Changes in Corporate Culture the Key to Delivering Great Customer Experiences
The legendary Steve Jobs once said, “get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” This can, by and large, be taken as a mantra by corporate organizations looking to deliver great customer experiences in the 21st century.
A lot of people interpret Jobs’ philosophy as being dismissive of customer preferences and feedback, which used to be the Holy Grail for organizations looking to launch new and innovative products to differentiate themselves in the market and stay ahead of the competition. However, some believe that what Jobs actually wanted to convey was the need to understand the latent needs of a customer. That a customer often doesn't know what he wants unless he experiences it. For that to happen, you had to get as close to the customer as possible.
A quote from another legend, Henry Ford, who developed the world’s first mass affordable car, effectively hits the nail on the head: "If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse’.”
Customer experience in the 21st century cannot be rooted in just being sporadic and transactional in nature. In this era of pervasive technology, customers are leaving behind digital footprints everywhere. Even when they're not explicitly sharing feedback, wearable wireless devices like fit–bit, for example, are capturing significant amounts of data which can help organizations analyse and anticipate their latent needs. This can effectively help them get closer than ever to their customers.
Therefore, to deliver the best customer experiences in the 21st century, it's imperative that the existing corporate culture undergo a fundamental change in character. The challenge is to create a single view of the customer in order to anticipate and imagine their requirements, and be able to devise personalized experiences at multiple customer touchpoints.
Take, for example, how the healthcare sector is changing. Today, there's much talk of concepts like preventive care, population health management and wellness management. This is a far cry from the days when the interaction of customers and prospective patients with healthcare providers used to be limited to the diagnosis of disease symptoms and their cures. Post-discharge from a healthcare facility, it's likely that you not only get constant reminders on your "connected" device regarding medicinal intake and refills, but timely information such as periodic online consultation with healthcare practitioners and changing diet plans based on your dietary preferences and required lifestyle changes. This has been given an entirely new dimension by way of a more complete and holistic experience with your healthcare provider.
Similarly, in the retail sector, it's becoming increasingly common that digital footprints that buyers leave behind are analyzed. This results in personalized offers being created and shared with customers to enhance their experience and "connect" with the online or brick-and-mortar retailer. For example, the increased use of geo-fencing and location-based services, particularly tied to retail mobile apps. Using this type of technology, retailers have the ability to connect with consumers that are physically entering their stores or navigating their websites to push out specific offers and localized deals. That's the kind of 21st century experience that customers today are starting to take for granted and corporations have no choice but to adopt.
Effective use of cutting-edge technology solutions is just one important aspect of the 21st century customer experience paradigm that organizations need to incorporate going forward. An equally important aspect is bringing about a change in organizational culture, the way corporate leadership and employees have been approaching customer experience all this while. Across the board, corporate leadership needs to move beyond just legacy customer relationship management. Admittedly, it's a journey beyond their comfort zones, but it has to happen for them to stay relevant, as a recent survey found out that only 10 percent of business and IT executives felt that their investment in CRM resulted in meeting or exceeding organizational targets. Organizations need to start thinking about leveraging evolved and all-encompassing digital technology interventions at each and every touchpoint of the customer experience life cycle.
Take the example of the new marketing approach of "storyscaping," a term introduced by two senior executives of a leading digital marketing company and published in a book by the same name. It refers to the bringing together of "the power of stories with the excitement and experiences to create immersive worlds where brands and consumers connect." The approach, application and philosophy of storyscaping combines brand purpose, consumers’ emotional desires and behavior, product positioning, and the application of an "organizing idea," a statement of action that defines what the brand must do to change consumer behavior and the consumer experience. This new approach has revolutionized the customer experience in the 21st century, and is an example of the application of digital technology to create a whole new "connect" with customers. Adoption of such new-age technology might take time and inflict considerable pain on traditional marketing departments, given it's a huge deviation from their comfort zones. However, corporations would do well to adopt them or risk being left behind in the growth curve.
Over and above corporate leadership, employees also need to undergo a change in the way they approach the customer experience. They need to appreciate that the customer experience predates product or service purchases and sustains far beyond a simple after-sales service. In fact, it sometimes nowadays initiates even before the design phase of a product. Therefore, employees will do well to remember that delivering great service begins with transforming themselves into brand advocates first.
Undoubtedly, the future of the customer experience lies in establishing synergies between customer service, employee satisfaction and the company culture, which reflects seamlessly and uniformly across multiple customer interaction channels. The customer today doesn't want just good service, but also wants to be the influencer and advocate for their favorite brands. Organizations which take cognizance of all these aspects are more likely to prosper in this century.
Karan Puri is the corporate vice president and global head, consumer and commercial services, at HCL Technologies, an offshore IT and software development company.