive that code generation. In this way, your customer-facing applications can always stay current with the processes that support your customers.
So that’s it, engaging customers and generating loyalty takes these four things: automation (but the right automation), proactive personalization, contextual interaction, and journey mapping. None of these is independent of the other three any more than peanut butter, jelly, and bread can lead separate lives on a plate. When we focus on engagement through this prism the result is customer loyalty, advocacy, and improved revenue. Customer loyalty is hard to get and it’s true, you can’t buy it, but if you know what you’re doing, you certainly can earn it.
Self-service is generally considered a good thing, especially in CRM where there has been significant investment in empowering people to take on more responsibility for provisioning service or making purchases. But it’s not all great and there is some interesting blowback that is causing vendors to reconsider how their offerings work.
In sales, self-service has resulted in truncated sales cycles and fewer invitations to the dance—you know this problem. Customers do their own research and engage a company and its representatives later when they are looking for pricing for their final decisions. Once vendors could control the information flow and customers would need to engage just to get a basic fact, that’s not true today.
We all know this happened as an inevitable consequence of the Internet and now vendors are struggling to find ways to engage customers earlier in their processes so that they aren’t locked out of deals before they can even find out about them. Also, nobody wants to be engaged at the last minute when all they can do is price, propose, and pray. We’re definitely dealing with unforeseen consequences.
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, self-service has an equal and opposite effect in customer service. Customers are very happy not to wait in phone queues to ask simple questions and as a result, social media, FAQs, knowledge bases, and communities are supplying solutions for many of the issues that once consumed service reps’ time—another benefit of the Internet. This also means fewer touches, fewer chances to make impressions of try for the additional sale.
This doesn’t mean service is dead. In fact, with the easy questions handled by other means, more or less, the volume of issues might go down but their complexity has risen. As a result, engaging with contact center folk might take longer because even these veterans no longer have answers on the tips of their tongues and they have to do research. I don’t think this is as simple as a training issue. To be a service rep today means juggling more information, harder issues, and more customers.
This argues for a paradigm shift in sales and service, which is being driven by analytics and journey mapping. Previous approaches to sales as well as marketing have been reactive—the customer asks and the vendor responds. That makes a lot of sense because it is the nature of a conversation. But I’d suggest that conversations are not what customers seek. What they want is a relationship based on authentic engagement that is there when you want it but then vanishes.
Certainly, as customers, we seek and expect professionalism in all dimensions from the speed of dealing with us, to the correctness of whatever is provided as a solution to our needs. Too often though, we get wound around the axel of personalization because we erroneously believe we need to develop a personal relationship with customers but I think that’s a misunderstanding of the R in CRM. There are lots of ways to relate and most of them don’t become personal.
Let me suggest that the real goal should be the authenticity that’s born of professionalism and steeped in the understanding that as customers we’re busy and we want to get our issues dealt with so that we can move on to the next thing on our daily bucket lists.
That’s where analytics, especially machine learning, and journey mapping come in and while we’re at it this is the nub of what I am calling Customer Science. Machine learning can analyze your customer data and tell you where the clusters are, where the largest proportion of issues are and what the successful activities will be. With a product, you might discover through machine learning that many people get stuck at the same place or that they have a specific difficulty at the same place in a business process.
Armed with this knowledge, you can become proactive by building journey maps of your processes and thus prepare for the inevitable. Should you also use this knowledge to fix or improve a broken product or process? Absolutely. But that’s another department. In service and sales you have to deal with today’s reality today. So building out your repertoire of solutions for known moments of truth is a great way to build authenticity. It ensures your precision and professionalism and gets your customers back to their lives with minimal fuss.
So what’s better authenticity or personalization? Why must we think we need to choose? A warm greeting is always welcome and demonstrating empathy for a customer issue is not only good business, it is humane. It just shouldn’t be the only trick in our kits because no amount of being nice substitutes for a solution.