The Customer of the Future: 10 Guiding Principles for Winning Tomorrow’s Business, by Blake Morgan

What exactly will the customer of the future be like? No one can know for sure, but we are seeing trends to which we need to respond.

“While price and quality are still the top considerations for consumers making a purchase decision, 78% of respondents said that a good experience is key in influencing their brand loyalties,” author Blake Morgan explains.

Morgan describes what a superb customer experience looks and feels like through accounts of companies she has consulted to and interacted with. This survey is very useful in that it sets the standards for what can be achieved. Her insights come from the likes of Channel One in banking, Amazon in general retailing, Sephora in cosmetics, Tesla in automotive, and many more.

So, why doesn’t every company offer these levels of experience? The short answer is that it is extraordinarily hard to achieve.

The value of this book lies in Morgan’s identification of the keys to success in this arena, as well as with enough guidance to get any company going. But this will only achieve the benefits if there is an abiding desire for, and awareness of the rewards possible from superior customer experience, and the penalties for failure.  

Many customers know what a great customer experience feels like and will come to demand it. They have experienced efficient, desirable, zero-friction interactions with suppliers somewhere in their daily lives. They will reward those who offer it with loyalty and flee those who don’t.

To achieve a superior customer experience, three arenas demand our attention: leadership, employees and technology.

Leadership

If senior leadership aren’t fully committed to the customer experience, the company will not get out of the gate, let alone be a winner. Unsurprisingly, the bottleneck to the process is usually at the top of the bottle.

Morgan reports that Jeff Bezos asked the VP of Customer Service how long customers must wait before their calls are answered, because waiting is a mood-killer for customers. The answer was “less than a minute.” Bezos immediately took out his phone and tried the centre and waited 4½ minutes. The executive resigned shortly afterwards.

A company set on winning in the customer experience stakes, will have to ensure that all its leaders, at all levels, have the correct mindset for the race. They can then infuse their staff with the goal of delivering a satisfying customer experience. The management skills required involve very little more than what is generally expected of fine leaders who can facilitate superb work from their teams.

Where greater attention is required of leaders, the second requirement Morgan identifies, is in ensuring that employees too have the sort of experience that customers should have. This is only possible if employee’s systems are similarly efficient. Your employees have undoubtedly had incredible consumer experiences in their personal lives from technology companies like Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, and cell-phone apps. But all too often the technology experience at work is cumbersome.

Employees

Here lies a business opportunity easily overlooked: the key to higher profits lies in the quality of the employee experience.

The payback is estimated to be 4.2 times the average profit of companies who don’t bother to curate their employees’ experience.

Technology

The third requirement for delivering a superior customer experience is using technology. Merely having a functioning customer relationship management (CRM) tool is table stakes today.

Advanced technology can empower businesses to create efficiencies and meet the needs of a new era of demanding customers, in ways impossible without it. It is technology that allows companies to provide zero-friction, seamless customer experiences. A study at MIT found that companies that have embraced a digital transformation of their processes and systems, are 26% more profitable than their peers.

Amazon has demonstrated to its 120 million customers what a frictionless, on-demand, and personalized customer experience feels like, and this has raised the bar for everyone.

This is way beyond the automated call-answering that is offered by so many firms in the name of efficiency, but which only yields immediate cost reduction through staff reduction. In all but the most mundane service situations, this automation is more of a frustration than a help.

What consumers really want

Gartner predicted that most customer service interactions would be automated by 2020 – thankfully they haven’t been. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that 75% of consumers say they want more human interaction in the future, not less. There are some things we do not need a human to help us with, and this is where automation plays a role.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is software that can be made to perform the kinds of administrative tasks that otherwise require tedious human effort. Unum, a Fortune 500 insurance company, has automated 50 to 80% of the steps required, which took a great burden off the staff and enabled them to better serve clients.

Integrating existing technologies that now must talk to one another is a challenge. This is particularly so as customers expect a zero-friction experience across the company, but rarely get one. Staff struggle and customers are frustrated.

Focusing on the front-end experience without changing the back-end operations that support it, is unsustainable.

All over the world we are making our businesses vulnerable to customer churn by not creating more digitally fluid experiences throughout the organisation. Europe is currently operating at 12% of its digital potential, the US at 18%, Germany at 10% and the UK at 17%. We clearly have the technology to improve so much of what our customers hate about the experiences we provide them.

In the service of superior customer experience, data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers, 6 times as likely to retain them, and 19 times as likely to be profitable.

The three requirements Morgan identifies will make or ruin the experience your customers have doing business with you.

The best time to have started radical customer experience improvements was five years ago. The second-best time is tomorrow.

Readability         Light –+– Serious

Insights              High -+— Low

Practical              High -+— Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation, is the author of ‘Strategy that Works’ and a public speaker. Views expressed are his own.

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