James Dodkins is a Principal Consultant at the BP Group whose focus is on promoting customer centricity. He has helped many of the world's best performing companies create and execute a customer centric vision and culture.
For all the talk about the fourth industrial revolution, when it comes to customer experience our thinking is still stuck firmly in the steam age.
You might think that technologies like advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) combined with huge volumes of customer data would make improving the customer experience a breeze. In reality, the mountain of metrics that is now available to brands only confuses what should be a very simple question: Are we delivering a great experience for each customer every time they interact with our business?
Technology is advancing more quickly than ever, but our minds have failed to keep pace. Too often, businesses make decisions based on facts without context and put themselves at risk of misinterpreting the truth.
That’s not to say traditional metrics are unimportant, but we’re approaching them from the wrong direction.
We may refer to 'metrics' instead of 'facts' in the worlds of marketing and sales, but brands are undoubtedly guided by an obsession with one-dimensional figures as indicators of success. No business would admit that it thinks of its customers as mere data points, but if we continue to only look at metrics like engagement rates or call waiting times, that's how we are treating them.
A customer’s decision to buy is often rooted as heavily in an emotion connection as in a practical need, and the same goes for their general impression of a brand. Consider a customer service call – it’s less important to keep call handling times short than it is to ensure each complaint or query is successfully resolved. To gauge your performance on these calls based solely on hard number is to only capture half the story.
That’s not to say traditional metrics are unimportant, but we’re approaching them from the wrong direction. They provide brands with invaluable insight into what went wrong or turned a customer off, but companies first need to evaluate the success (or failure) of a customer interaction before analysing it further.
“This approach of getting too close to look at the big picture is a relic of the first industrial age, of mass production and standardisation.”
After a football team loses a game, the manager and his assistants can pore over the match stats looking for ways they can improve for the next game, but this data alone will tell them nothing about the outcome itself. As any fan knows, having more possession and shots on target means nothing if the opposition scores more goals than you.
This approach of getting too close to look at the big picture is a relic of the first industrial age, of mass production and standardisation. Ironically, while this mind-set has become ingrained over the years, brands increasingly deal with customers who are anything but standard.
Each person has unique needs and expectations, and giving them a personalised experience is the key to converting sales. That’s why customer behaviour should be the starting point for establishing metrics. Brands can then work backwards from their desired outcomes to develop the strategies, processes and technology infrastructure that will help them achieve these, and to build in the emotional connections that will drive customer attitudes that ultimately drive people’s buying behaviour.
Consider how this would apply to managing seasonality. When it comes to travel marketing, email open rates often go down at the end of summer as people return from holidays and aren’t yet thinking of their next trip. By winter, people will begin planning their next getaway which once again drives up open rates. For travel merchants, combining open rates with seasonal data would provide a more accurate picture of customer behaviour and help them shape more relevant and timely campaigns.
In addition to facts such as gender, income, location and age it's important that brands know customers' attributes: who they are, what they need, and why they behave as they do. We need to move from segmentation to categorisation and tailor the customer experience to the attributes of well-defined personas. The insurer Aviva has led by example in this regard. Rather than looking to nudge discrete metrics, the company categorises its customers through engaging content like psychological tests and games which in turn allow them to group prospects and target them with relevant offers.
“We need to move from segmentation to categorisation and tailor the customer experience to the attributes of well-defined personas.”
Metrics, statistics, and analytics all play a role in improving the way customers perceive a brand. However, thinking you can grow your business by adding more metrics is like thinking you can grow taller by measuring your height more often, instead of drinking more milk or changing your diet. Growth isn’t a measure, it’s an outcome based on many factors, and it is these metrics we should all be focussing on. Particularly in an age of digital disruption where customers should be at the centre of every brand’s strategy, it’s not just about what you do or say but how you make people feel.