Use Data to Get Closer to Your Customers…or Risk Losing Them

In customer service, we often talk about taking a 360-degree look at our customers. We want to know everything about them—but to what end? No matter how much information we have at our fingertips, it doesn't mean anything if we're not using it to better serve our customers. With industry research indicating that only 10 percent of companies are delivering outstanding customer experiences, it's clear that we're not making things much better.

Perhaps it's the 360-degree idea that's flawed. The 360-degree view, after all, means we're making a full circle around any given customer, looking around—but never directly at—him or her. Instead, we should be thinking in terms of 1080p: a high-definition view of each customer as an individual. High definition in the customer service industry, as in the television world, means a crystal-clear view of the entire picture, with no detail left blurred or unexamined regardless of how fast the action is moving. We might not like everything we see, but those who ignore the bad parts miss the whole picture.

No Stone Unturned

In the age of social media, we need to pay attention not just to what our customers say to us, but to what they say about us on their social channels. Social media has empowered customers who might previously have written a letter about an exceptionally good or bad customer experience—and had to wait days, weeks, or even months for a reply (if one came at all)—to instantly post their experiences and opinions on channels read by hundreds or thousands of friends and followers. It has amplified word of mouth: Rather than referring one or two close friends to your company following a positive customer service interaction, customers have the means to tell everyone they know, as well as anyone who will listen in the wider world, that your company is best at what it does. On the flip side, a bad interaction can go viral and malign your reputation long-term, with negative reviews showing up on the first page of your Google results.

It is incumbent upon you, as a customer service provider, to—at minimum—be present on those social channels in which your customers reside. More importantly, you need to listen to the chatter about your business. If one of your customers tweeted about you just before tweeting a photo of her new puppy, that's valuable information. If you're a retailer, you can recommend merchandise from your pet department; if you're an insurer, you can remind her that some homeowners with dogs qualify for reduced rates if their puppies complete obedience training. The more you can become a one-stop repository of information for your customers, the more loyalty you can build with them.

If we use this information about our customers to make our jobs easier—our responses to them much more effective, the time required to deliver these responses much shorter—we should similarly make our customers' lives easier. This means eliminating the hurdles customers face when trying to reach customer service departments. Making customers answer a lengthy series of questions only to repeat themselves when transferred won't do. Making a customer reconfirm five different snippets of personal info with each phone transfer is not just absurd, it's rude. One company should have one record per customer, and that record should make the transfer in real time with the corresponding customer

From Data Collection to Data Analysis

Before we can begin to completely revamp our customer service departments, we need to gather, and analyze, the information about our customers that we are planning to use. Nothing should be thrown away without being examined for some value. Did 30 customers call last month with a similar easy-to-solve issue? Are your less-frequent customers spending more or less time on your newly redesigned Web site? Do 20 percent of the customers who call your support line opt to hit "0" or say "operator" instead of waiting for prompts that ask their reason for calling? These questions should not just be addressed, but analyzed as well. When this information is looked at as a whole, trends in your operation will start to emerge; problems that you need to address will surface. The experience of the many will help you refine and perfect not only your overall service approach, but also each individual customer's experience.

That there is an intrinsic connection between the data you gather and the service you provide customers is true no matter what channel you use to engage with them—especially if you're willing to meet customers on their own turf. No longer is it a matter of simply recording notes from phone calls and saving emails when your customers are talking to you: Comprehensive analysis of your customers' behavior involves listening to what they're saying about you. Any effective high-definition customer relations strategy involves proactively responding to these tweets and Facebook posts, making a record of this interaction in your customers' files, and checking to see if other customers have made similar statements, or asked similar questions, on social media. To be sure, sometimes the issue will be unique to one customer; but if a trend emerges, you can prepare a resolution that will help subsequent customers with similar problems efficiently and effectively. Although a high-definition approach to customer service regards each customer as an individual, it also successfully recognizes the commonalities that these individuals can share.

Front and Center

A high-definition view of the customer isn't just about looking at the whole picture; it's about making sure the customer is exactly in the center of the frame. The difference between customer-facing business (where many customer service departments are now) and customer centricity (where we all should be) is the way we use the data we collect about our customers. Only by listening to our customers—really listening, not just acknowledging—can we use our customer support department as a cornerstone of the larger organization's success. Far from a one-size-fits-all approach, customer centricity, enabled by a high-definition approach, makes sure each customer's experience is uniquely addressed while relying on the data collected and lessons learned from those customers who came before.

All it takes to kick off this high-definition, customer-centric approach is the willingness to get it done. The back office should make data collection easier; the front office should be explicit about what sort of data it needs. Both should acknowledge that the customer comes first, that his or her individual needs are utmost to the company's long-term success.

Our customers are the sole reason we exist—and believe me, if we give them a reason to abandon us for a more satisfaction- and results-minded competitor, they will. Instead, adopt a high-definition approach to them—and therefore, to our interactions with them. This will ensure that our customers belong to us, and not our competitors, for a long time to come.

Steve Kraus is a senior director of product marketing at Pegasystems, focused on CRM solutions. He has more than 15 years of experience marketing, selling, designing, and implementing software solutions for some of the world's largest customer-focused enterprises. Prior to joining Pegasystems, he held leadership positions in professional services, marketing, and sales with Capgemini, KANA Software, and Chordiant Software.

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