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June 16, 2014

What Do Customers Want?

Posted by Sanjay Nambiar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:35 AM

Consumers have intense, short term relationships with brands. The challenge today is to change these to long-term, sustainable ones. But, technology-savvy consumers are changing the rules of commerce and shifting the balance of power in their favour when it comes to the relationships they have with brands. Three factors contribute to this:

  • Convenience of search: The cost and inconvenience of searching for something has dramatically reduced. It is extremely easy for consumers to compare the features and prices of products and services, which is rapidly commoditizing many industries and forcing companies to discount heavily to maintain market share.
  • 'Virtual conversations': 'Virtual conversations', in social media, are letting consumers share experiences--positive and negative--online. Organizations are under tremendous pressure to engage with 'always on' customers. Last year, one of Nutella's loyal customers organized World Nutella Day. At first, the company that owns the brand didn't like that the customer rally originated among Nutella's worldwide fan base and not at the corporate headquarters. So, it sent a cease-and-desist order to the fan who organized the online World Nutella Day. According to reports, doing so angered some fans and the company faced the risk of an online revolt. So the company rescinded its letter to the fan, accepted the reality of its customers' collective influence, and worked with them.
  • Customer service, anywhere: New service delivery models, such as more extensive managed services and cloud-based offerings, present better opportunities for customer service. But outside of cost optimization, it's not clear whether they truly help the enterprise transform the overall customer experience.

Today, digital customers are quick to voice their opinions and voice their complaints. It's more important than ever to ensure that enterprises have an effective and nimble customer care solution that cover the entire end-to-end service lifecycle rather than a reactive point engagement at the time of the transaction.

Consider Apple. Known for its innovative and sophisticated products, most of its consumers don't read the operating manuals and instead attempt to use the products by virtue of its user-friendly interface. So when problems do occur with an Apple product, the company's customers expect a response that is just as user-friendly as the interface. Hence the Genius Bar in Apple stores that offers (mostly) free troubleshooting and advice. The complaint resolution policy fits the company's culture.

What works for Apple, may not work for other enterprises. In my view, enterprises that want to deliver an integrated customer service experience must act on three priorities:

  • Provide 'smart' assistance: Enable customers to engage with you from any device, and through any channel, to address queries at hand. The focus is on making the customer's life easier and keeping them contextually more informed while trimming down customer service operational costs.
  • Empower contact center agents: Contact center agents should be able to accept contextual information, then rapidly tap into vast contextual knowledge repositories, to solve problems quickly and efficiently.
  • Focus on customer engagement and service optimization: Equip customer service teams with the information, knowledge, and data they need at the right time in the resolution process in order to increase first closure rates for incidents while keeping handle times down and satisfaction high.

The logic that connects customer experience to bottom-line results is simple. If people love doing business with you, they buy more products and services over time. They sing your praises to friends, colleagues and complete strangers over social networks, in online reviews, through blogs and in every conceivable channel. They cost less to serve, and they provide constructive feedback. All of these behaviours have direct, quantifiable economic benefits. You can determine how much that is worth to you in incremental sales and profits, and you can use that analysis to determine where and how much to invest in improving the customer experience.

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