Forget Customer Experience—Customer Care Is the New Way Forward
The B2C world is frantically searching for the answer to the industry’s key question: “How to exceed ever-heightening customer expectations?” Customers’ growing appetites are now taking a toll on every enterprise regardless of its business model, spilling from retail (where these expectations are typically set) to banking, healthcare, telecommunications, and more. To solve the challenge, companies cultivate customer experience as their last competitive differentiator.
Customer experience won’t help, though, if it’s mostly regarded as coping with the aftermaths of bad service or retrospective learning from mistakes. If you want to reap visible results in the form of customer retention, loyalty, and, ultimately, sales, customer experience has to be replaced with customer care as its proactive, more human-like version.
In a sense, customer care means reducing customer efforts at all touchpoints while targeting each customer individually instead of a particular segment or the entire customer base at a time.
On top of that, care is also about predicting what your customers need before they even articulate it. Sounds difficult? It is! That’s why customer intent prediction is a hot topic, with a good share of AI deliberations added to the mix.
Care Doesn’t Equal Customer Service
This seems obvious, but the distinction should be highlighted. Customer service is a different business function altogether, carried out by dedicated departments and call centers. Its scope usually covers customer requests and complaints as well as guidance to a product or service usage.
Though customer service makes up only a fraction of the customer journey, many improvements can be applied to this business area to deliver on the customer care promise.
For example, breaking down departmental silos and letting customer service reps into the pool of customer data. Functionally, it’s easier to implement within customer success platforms, such as Salesforce, Oracle, or Microsoft Dynamics 365. As Salesforce consultants admit, when service reps can grasp the context of customer requests anytime they need it, they can better personalize communication in each particular case.
Care Is for New Customers, too
Customer experience management was traditionally reserved only for the bulk of existing customers. However, the idea of care can be well extended to new customers, too. First, they will feel welcome, which earns your brand a few points on its own. Secondly, proactive care will propel your relationship and turn new customers into regulars.
Warning, it’s not going to be easy. With near zero information on each new customer’s needs and intents, it’s extremely difficult to deliver on those expectations of personalization, responsiveness, consistency, and continuity.
Yet the latest innovations offer some ways out. Taking it from here, let’s look at the customer care strategies, approaches, and technologies.
Customer Journey Mapping, Revisited
It’s widely debated today that both traditional and digital businesses face the so-called “market of one,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer effective. Instead, companies need to serve each customer individually. This is where the call for full-fledged personalization and customization enters the scene.
On top of all this, customer journeys get unpredictable. They vary from one customer to another, with gazillions of variations. So, as an advanced approach to customer experience, customer care calls for revisiting classic customer journeys. In its Micro-Moments Guide, Google has come up with the term “customer decision journey,” where the buying decision is made through an almost endless string of sessions across screens and channels.
The term “micro-moment marketing” became popular around 2014 when it became obvious that device usage had started to increase. Micro-moments stand for people’s deliberate intents to look up information online. According to Google’s guide, these intents fall into these four categories:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to buy
- I want to do
One essential characteristic of micro-moments is that they can hardly be owned by brands. Thus, only targeted search advertising makes brands visible in search engines. In this context, every first brand encounter happens in a highly competitive environment, which can’t be controlled by the brand itself.
Once the customer has landed on your page, you need to show you’re a truly caring brand by providing help, delivering useful information on the spot, and enticing visitors with tempting intent-based offers. All this is impossible without the underlying technological foundation. And this is where the major battle is happening right now.
What Are the New Battlefields?
Weirdly enough, the task to make relationships human-like is often delegated to machines. In the absence of face-to-face interactions in the digital realm, technologies are the only possible way to go.
Yet dispersing efforts and budget on every technology will do no good. Instead, you should zero in on the areas that have a truly decisive impact on customer relationships—precisely, on mobile and business intelligence.
Today, customers favor mobile over other channels. Recognizing this fact means making one step forward in your customer care efforts. Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar or digital business, mobile will permeate the majority of customer interactions, forcing you focus on mobile-first experiences.
This can be a mobile app to complement your online website or mobile-exclusive offers, like mobile-only loyalty cards, branded mobile wallets, or mobile extensions for engaging customers in-store.
The pillars of customer care—intent prediction, personalization, and relevance—are impossible without scooping essential details about the customer you want to engage. This is where business intelligence comes into play.
In the market of one, it’s all about micro-data on each particular customer. Ultimately, this is where true personalization is playing out—not through trends applied to broad segments, but with little facts about real people, one customer at a time.
Go a step further and you bump into cognitive analytics, a convergence of data analytics and cognitive computing that aids real-time decision making, customer service, and, yes, personalization. Accenture and IBM are taking the lead with their flagship products, but as the cognitive computing market is maturing, watch out for more names.
When you deal with business intelligence technologies, remember about ethical data collection policies. Big Data or micro data, security is key. Customers appreciate being in control over what data they provide, and expect transparent and clear privacy rules. Most customers agree to provide their personal information in exchange for tailored personalization.
So is customer care a reality yet? It seems as though it is. Forward-looking brands have already taken some incremental steps, and it’s paying off with higher traffic and ROI.
If plunging into the unknown seems too risky, try out the customer care approach through a series of pilot projects. As you can see from the above, bringing together imagination, marketing thinking, determination, and powerful technologies can bring incredible results.
Valerie Nechay is a MarTech and CX observer at Iflexion, a Denver-based custom software development provider. Using her writing powers, she's translating complex technologies into fascinating topics and shares them with the world. Now her focus is on Salesforce implementation how-tos, challenges, insights, and shortcuts, as well as broader applications of enterprise tech for business development.