Communicating with customers. Something that has been happening since the day one of our ancestors bartered an animal skin in exchange for some salt with another one of our ancestors; being able to contact potential purchasers and get over what goods and services you have available to sell is literally “as old as the hills”.
As is multi-channel communication.
When Native Americans communicated by smoke signals or by a horse borne messenger – well, what is that if not multi-channel delivery? And then there was paper; first used by the Egyptians and Chinese, paper has been the primary communication channel for hundreds of years. From early religious works, to rudimentary news sheets shared in coffee houses, through to the postal services of the early 19th century and to today’s inserts and direct mail campaigns, paper has been the medium of choice for communicating – including with customers.
So, the fact that we are in a constantly changing business environment, where the emphasis is on how a customer’s needs and requirements are continuing to evolve, shouldn’t come as any surprise – after all, it’s been happening for a very long time.
However, this time, it somehow feels different. So, what makes communicating in the 2nd decade of the 21st century appear to be different in some way? It’s because the dynamic of the communication has changed; in the past, the customer was sent what the supplier wanted to send them, when the supplier wanted to send it, and in what format. Remember the smoke signals? What if the recipient of the smoke signals wanted to be verbally given that information, rather than receive it as a smoke signal? Well, tough.
But today, we are in the 'Age of the Consumer.' It is the customer who is in control; it is the customer who decides what information they want, when they want it, and supplied via which channel they want it supplied to them, at that specific time. However - and most importantly - the customer’s expectation goes beyond just having delivery options.
During these communication touchpoints, the customer wants to experience a seamless, and personalised communication, which allows for interactive responses and with no limitations of either channel or time.
Customers want a complete, end-to-end experience, rather than have a fragmented and unfulfilled communication journey. Only when such an experience is offered as standard for every transaction will an organisation be able to retain the customer’s loyalty, and a bigger spend per interaction.
What if a supplier isn’t willing or capable in meeting those expectations? Well, recent research has shown that customer loyalty is getting harder to keep. Compared to 10 years ago, customer loyalty has been deeply eroded, with 60% of customers now more likely to switch, and only 23% feeling loyal towards their provider.* (Accenture, 2015, Your customers, your compass) This has been made possible by the move towards digital, both from the perspective that customers are now better educated as they journey through a purchase cycle, and because with digital it is now far easier to switch suppliers than previously.
The days that customers were won solely at the point of purchase are over. Now they become customers all day, every day, during a continuous and non-stop evaluation of an organisations products and service offerings, both actual and – just as importantly - perceived. For example, how often do potential hotel guests get put off booking a room because of a number of poor reviews on websites such as Booking.com, or TripAdvisor.com?
Accenture’s 2014 research (Customer 2020: Are you Future-Ready or Reliving the Past?) estimates that by 2020, this “switching economy” of dissatisfied customers continually looking for new providers will total $6 Trillion in revenue opportunity, up by 26% from 2010, and includes both mature and emerging markets.
There is only one way for organisations to maintain and win their share of this revenue pot; the overall customer experience that they can deliver. This is a crucial part of an organisation’s value proposition and the most important and sustainable differentiating factor in both keeping existing customers and unlocking business opportunities.
In fact, research from Jake Sorofman, Simon J. Yates & Augie Ray in 2016 *(‘Customer Experience Primer for 2016’) stated that “89% of marketers compete primarily on the basis of Customer Experience - discrete moments that, together, strengthen or weaken a customer's preference, loyalty and advocacy”.
The key to a better customer experience is continuity and consistency; a single, impressive experience, rather than multiple indistinct and often disconnected ones depending on the channel, with total personalisation that targets every single consumer as an individual, rather than as has been the norm of grouping consumers en masse. We are seeing this manifest itself in innumerable ways, but a recent and very public example is how Sky Sports in the UK has now differentiated channels based on individual sports; they no longer see individuals as “sports” fans; they see them as fans of Football, or F1, or Golf, and as such have targeted those consumers with offerings specifically targeted to their specific interest.
So, where is this going to end up? As the title of the blog says; beyond customer experience. The logical final extension of this trend is the much sought after nirvana of the 360-degree view of each customer, where personalisation is so finely tuned that we will end up with a complete individualisation of the marketing message to each specific consumer. Think of it; consumers being targeted with sniper-like accurate marketing messages, via their smartphone or their Apple Watch, or even via their sat navs as they drive on the daily commute – Huxley’s Brave New World coming true…..
However, there is something appearing fast on the horizon which will need to be addressed, as it threatens this view of how customer communications will develop in the future. I talk, of course, about this decade’s Y2K: the GDPR legislation due to come into force in late May, 2018. Not since those halcyon days of late 1998 through the whole of 1999, when software consultants became the rock stars and Premier League footballers of the day (and getting paid almost as much!) has an impending event loomed so large in the business world’s consciousness (though March 2019 will run it close!).
The implications, the interpretations, and the threat of the potential for astronomical fines have spawned a new industry in GDPR seminars, experts, gurus and consultants – but what does it MEAN? Without rehashing the content of the various GDPR seminars that I (and everyone else it seems) has been on, in the world of Customer Communications Management, there are both threats, and opportunities.
The opportunities for CCM are clear; organisations must ensure that the documents they send out, together with the audit trails and the archiving of those documents, are all compliant. Any organisation that sends out a document to an external (or even internal) recipient that includes any form of personal data (including the name or address) will have data protection implications, and that organisation will be subject to GDPR.
But what about the threats to CCM?
As I said previously, the trend is towards greater personalisation - more targeted marketing activity aimed at an individual consumer’s specific interests, needs and requirements. And that means the holding of vast amounts of data on each and every individual. Which in turn means that the storage, maintenance, security and accessibility of that data under the auspices of GDPR suddenly becomes a major issue for organisations.
How are they going to hold that data? Where? Who is responsible for ensuring that EVERY client has given explicit permission for their personal data to be used for specific marketing activity, and who is responsible for the timely confirmation of those permissions as well as ensuring all that data is up to date? Because breaches of GDPR could have a massive impact for an organisation, not only from a commercial point of view, but also from a branding & reputational perspective, and potentially from a compliancy or legal viewpoint as well, I suggest that we will see the development of a new role, the CDC – Chief Data Controller – in organisations, who’s power and influence will dwarf everyone else’s on the board including the CEO.
Balancing the desire for increased personalisation when communicating with customers because we are in the age of the consumer, against new legal frameworks and a greater demand for privacy of personal data, will be THE most important challenge for organisations in the short & medium term, and whilst customer communications will continue, some may well be forgiven for thinking that smoke signals were very underrated!
CCM Solutions Subject Matter Expert, Canon Europe