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I talk to many companies about how they can plan their customer experience. It differs from company to company. Different industries have different needs and B2C is different to B2B, but there is an emerging view that the customer experience is now just as critical as offering great value. Customers expect a great experience.

What I don’t often find is a deep understanding of why this has become so important today. It was not the case a decade ago, so what’s changed? Well since 2006 a lot has changed, but most importantly the iPhone was launched and people started using social networks. Prior to then it was really only the early adopters blogging and using early social networks.

But to just say that the mobile Internet and social networks are now important misses the point. I sigh when I see advice to CEOs saying you need to get your customer service on social channels. If they are not already using social channels then they are so far behind the curve that they should expect a lot of free time in the near future.

Getting a corporate Facebook page is not the answer. If you want to understand how customer expectations have changed and how you can plan for a great experience then consider these three points:

  1. Communication has changed; take a look around and see how text has replaced voice as the channel of choice for most under-30s. In the past decade everything about how we communicate with others has changed thanks to the publishing ability that social networks offer and the ubiquity of the mobile Internet. Think about how you search for a new job, a new partner, support a politician, or get an education. The way humans interact has changed more in the past decade than in the past century.
  2. It’s not just about social networks; you don’t create a great brand experience by answering tweets or managing a Facebook page. Social tools are just another way to communicate – spreading your brand across a dozen social channels is not actually the answer.
  3. Your company has to change; your corporate culture will change because the customer relationship is changing. Customers want to engage, they want to build a relationship with brands they like. The people on the front line need the freedom to speak in the voice of the brand, not be shut away in a basement contact centre with a script. Your marketing, PR, and sales team need to become a part of the customer service team. Any part of your business that interacts with customers needs to work with these other teams – many companies will combine all these functions into a customer relationship hub.

These are not future changes you need to start planning for, they are happening right now. Your team is also changing. The millennial generation born from 1980 to 2000 is entering management positions and yet they cannot remember a life before the Internet and mobile phones were normal.

Think about that for a moment. Your team and many of your customers are not looking forward to a great digital experience in the future; they want it now because they can’t remember how things used to be.

Getting the digital customer experience right is not a target you can achieve by adopting a few social networks. Your company needs to be shaken from top to bottom and there are likely to be some casualties. After all, who really manages the customer relationship today? Is it your marketing team, sales team, or customer service?

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