Supporting customers online requires a strategy that integrates both digital and human touchpoints across multiple channels. How are companies creating long-term loyalty and brand trust?
The digital customer experience has been enriched by the likes of ecommerce tools, chatbots, autopayments, interactive FAQs and more. It’s become easier for a customer to carry out their interactions with a company without ever seeing, speaking to, or hearing from, a human. And this is only becoming more popular – and cost-efficient – for businesses to implement.
But is something lost when technology gains?
Certainly, frustrations can be eased, and friction limited, with digital solutions. But it’s not enough to plug in a piece of technology and hope for the best. “People just want to be heard,” Joe Mirtaheri, product and UX director at Sky Betting & Gaming, says. Joe Tinston, chief product officer at Bloom & Wild echoes, “Customers fundamentally want their problem solved. They want their problem recognised, want to be heard and want their opinion solved.”
Achieving that requires more than just a tech capability, it requires a company to consider how and where to integrate technology into its customer experience and how to ensure customers can interact with the company in the ways they prefer to do so.
“Customers want to be communicated with through their channel of choice,” Matthew Parker, country manager for the UK & Ireland at Vonage says. That has led to an increase in choice for Vonage’s partners around WhatsApp messaging, online chats, video calls and more. The greater variety of channels, the better the digital customer experience is.
For both Mirtaheri and Tinston, product development is at the heart of that experience. If the right products exist – and those are developed alongside customers – then users see value in the brand itself. “We’ve built really strong feedback loops directly from our ‘customer delight’ agents to the rest of the organisation around what they’re hearing from customers,” says Tinston. Bloom & Wild regularly feeds customer insights back into the product development and marketing functions to ensure the company is doing what its customers expect it to do. There is no better example of this than the ‘Thoughtful Marketing’ movement.
Thoughtful Marketing grew out of a crucial customer insight. Some people did not want to receive communications around Mother’s Day. Bloom & Wild implemented a workaround to exclude Mother’s Day promos and communications with those who opted out. The next year, the process became more automated and could enable customers to opt-out of communications around a variety of holidays and key events. This has sparked a movement of other retailers pursuing similar strategies. All because Bloom & Wild’s customer service team listened to customers.
Mirtaheri agrees that the feedback loop is an essential process to delivering an excellent customer experience. SkyBet had noticed a Twitter request about a specific style of bet during a Champions League final. Then thousands of requests came in for that same product. The company realised that people wanted to customise their experience. Now, it has introduced a customisable product that allows people to design their own betting experiences. “RequestABet became one of the main reasons why customers came to us,” he says. “Because of the good experience on-site and on social, we really solidified our number-one status in the eyes of the customer.”
Both examples follow a similar route. A request came in from a frontline customer service platform, the business responded with a lean, agile solution, that product delivered value for customers and was then transformed into a sub-brand in its own right. That kind of process has helped bolster the brands as they engage with customers across new products and channels, as well.
“I think what’s interesting about that is it’s giving customers a chance to shape your brand. And when customers see that happen, that is a driver of new engagement and loyalty,” Tinston says. “I can see this brand is listening to me; I can see this brand understands me and what matters to me. It is trying to solve my problems. What drives customer loyalty is a great experience, like that engagement.”
Mirtaheri adds that this type of thinking can engender long-term customer loyalty. “Users being able to customise their experience is going to be key to us winning in the long-term,” he says. “Connectedness, making someone feel like they’re valued, ease of use; those are the three strategic pillars that are going to see us win in the long term.”
Taking a holistic approach to brand building also has the added benefit of building trust between the company and its customers. This has tangible benefits in terms of data sharing and insights. Customers are more likely to share their data – and understand how that data is being used responsibly – with brands they trust. Tinston says changing the rhetoric around data usage from companies trying to manipulate customer behaviour to customising the digital experience and creating a better e-commerce journey is helping create “a value exchange that matters to customers.”
For Vonage, this kind of thinking has driven its long-term focus on frictionless customer experiences. By enriching the customer journey and enabling a responsible sharing of data, in return for a better experience, brands can create loyalty.
That doesn’t necessarily mean automation for automation’s sake. Both Tinston and Mirtaheri agree that some level of friction is essential to ensuring customers trust the brand throughout the process. Similarly, sometimes people want to talk to a customer service agent. In both companies, frontline consumer conversations have been key drivers of new product initiatives. It’s less about digitising the user experience and more about creating options for customers to engage with the company wherever and whenever they want to do so.
Parker calls it ‘conversational commerce.’ “How can companies make the whole ecommerce journey as simple as possible?” he asks. Engagement may begin on one channel, with a conversation moving to a different one as customers proceed in their journeys. They might conclude their experience through a payment platform. Parker says companies that create wholly owned and branded journeys across all of these touchpoints will be those that create a seamless customer experience that enriches the relationship between the customer and company.
Tinston puts it simply, “If you’re solving the right thing for the customer in the right way, then you’re creating long-term lifetime value. Conversion rate is not the best thing to focus on. It’s about getting the right experience and ensuring customers love your product and want to use it in the future.” That clear roadmap to delivering better customer experiences may be just the thing to create stronger, more trusted brands.