smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Jan 18 2009

What are you doing differently this year?

2009 will be vastly different as a place to trade in than was 2008. So, perhaps the first question you should ask as we slide into 2009 is: What are we still doing the same as last year that is now inappropriate?

During the second half of 2008 you are likely to have introduced a new focus on managing costs without hopefully affecting service and the customer experience. As the recession bites it will be increasingly important, but difficult, to manage costs without under-mining your strategy. Now is the time to ‘dial up your difference’ not under-mine it.

In navigational terms, what we are having to do now is correct our course. This use of language is appropriate as it echoes The Corrections, as they were labelled in the last downturn, which you may or may not remember: the sudden stock market corrections, and the subsequent organisational corrections we all have to make to re-align ourselves with the new reality. But just as with navigation, it is important to course correct so as to adjust for these adverse conditions whilst still keeping firmly focused on your desired destination.

So, that’s your context. But, within that overall reshaping, what should you be thinking and doing differently to prevent your customer experience from suffering? I’d suggest you keep in mind these three things as 2009 unfolds.

1. What’s your contact centre experience?

Possibly your biggest point of leverage, since so little has been done to differentiate contact centres. Customer retention has to be topmost in your mind in a recession. But, when money is tight, you also have to look for the largest potential return on your investment. Re-thinking your contact centre experience may well have the biggest impact for the lowest input, if you compare this channel with your other customer contact channels.

If you scroll down to an earlier post (Wednesday November 19th 2008) you’ll find a downloadable White Paper from myself and Cincom, outlining essential research into how and why you need to rethink the contact centre experience and an approach that will help you put this in context and steer your thinking.

2. Re-think your brand

Can you start generating revenue from your brand’s existing trust base? In the wake of the credit crunch and the bail-out of the banks, consumers are increasingly cynical about large organisations and financial institutions in particular. They are turning to the brands that they trust to be there for them; brands like Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda. No wonder that the supermarkets are likely to fill the lending vacuum left by the banks.

An emerging trend is for brands to act as guides or ‘curators’ of our busy lives. iTunes Genius Function is an example. It trawls through your library of music, assembles playlists and suggests other tracks you might enjoy based on your existing preferences, which it analyses. The US ‘online radio’ system Pandora does something similar, showing that you don’t have to be a giant brand to break into this side of the new customer experience – Helping people manage increasingly unmanageable ranges of choice.

Some insurance providers, for example, are experimenting with the approach of Progressive Insurance in the US, and taking on the price comparison sites in the process, by taking away their market rationale. Progressive shows enquirers not only its own price for insurance, but that of its rivals, even when the rivals are cheaper.

On one level, this fits with the ‘curator’ or ‘trusted advisor’ role that highly trusted brands can move into. How much more would you trust a supplier knowing they will tell you if an alternative supplier offers the same thing more cheaply (as Amazon does on its site)? On another level, this is sophisticated customer selection on the part of Progressive: It doesn’t want all customers; only those that fit its chosen profile for the segments it caters for. Steering enquirers who don’t fit its customer profile to alternative suppliers is very smart customer management although sometimes difficult to pull off as First Direct found out last year when it started charging unprofitable customers who did not fit its target profile in an attempt to manage them to other banks.

So, think about your brand and your existing customer trust levels. Could you trade on the existing trust that your brand investment has built up over the years, and augment it further by extending your role into ‘trusted advisor’ territory, as Apple and some of the insurance providers are doing?

3. Measure what matters

Don’t expect to differentiate through your customer experience when all your measures and reward systems are volume-related. In a soft market you need to get up-stream with your measurement process. So measure the customer experience and customer advocacy. If this improves so will your numbers. Winning in a recession is about taking share of mind and share of market from competitors. Customers haven’t stopped buying, they are just being a lot more selective about where they shop and who they give their money to. Your job is to give them a reason to make it your brand.

If you measure customer satisfaction (“Of course we do!” I hear you shout. But, why?), stop believing that it matters. 80% of customers who switch suppliers express satisfaction with the previous supplier. The only thing that matters in a recession is brand loyalty. Measure this instead.

More to do’s for 2009? Here’s my previous post on 10 Ways To Beat The Recession