Isn’t that a loaded title? Loaded titles make me look smart but this one is really dumb at its core. Dumb, but very important. When companies started investing in IT to better their sales, marketing, operations, production, they did well for a while.
There was a system that took care of firing sales pitches, one that handled campaigns, some other software set up by a tech-passionate CIO that tracks allocations of the team and that compulsory ERP behemoth that everyone is happy getting but which no one wants to play with. But these things are happening today as well. We do have these systems in place. We do have people using these systems for completely different functions that serve one ultimate goal – increasing revenue. When every one of these systems works glitch-lessly (which is hoping for a lot sometimes, but with sound implementation and careful rollout and decent training that can happen), things go well. Except one problem…
With time, customer engagement had to evolve dramatically. Why? User experience had picked up and you had suddenly people shouting ‘design is God’ from every rooftop in town. So correspondingly, your entire spectrum also had to evolve to give the customer better and richer experiences. By then experience no longer meant showing pretty buttons and implementing nicely laid-out interactions. It also meant adding touchpoints for the customer to feel connected to the system. It wasn’t sufficient to just service the customer and sayonara the guy. You had to keep reminding him to do repeat follow-ups for that scooter. You had to remember their details to say, ‘Hello Mr. Lionel of House Ritchie’ when they walked in, instead of giving the awkward hello-mister-stranger-smile. Customers expected more as your competition started giving them discounts automatically on their birthdays and festive seasons. Roses just magically appeared on their doorways and spoiled their anniversary surprises. Virtual cakes and real discount coupons jammed their inboxes.
There was that one problem we spoke about. We still haven’t got to it. Your CRM systems were ready to fire their rounds of binary cakes and discount tantalizers. Except, they didn’t know what the operations guys had been up to. If they did, they would have known that the customer had left a bad review on the last service and wasn’t really on good terms. Sending such a customer a virtual confetti shower thrown from a multi-color bazooka wouldn’t qualify being very considerate. That might just push a few buttons that you really wouldn’t want pushing. If the cognizance were there, you could have sent something like, ‘Sorry Mr. Lionel that we couldn’t serve you well the last time. This Christmas, we vow to not repeat our mistakes and get better at being your friend. We just called to say that we love you!’ Now isn’t that a good thing to do? But the program shooting emails everywhere doesn’t know it has to do that, if the operations software doesn’t give it a ‘psst!’ (…or have a shared database of customer warmth level. 1 is lowest meaning send apologies and 4 is highest meaning invite for the annual party).
With disparate systems, their ability to communicate with each other and form meaningful touch-points for the customer is getting more difficult. Recently, I got a text message saying, ‘Hope your gym workouts are going well…’ from a really big gym brand. It has been 5 months since I last went there. Surely there are biometric records lying there that can confirm that my gym workouts are no longer going well (with them) but the SMS-campaigner sent that SMS anyway. But that isn’t a big deal to nag about right? Consider this. A friend in a MAJOR firm I know saw exhilarating Christmas messages go to a customer who had raised five complaints the day before. The messages were great, but given the context they came across as being in very bad taste. At the least you are inconsiderate. At the worst, you are a familiar swear word that ends in ‘hole’.
The concept that I trying to talk about isn’t just about sending SMSs and emails. It goes all the way to greeting folks the right way who visit your office. It also goes to offer them the right technology in the next proposal (if my previous proposal with Open Source gets shot down due to some compliance issues, and a new guy in business development sends another of that, it will surely send the prospect to the firm next door).
It is important to manage the body of knowledge around the customer. If there is any insight that is obtained about the customer, it must go to a place from where it can be shared and used by the applications that have a touch-point with the customer. It also becomes important for the people on the front-lines who work with the customers to update that body of knowledge with their insights. A simple database can contain their personal preferences. I have been guilty of putting off a particularly zealous vegan client of mine by offering her some home-made chicken curry. There was a sales guy who had laughed at a corner and had said, ‘Don’t you know she is vegan?’ No! I don’t talk to her every day! But those of you who do, should be updating that somewhere. The examples may still seem frivolous but the idea is powerful.
Good sales staff have always been appreciated for their knowledge and memory of the customer’s niche preferences. ‘Oh Mark! How on Earth did you remember that I wanted that pashmina!’ But once other Marks and Mark-wares start talking to her, they need to know what Mark knows. They may be disparate, but they can at least reduce that by sharing a common body of knowledge and leveraging that body to form better and considerate experiences for the customer!