2014 was regarded by many as the year for mid-sized enterprises to ensure their mobile platforms – mobile apps, mobile payments and mobile-friendly websites – are in place and functioning at a high level. For those companies who have accomplished this, well done. Now, as we head into 2015, it’s important to keep all mobile and other platforms moving forward and current. But in 2015, we are also shifting into the year of customer centricity.
Customer centricity isn’t just about offering a deal every once in a while to repeat customers – it is much more than that. A customer-centric organization’s business is built entirely around the customer. It understands the customer’s value and what the customer represents to the business’s profitability. With this knowledge, a customer-centric organization tailors everything they do – from R&D to sales – to deliver the best value at the right cost to their customer.
In 2015, looking to implement these five strategies will ensure your customer centricity is on par with that of the best.
1. Identify your team. In 2014, we found that more than a third of survey respondents to Sage’s Business Index survey saw increased customer loyalty as the means by which they would grow their business over the next year. This is important because it shows that businesses understand the benefit of a happy customer regardless of whether the customer is providing positive reviews and comments online or recruiting new customers. However, in my mind, this realization is not as essential as actually implementing customer loyalty programs and rewards. More importantly—before implementation—you must have the right individuals in place to formulate loyalty programs and then execute. Does your company have an identified person or team whose responsibility it is to create customer loyalty programs? Are these individuals aware of the company’s customer loyalty vision and goals? If not, now is the time to delegate these tasks. At Sage, we’ve identified the right individuals among our customer service teams across the globe. With precise communication, our teams are able to stay connected and in agreement with the same goals and purpose.
2. Be available – at all times and in multiple ways. While your “business hours” may be somewhere around the typical 9-6, the hours in which your customer uses your product may not be the same. We’ve all likely experienced the frustration of needing customer support after normal work hours. By offering your costumers service at any time, you’re not only helping solve problems, but are building a satisfied customer that can lead to consistent loyalty, positive word of mouth, and less negative online chatter. While there may be additional costs spent in these efforts, there is financial value in the positive outcomes.
Availability shouldn’t stop at one point during the day; customer service should be easy for a customer to access and receive. It can be frustrating for a customer to scour a company’s website searching for a point of contact and ultimately only find their way through a detailed Q&A culminating in a comment box. Solve this frustration by providing customers with easy to find, direct access to a human – not a recorded phone directory. You should have at least one direct email, phone number, and links to your social media pages within eyeshot of your website’s homepage. Take UK’s online and telephone banking company First Direct for example. They ranked first in a 2014 Which? customer service survey. On their homepage, you’re provided with two phone numbers for new users, one phone number for account holders, an email contact address, a link to more contact options, and also an invitation to Tweet them where they are “here to help 24 7 365.” I don’t think I would have trouble seeking help, do you?
3. Don’t hide behind automated platitudes. Automated responses can lead to many unhappy customers. Automated responses do nothing to help the customer, except keep them momentarily placid. For instance, UK train stations use automated responses when trains are late. The text content is an apology, but doesn’t give detailed information about when or why the train is late and what will happen next. This leaves the riders in the dark as to what they can expect and often creates a negative reaction. Rail companies are shifting to fix the robotic nature of automation by interacting with travelers via social media, direct messaging, and in person. Travelers can get the latest rail travel news, including any rail network disruption and advice on alternative routes, through Twitter and Facebook channels. They’ve also configured to send riders text messages, tweets or emails when their train is delayed or cancelled. By staff actually walking out onto the platform to speak directly and frankly to travelers, they are minimizing frustrations.
4. Confront online chatter. With consumers and competitors now living in an online, social media world, they have access to your social media pages and countless public review sites where they can also vent their frustrations. This negative online chatter could impact your business as it spreads rapidly to potential customers when deciding to make a purchase. To mitigate this undesirable presence, make sure your virtual presence is sophisticated, personal, and timely. Consumers appreciate the personal tone and presence of corporation’s online channels. Through social media, you have the opportunity to interact on this personal level with current and prospective customers. Having a team in place to assess social media discussions places your team on the front line, allowing you to stay on top of any negative comments and also positive feedback. NASCAR is one of the most fan-centric sports brands in the industry, and by partnering with Hewlett-Packard to develop a social media command center, they are staying in tune with fan feedback in real time.
5. Act on feedback. Earlier I mentioned customer centricity at the R&D level. How does this happen? By digesting customer feedback and using it to alter or advance your product. Positive feedback is like gold – it allows you to rejoice in your hard work, but is also a reminder to continue upgrading so it is a premium product or service. Keep in mind that negative or constructive feedback provides keen insight into how you can better your product. What are customers complaining about? Is it in the production? The offering? The difficulty of use? Use this information at the R&D level to guide you in enhancing your product or offering. It’s important for workers at all levels to be exposed to other areas of the business as to not lose sight of the company as a whole. This creates organizations that react to change, and to customer demand, along product or departmental lines. Companies who are able to react to customer feedback and demand have a much higher chance of taking off at a rapid pace, such as France’s fastest growing 2014 tech companies Creads, Uplike and Lima.
Many businesses lose track of their customer and purpose over time and end up focusing on only processes and outputs. With these customer centric focused strategies, your company can better understand what the customer needs and your organization will be positioned for profitability, growth, and sustainability.
Benoit Gruber is vice president of corporate communications for Sage ERP X3. The Sage Business Index 2014 is available online at http://www.sage.com/~/media/group/images/media/business%20index/the-sage-business-index-2014-v7-final.pdf.