by Eric Berridge

Treating customers like human beings is a high tech endeavor

May 08, 20135 mins
Cloud ManagementIT LeadershipMobile Device Management

Let’s face it — there’s no product you can create that someone else can’t copy, improve, or sell cheaper. So how do you differentiate your brand? By delivering an amazing customer experience. These days this can’t be accomplished without a tech infrastructure that presents a complete, real-time view of the very complex being that we call the “customer.”

Evolving past the prehistoric approach to service the “high maintenance” customer

Customer relations and romantic relations have evolved along a similar trajectory. In the primeval world, you didn’t need much more than rudimentary hunting skills, shelter and a pulse to attract a mate. Now, with technology offering more dating options, people have to up their game. Likewise, companies that have rested on product laurels must do some serious wooing to impress customers, who are now empowered for control of the buying process. If they don’t like how it’s going, with a mouse click they can find an alternative and air their complaints to a global audience.

IT for the modern world–flexible around the customer

Like love, the customer engagement opportunity strikes whenever, wherever, whomever it pleases. The outcome of the customer moment — that instant of engagement which determines the tenor of your relationship — ultimately rests on the ability of your people to access comprehensive customer information the exact moment they need it. Yes, take that Luddites — technology is key to treating customers like human beings. What does infrastructure in a customer-centric company look like?

Today’s business climate is too dynamic to rely on archaically rigid infrastructures. Flexibility, however, is nondescript without context. Just what, to be precise, should your systems and processes flex around? —  the customer, who pays the bills, and doesn’t care about your policies or limitations.

In today’s customer engagement economy, such flexibility can only be achieved as companies transition to the cloud — traditional on-premise infrastructure is too cumbersome. It also means supplementing marketing automation tools with social media-generated data that shows you not only what the customer has been up to, but where their mind is any given moment. If marketing automation allows you to see where the customers reside in your overall client schema, social media allows you to determine what differentiates them as human beings.

Conquering the four mortal enemies of customer-obsessed IT

On the amazing journey from transaction-based dinosaur to customer-centric innovator, you’ll want to rid your organization of four deadly pitfalls:

Death by delay. Every second your customer spends waiting erodes your personal connection. A single minute on hold can feel like an eternity, during which they’re not thinking warm thoughts about your company. Solve this by making every bit of relevant information available to customer-facing employees all the time through a fully-integrated, real-time “command center” style dashboard.

Death by mis-information. If a single keystroke can erase a smartphone, the stakes of providing correct information are high indeed. Bad information often stems from interdepartmental silos that foster separate cultures, processes, and information funnels. Counter this by creating the means for a free-flow of uninhibited, real-time cross-departmental communication, so that no employee ever has to guess at what co-workers in other departments know.

Death by bureaucracy. Every time you transfer a customer to a new rep, the sense of personal connection is replaced by frustration. Make sure your command center dashboard, and your corporate culture, empower the first point of contact to resolve issues, close deals, make good things happen. For example, one global company I worked with armed their team of global product specialists with a cloud-based console that integrates customer information with a comprehensive knowledge base, to make it easy for the specialists to find information on-demand. As a result, the specialists are enabled to deliver an exceptional customer experience every time.

Death by repetition. Perhaps the most aggravating aspect of being passed from rep to rep is having to repeat yourself (thus the implied threat in the phrase “don’t make me repeat myself”). If you must transfer a customer, your CRM system should pass along all information. Make it incredibly easy to input info from any discussion immediately for the next in line — technologies like voice-to-text and location-based services offer innovative ways to get it into your system quickly. In 2013, making a customer give you their account number twice could cost you their business.

We’ve learned to mass produce just about anything, but your customers are unique, with lives and stories — and it’s no longer sustainable to treat them as transactions. While this may sound touchy feely, the concept is practical and real. The social media megaphone means that a single customer can have an infinitely greater impact on your brand than even 10 years ago. By developing infrastructure, processes, and behaviors that facilitate an amazingly personalized customer experience, you’ll stand apart from the competition. As the company I previously mentioned puts it, the objective should be to reduce “customer effort” — make it ridiculously easy for them to get what they want, and they’ll come back for more.