By: Thanneermalai Krishnappan, Technical Manager, Saggezza
This blog, co-written with Praveen Kumar (Data Architect. Infostretch), draws on their joint experience in the data and analytics environments.
The ubiquitous nature of the connected society has brought the concept of customer service into sharp focus. And as digital experiences have evolved, so too has the idea that effective and efficient customer service is a must-have business optimization strategy.
A recent report from Gartner said that there is a defined shift towards technologies that are focused on the customer, with the analyst noting that business leaders must understand how customers interact with the digital channels available to them. Over the next two years, the report said, the most anticipated (and, by association, valuable) tech solutions will revolve around the customer, with companies investing both time and money into ensuring that customer service and support is at the top of the list.
According to the report, the customer journey is the perfect place to integrate next-gen technologies such as AI and advanced data analytics, even more so as the study of customer behavior has become key to leveraging competitive advantage. The caveat is that – to date – defined time-to-market choke points have been less about the amount of raw data that is available to companies and more that the data generated is not being transformed into actionable insights.
“It is crucial that leaders understand how customers interact with digital channels in order to contain customers within them, and improve their overall customer experience,” said Connor Seidenschwarz, principal, research in the Gartner Customer Service & Support Practice, in a press release. “In fact, most customer service leaders we surveyed view investments in analytics as an investment in improving their self-service capabilities.”
Taking that into account, this blog post will look at the challenges, trends and solutions that decision makers must be aware of when leveraging data and analytics to deliver the optimal customer service experience.
To do this successfully, we must also understand why eliminating the guesswork that comes with mapping out the customer journey is a critical part of the process and, importantly, why the adage that the customer is always right remains as relevant today as it has always been.
Evaluating the Impact of Customer Service
Before we take a deeper dive into how customer service should always be a priority, we must acknowledge that this is both a business optimization strategy and a reflection on the brand itself.
Understanding your customer’s needs is one side of the coin, the other is being able to deliver on the promises that are made in the pre-sale phase of a product lifecycle. For that we need to think about what we – as consumers – expect from the companies and brands that are part of our lives.
The phrase “caveat emptor” – literally translated as “buyer beware” – may have its roots in Latin, but it is based on the principle that the customer (or buyer) is responsible for ensuring that the goods and/or services that they are paying for meet the standards that they expect.
This becomes even more important when you factor in the move away from purely physical customer touchpoints and the increased adoption of digital channels. In fact, there is an argument that the connected society has shone a spotlight on not only why customer service matters but also the impact of getting it wrong.
If we take this one step further, then the information that can be gleaned from these touch points should be used to find the answers to the following questions:
· How well do you know your customers?
· Do you know what makes them buy your products and services?
· What channels are they using to engage with the brand?
· Are there any pain points or choke points that prevent the customer from getting the response they want?
· What is the ratio of satisfied to unsatisfied customers?
· How high are your retention levels?
· Are you using the data to gain competitive advantage or for damage limitation?
As we noted above, there is a rich seam of data that can come from customer service, but if you don’t know how to use this information then the insights it can give are virtually worthless.
On the flip side, there is increased awareness of how important data is to the overall customer experience, with IDC predicting that global spending on big data and business analytics (BDA) solutions will hit $215.7 billion by the end of 2021. If that is indeed the case, it is reasonable to assume that companies investing in BDA are taking a 360-degree view of their customer service and engagement strategies.
Data-as-a-Service (Daas), for example, has seen garnered significant interest across the data and analytics sector, providing companies with the tools they need to both make sense of the information available and integrate data-driven solutions. In fact, Infostretch’s recent acquisition of Gathi Analytics was driven by a need to ensure that decision makers understand the synergies between actionable insights and customer behavior, an important consideration when it comes to updating business optimization strategies.
With that in mind, let’s move on to how we can use data and analytics to get the customer insights we need.
Gathering the right customer insights
Ten years ago, the consensus was that software was eating the world, but there is an argument that data has taken its place.
Customer data is a commodity that brands often covet to not only understand what the customer wants at any point in time but also what works in terms of purchase behavior, needs, likes, dislikes and preferences. Being able to use this information to optimize the experience has become somewhat of a holy grail for companies, albeit that the ones that do it well are often using the same playbook.
People will often turn to the official customer service channels of brands to resolve an issue as a first option. In recent years, this has become an increasingly convoluted area for companies to either manage or (in some cases) police. The use of various non-company resources to report, self-resolve or flag up a problem with a product has (no surprises here) become more popular, with third-party party channels – Google, YouTube and social media, for example – all becoming a preferred means of customer engagement with a brand.
In many cases, this is generational and, according to another recent Gartner report, a defined shift towards a so-called “voice of the customer” mentality amongst end users.
Millennials and Gen Z, for instance, prefer to deal with a brand’s customer service offerings indirectly, while Baby Boomers and Generation X are more likely to go the more traditional route. On the plus side, the digitalization of customer service offerings – and the 24/7 mentality that comes with the connected society – allows companies to mine a treasure trove of data that is generated directly from these interactions, all of which gives them the insights into not only customer behavior but also engagement.
What is important to remember is that effective and efficient customer service is nothing new. In the past, companies would turn to tools such as surveys, focus groups or market research to get the insights they required. This element of a brand’s engagement with the consumer audience has been part of the product delivery lifecycle for decades, digital transformation has merely raised the bar in how, when, and why they engage.
As a result, the difference between long-standing means of both assessing customer satisfaction and buying habits can be traced to the simple fact that outreach is not only virtual but also conducted on a 24/7 basis. Customer insights don’t just happen, they need to be collected, that is where data and analytics comes into play. And, depending on what information you need to know, your customer service function can be adjusted accordingly.
Trend analysis, for example, is based on geographic location, time framed and customer behavior patterns, which allows companies to predict the future based on what is happening now. Custom surveys will give you an idea of customer satisfaction. Market analysis – which should be the basis for any product launch – and focus groups provide more detailed insights into the customer journey, providing a quantitative and qualitative assessment of customer segmentation and purchasing patterns. All of these are tried and tested methods of gaining the insights you need.
Where the digitalization of society really comes into its own is through the adoption of tools that are specific to the collection of the right data.
Social listening, for example, is a consumer-focused AI technique that trawls social media for customer references of a product or service. As an added bonus, you get to track your competitors as well. And the increased adoption of predictive analytics does exactly what it says on the tin – studying historical and/or real-time data to highlight what will happen in the future.
The key to effective customer insights is data. As we have noted before, data is not only information, but a commodity (companies like Facebook and Amazon would not be the tech behemoths that they are without it) and companies that are serious about improving the overall customer experience should consider the following questions:
· What are the best tools for the job?
· How important is big data and business analytics to your overall optimization strategy?
· What techniques to leverage customer information have been successful and what have not?
· Do you have a customer insight strategy?
Data and analytics = right questions + relevant answers
We have said it before, but customer service is the bedrock on which a brand’s reputation and continued consumer awareness is built in. Good products help, naturally, but it is the overall customer experience (CX) during the lifecycle that companies need to pay attention to.
For example, an increasing number of companies take notice of CX analytics. This is targeted information that can allow for the visualization of the customer journey, the identification of patterns or trends, access customer feedback, the elimination of guesswork and improve service.
And while these tools are useful in revealing the questions and answers, it is important to understand that these platforms are providing data that must lead to actionable insights. To put it more simply, if you are not reading the data right, you will not get the insights that you need.
Customer feedback, for instance, should be the building blocks for a better overall journey. If you are not taking all the different or potential experiences into account when designing a product, then you are missing an opportunity for continuous improvement. By the same token, if you don’t replicate the journey yourself as a “customer,” the nuances and chokepoints of how an end user interacts with your business might not be revealed – a cumbersome purchasing process or a poorly-designed website could turn people away and you would never know.
For those reasons alone, being able to leverage all the digital information that is available remains a key part of business optimization strategy. In other words, data and analytics can (according to a Salesforce blog) provide insights that will allow you to pinpoint opportunities and critical issues, stay on top of customer satisfaction, understand workloads and improve service efficiencies, and build communities.
All these insights must be driven by asking the right questions at the right time. These would include knowing what you want for the business, where and how you are gathering data, the allocation of responsibility for customer insights (and service), effective outreach to a target audience and the mapping of the customer journey itself. The answers to these questions will then determine the data-driven roadmap that you need to follow.
Why Data and Analytics Matter
For many companies, getting the right blend of customer experience and customer service remains a challenge. Brands are acutely aware that the digitalization of society has ushered in business workflows that benefit from proactive as opposed to reactive attitudes.
Customer satisfaction is both a pre-requisite and a barometer for success, with brand loyalty often dependent on how effective the overall experience is. We live in a world where data is collected at every digital touchpoint, so it makes sense that the companies that know how to use that information effectively will be the ones that come out on top.
Long gone are the days when the only way for a consumer to register their happiness/displeasure was through a visit to a physical location or a phone call. Companies have always collected data, but technology makes it easier for decision makers to see what they are doing right (or wrong), even more so as our world becomes ever more dependent on digital channels to deliver the customer service that we expect.
Data and analytics eliminate the guesswork, strengthening the bond between customer and brand. In addition, they provide companies with the insights that they need to move forward. At the end of the day, that can be the differentiator between the brands that succeed and the ones that are left in their wake.
Meet the Authors:
Thanneermalai is responsible for our client relationship management, program management, budget and resource planning. He is an experienced solutions architect in the IT and services industry, and currently manages more than 30 consultants.
Prior to joining Saggezza, Thanneermalai worked for a major telecom company in India.
Praveen Kumar, Data Architect at Infostretch, has more than 15 years of software engineering experience as a technical and data architect with such companies as Happiest Minds Technologies and HCL Corp. Praveen is engineer by education, coder at heart and problem solver for our clients. Currently leading a team of passionate individual contributors and amazing team players and always push for their readiness to underpin challenging business needs.
Saggezza is a proven technology and consulting partner that delivers personalized, high-value solutions to accelerate business growth.