8 Ways to Create a Competitive Customer Experience

In today’s connected world, customers have more choices than ever before. So, they have fewer reasons than to do business with brands that don’t provide exceptional experiences. After all, customer experience is the total of all interactions that customers have with a brand, and their perception is the end result.
Interactions offer opportunities for companies to learn more about the customer’s needs and to strengthen the relationship. In fact, customer experience is one of the few remaining sources of competitive advantage. If you want a competitive advantage, follow these eight steps to great customer experience from a new book, ‘Attack of the Customers,’ by Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, Inc. and Paul Gillin.
1. Establish a Knowledge Foundation
The first step in delivering an exceptional customer experience is establishing a knowledge foundation that should contain knowledge about your products and company and your customers. Employees can rely on the knowledge foundation to enhance customer interactions, while customers can use it for self-service. Gianforte suggest that once it’s running, determine where the knowledge gaps are by capturing customer questions and business responses. Then, organize the information in the knowledge base for easy access and provide a way for customers to use it to answer their questions.
2. Empower Customers with Self-Service
Provide customers access to the knowledge foundation created in step one so they can find the information they need whenever they want it. According to Gianforte, self-service options benefit both customers and your company – providing speed, round-the-clock service, and effectiveness, load-balancing and first-contact resolution.
3. Empower Frontline Staff
When creating a great customer experience, you also have to empower front line staff who interact with customers to exceed expectations. By giving frontline employees the means to go beyond the basics of customer support, you can create raving fans. You can start by making sure that frontline employees have all the information they need about customer’s previous interactions so that employees can personalize the conversation.
4. Offer Multichannel Support
Multi-channel options aren’t a choice for organizations, they’re a requirement for business, according to Gianforte. To deliver consistently excellent customer experiences while offering customers a choice of channels, all customer interactions must be unified. Everyone interacting with customers should be able to see all relevant previous exchanges, regardless of the channels. A knowledge foundation  not only helps enable this, it also makes reporting a lot easier. If customers have trouble finding what they need via one channel, they should be able to quickly switch to another, otherwise they may become disinclined to use self-service again.
5. Listen to Your Customers
Delivering an excellent customer experience is impossible if you don’t have a systematic way to listen. Effective listening sharpens focus and enables you to correct problems before they escalate. Start by have a person who understands social networks listen for your products trademarks, as well as those of your competitors, market categories, and related issues of interest. In addition, instead of waiting months for the results of a formal customer survey, ask customers for feedback at the time of interaction.
6. Design Seamless Experiences
In many organizations, multiple teams interact with customers, yet they don’t work with one another. To break down walls, consider your organization from the customer’s perspective. Evaluate cross-departmental processes and how they might be automated with software to provide a seamless customer experience. According to Gianforte , Build rich customer profiles that show front line employees all the customer attributes they need; use customer information to drive specialized attention; make workflow rules flexible and give managers the ability to implement workflow rules without technical staff; move support online; give nontechnical staff tools that allow them to post Web content; and automate certain customer communications.
7. Engage Proactively with Customers
‘Many companies take the ‘emergency room’ approach to dealing with customers. They wait until the ‘patient’ is brought in on a stretcher and then practice triage,’ explained Gianforte. Little consideration is given to what caused the problem. Instead, organizations should be focused on addressing the factors that erode customer satisfaction. By understanding your customers and their history, you can move your customer experience from the emergency room to the fitness center.
8. Measure and Improve Continually
Keep in mind that success is a process, not an event, said Gianforte. Even if you do the first seven steps perfectly, you need to continually measure your performance and foster a culture that drives improvement. One way to do this is by paying attention to competitors that are recognized for service. It’s also helpful to network with peers, via conferences, or sponsored events. Keep measuring performance, via metrics like customer satisfaction, and conversion rates.
The above steps provide a starting place for organizations to transform customer experience. While it makes most sense to implement them in the order described, you can apply them differently depending on your situation. Gianforte  notes that what is most important is that they help you make customer experience the top priority.

“People Talk to People, not Brands”

“If you remember one thing I say today, let it be this” people talk to people, not brands.” Alex Hunter,  points out a key principle of how companies (the people who work for them, actually) should think about their customers.

The brain is hard-wired to focus it’s primary resources on relationships with other people. Assuming basic survival needs are met–food, shelter, personal safety–the brain spends the majority of its cognitive resources on interactions with other people. It is a simple neurological fact that an interaction with another person is the most engaging experience that a human being can have (with the possible exception of a cobra wrapping itself around your leg). As such, engaging with another person will activate far more cognitive and emotional processing areas of your brain than engaging with an object, even if the object embodies a human interaction, such as an email.

Alex told a story of how a friend of his tweeted about his upcoming visit to the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto, California (let’s call this friend “Fiona”). Fiona got a tweet reply, and then a hand-written note, and several tweets back and forth ensued creating a real dialogue with the brand, as represented by an actual human. What made the experience truly memorable in Fiona’s mind was that the woman behind the tweets, an employee of Four Seasons (let’s call her “Amy”), introduced herself to Fiona and thanked her for staying at the hotel.

There are two ways to express this in the Four Season’s next marketing team meeting:

“Fiona is now a loyal customer of the Four Seasons because she had a positive experience with the brand and outstanding customer service was delivered in real time by the social media team and coordinated with the onsite staff.”

Or…”Fiona is now a loyal customer of the Four Seasons because Amy responded to her tweets in real time and took the effort to personally introduce herself and thank her for her stay.”

Humans engage the brain more than any other object. Make human interactions the center of your brand strategy.

How to Take Choice Modeling to the Next Level

At The 2013 Future of Consumer Intelligence conference, SKIM thought leaders, Eline van der Gaast and Joris Huisman, shared new methods and techniques for expanding the ability to create forward looking models accounting for rational and emotional choice behavior. These models enable marketers and product developers to make strategic and tactical decisions. 
For more information about this presentation, visit Skimgroup.

LIve from FOCI 2013 – Relationship Matters: Is Being Too Connected a Disadvantage

Eric Lucan, of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, led a
discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of social connectivity for the
hospitality industry. Kimpton employees have been empowered in the same way
that employees at the Ritz Carlton chain have: Delight the customer ‘ it is
your budget and in your power.
To help attendees think about the differences across rewards
or loyalty programs, Eric lined up the attributes of membership programs versus guest
initiatives
. Under a membership program, guests are considered to be part
of a program in which they accumulate points in a tier-based manner that is
based on their transactions.  The result
of a well-managed membership program is loyalists. 
Kimpton takes a guest initiative tack toward rewarding their
loyal customers.  Kimpton is focused on
ensuring that guests feel like part of a family, and makes a point of noting
and responding to their preferences in order to capitalize on opportunities to
delight customers.  Kimpton emphasizes
the relational aspects of their guests’ business, and desires to engender trust
in customers.  The result of Kimpton’s
orientation to guests is evangelists.
On their website, Kimpton encourages guests to respond to
several open-ended questions that reveal more about them ‘ most notably, the
prompt: ‘If I wasn’t working, I’d be”
Kimpton hotels are in the boutique category, with each hotel
having a distinct personality.  The
hotels average about 250 rooms, and each hotel determines how it will build
trust and delight customers, as there isn’t a set budget across the chain for
these customer relationship efforts. 
Kimpton has grown to about 60 hotels, nearly doubling over the past
years, and they are determined to grow. 
Kimpton is even more determined to sustain their customer relationship
building through the personalized service and compelling outreach to guests
that is their trademark.
As Kimpton taps in more to social media, it is conscious of
the need to ensure that social listening does not become creepy.  Kimpton believes that maintaining the human
component in their transactions, listening to the reward program, and will keep
them close to customers. Being careful to hang onto the culture that Kimpton
has developed means that Kimpton can continue to grow but still keep doing what
makes them special. 
Connectivity can mean that the humans are taken out of the
transaction. Automation and Smartphones could eliminate what makes the hotel
stay special. As a result hospitality may be becoming less hospitable.  But at Kimpton, guests will continue to say, “You
had me at ‘Welcome‘”.

Gigi DeVault writes a market research column for About.com
Market Research Guide
http://marketresearch.about.com/

Live from FOCI 13: Tap into Consumer Trends and Spur Innovation

Trendwatching. Done it for fashion and food, and now time to do it for the consumer landscape. Henry Mason gives an insightful slice of what the upcoming trends are and how brands can benefit from them. 

Macro trends – business and strategic
Consumer trends – what consumer desire
Industry trends – developments in product categories

Trendwatching can be used to better society and gratify consumers, as well as gain profits from consequentially satisfied consumers.Vision, new business concepts, new products or services or experiences, alongside marketing and advertising needs to all resonate with consumers to make them understand that you are living their trends.

Here are some key consumer trends:

Pretail
Is this the end of retail? Crowdfunding platforms are the new shopping malls. This flips the production process and raises opportunities for designers or startups.

Custowners
Consumers who move from passiely consuming to funding and investing in the brands they buy from. For example, give consumers interest in store credit, or investing in sustainable communities, with a consequential holiday reward (versus a no-return charity donation).


Again Made Here
Customize and readily made items in front of you. Consumers like to see sourcing that is local, even if it is manufactured on the spot, which lowers product turnaround and satisfies consumers with specific, tailored and niche products.

Safety Net
Consumers like to know they are safe. And technology can help this be more accessible to boost awareness.


Full Frontal
Most consumers need to understand exactly what you are doing as a company, and what social-environment targets you have. Consumers want to see the back-end factory works. To enhance loyalty, this is essential for guaranteeing consumer loyalty.


Demanding Brands
If consumers see brands as an ethic journey, brands are aware that they cannot do it themselves, and will need to earn the participation of the consumer. Think of Japanese restaurants who fine consumers for leaving food behind.

Consumer trends ultimately need to excite your consumers and be relevant to them. Reminds me of my article on a complex modern shopping trip.

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.

Live from FOCI 2013: Big Data: Powerful Predictions Through Data Analytics

Nate Silver, a world renowned statistician and founder of fivethiryeight.com, spoke of the world of errors and predictions, very relevant to the big data environment. He evoked the thought of what kind of predictions we can trust, and how much can we trust forecasters?

Judging from Hurrican eSandy or terror attacks or unforgiving hacked tweets and the widespread reach of all these, the topic is very relevant in a world where we want to know what happens before it happens, and wish to micromanage while it happens.

Nate’s 4 suggestions are as follows:

1. Think Probabalistically: convey uncertainty knowing what can go wrong. Only if you know what you do can you know what goes wrong.

2. Know Where You’re Coming From: Know that you have a point of view, it is helpful in identification and forecasting.

3. Survey the Data Landscape: What makes data rich? Quality, quantity and variety. Understanding if you’re in a data rich or data poor environment is critical.

4. Try and Err: Experiment with real data, test hypotheses, segment the big data, and converge to a great solution.

We live in a big data and uncertain world. Never has it been more obvious that we need analytics to navigate better.

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.

Latest tmreTV Video: At the Future of Consumer Intelligence 2013

Here’s a brief look at what took place this week at the Future of Consumer Intelligence in San Francisco, Ca:

Live from FOCI 2013: The Journey from Data to Information to Decision Making

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., of the California State University of San Marcos,  took us on the Journey from Data to Information to Decision Making today.

Data is not a decision, data gives you reference points for influence. Take a look at website, in-store, social media, and mobile, treat it like a forensic case, business scenario investigations.

Identify the problem, choose your tools, solve the problem.

About the Author


Valerie M. Russo, Social Innovation Lead, Senior Strategist at IIR USA, has a background in technology, anthropology, marketing and publishing.  Russo has worked in a variety of digital media roles at Hachette Book Group, Aol, and Thomson Reuters. She is a published poet and maintains a literary blog. She may be reached at vrusso@iirusa.com. Follow her @Literanista.  

Live from FOCI 2013: Transforming Weather Data into Consumer Insights

Every day, we are affected by weather. We check it 3 times a day or more, or simply intuitively. Its more important than our social media feeds, but it drives purchase intent too! It affects everything encompassing:


Your commute
What you buy
What you do
Your health
Where you eat
How you feel 
What you wear

The opportunity here is that weather is measureable and predictable. Weather is locally specific, too. It s not just the weather that influences consumer behavior, but its what is going to happen with the weather.

Its fascinating that marketing is needed as an adaptive solution, which cannot be fixed from an advertising or media perspective, the the key is to understand how you can leverage media and technology to get the word out to people. That is, keeping it local and relevant.

Its quite simple: you know how weather affects consumer behavior in the past. You know what the weather is going to be like. So marketers must intuitively put the two together to come up with an adaptive marketing strategy.

A simple and intuitive thought. Which makes so much sense!

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.