Consumers Care About Needs, Not Channels

CHICAGO — Forrester Analyst Henry Harteveldt made his keynote thesis during this morning's Forrester Consumer Forum abundantly clear: Consumers think about their needs, not your channels. Harteveldt opened with an anecdote demonstrating today's consumer's desire to interact with a business in ways other than the phone or in-person. 

For Harteveldt, a San Francisco thunder storm struck at a poor time - a few hours before he was to depart for the airport. Not only was the thunder and lightening spellbinding, but it caused a power outage in his home. Not knowing what to do about his unpowered refrigerator (he was set to depart in a few short hours), the analyst attempted to dial the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The hold time, however, was close to two hours - even at the odd hour at 4 a.m. So, Harteveldt did what many other multi-channel consumers would do at that point, he tried to access the company's Web site through the browser on his BlackBerry. Unfortunately, PG&E's support wasn't mobile equipped and provided only a basic menu with login, contact, and career options. 

"I'm interested in getting information speedily about outages and emergencies," Harteveldt said, "Although [PG&E does] a lot of things well, they didn't understand me as a multichannel customer." This is not an isolated incident. Channels are multiplying, customer's expectations are rising, but in so many cases, companies are not delivering. 

According to a Forrester research: 

  • 62 percent of U.S online consumers who purchased a financial product offline in 2008 researched it online first.  
  • Online retail accounted for 29 percent of overall retail spending in Q2.
  • 79 percent of airline passengers used online check-in at least once for a flight last year.
  • 12 percent of consumers expect live chat to be available from an automobile manufacturer on the Web site. (Even though consumers don't buy from the auto manufacturers --they buy from dealers -- they still expect it.)

And, all of this is getting more complicated thanks to the intersection of social media and mobile, Harteveldt said.  Forrester's forecast on the adoption of mobile technologies shows that right now 87 percent of mobile devices are data capable and the 3G capable devices already are 40 percent of the market.

"There are new [customer] dimensions, channels, and new consumer attitudes that we all have to be prepared for," Harteveldt said, "Because business is a knife fight." In today's fragile economy, Harteveldt said, there are more suppliers than there are people to buy. 

Forrester surveyed companies on their intentions with multi-channel strategies on two questions: 

  • Do you believe in multi-channel: 68 percent said yes, they believe multi-channel is important.
  • Can you do multi-channel? 29 percent they are able to do it. 

Another disheartening Forrester statistic indicated that Web strategies are catching up to traditional channels in providing customer's product information. However, Web left mobile in the dust, Harteveldt said. 

Understanding the multi-channel customer boils down to a greater organizational focus, the presenter said, outlining three key goals:

  1. We have to make sure we have greater organizational alignment around the customer.
  2. Put the customer at the center -- no matter the department. 
  3. Measure the customer's total value or profit - not the individual transaction. For this, you need CRM, data warehouses, and analytics.
  4. The organization itself needs goals around a consistent customer experience so that you and colleagues are teaming up for larger common, shared goals.

Once the organizational groundwork is laid, then companies can begin focusing on digital channels. Harteveldt offered the following recommendations:

Offer channel appropriate communications.

  • Example: The New York Times mobile application offers the same links and access as if you were navigating its home page.
Use social media if relevant to your customers. With half of consumers involved in a social network, it probably makes sense, Harteveldt added. 
  • Example: JetBlue. With 1.4 million followers, "They use Twitter beautifully," Harteveldt said. They use it to communicate, run contests, convey operational info, and share trivia. With JetBlueCheeps, a handle that provides the airlines promotions and deals, Harteveldt says that it's obvious that JetBlue "gets" the multi-channel customer. Not only can Cheeps site can be viewed on mobile, as well. 

Be aware of your customer's budget. 

  • Example: Kayak.com has an interactive map that shows, based on a visitor's budget, where they can visit.

Extend digital channels into the offline presence.

  • Example: Microsoft has placed some of its Microsoft Surface interactive tables in hotels, helping customer's find where they want to go. 

Offer relevant tools, and alternative forms of payment.

  • Example: Walgreens gets this, Harteveldt said. The drug store allows online customers to choose "bill me later" or to pay via PayPal. 

Don't make the customer fight to get help.

  • Example: MotoSport, for example, offers click to chat and click to call right where the merchandise is sold. Additionally the retailer provides customers with a timeline of when the order will ship. Doing so helps manage the customer's expectations, Harteveldt said. 

Provide channel-agnostic account management: Doing so can help reduce inquiry calls and improve customer satisfaction.

  • ExampleL Chase Bank does this well with letting customers manage their accounts on the Web and then easily on the mobile browser, Harteveldt said. 

Use social media for its immediacy. "Twitter is as an enormous channel to interact," Harteveldt said, especially when it comes to immediate needs.

  • Example: Comcast's presence on Twitter addresses customer questions within minutes. 

Harteveldt said that the multichannel customer really has three essential needs - information, transactions, and help. Address those through a multitude of channels and you'll be closer to keeping the lights on in your business and keeping your customers out of the dark.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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