Taking the first steps to putting customers first

Our panel of senior marketers discuss the challenges of breaking down internal barriers to achieve true customer centricity in a multichannel, real-time market, while keeping pace with changes.

The panel:

Mark Choueke (MW) Editor, Marketing Week
Nadia Castellani (NC) Ecommerce consultant for McLaren (Former head of eCommerce, Myla)
Ian Godbold (IG) Marketing director Cambria Automobiles
Sigal Hachlili Dwyer (SHD) Online manager The Carbon Trust
Amer Hasan (AH) Director Minicabit.com
Angus Jenkins (AJ) Head of eCommerce DM London
James Massey (JM) Director of marketing Just Go Holidays
Helenor Rogers (HR) Marketing director Church & Dwight UK
Nicholas Wright (NW) Head of marketing Global Life, Zurich Financial Services
Ben Jackson (BJ) Head of enterprise salesExactTarget
Andrew Chothia (AC) Enterprise sales ExactTarget
David Almond (DA) Head of sales and marketing PVL

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Marketing Week (MW): What are the challenges of putting the customer at the centre of operations and are brands changing quickly enough to keep up with consumer needs?

Nicholas Wright (NW): I wouldn’t say we’ve cracked it at Zurich but I think we’ve broken the back of it through our customer-centricity drive.

In financial services, channel conflicts (among online operations, branches and independent financial advisers) have always hindered the customer. But now I think we’ve tackled the problem at board level.

Our chief executive puts customer centricity as one of the four main pillars of Zurich’s strategy. But what is customer centricity? It was thought to be customer satisfaction but it’s not. It’s about understanding the customer and giving them relevant service, and allowing them to navigate our silos on their terms, not us imposing on them. That is what finally allowed us to take a more integrated approach.

MW: So how do you drive a customer-centric ethos successfully across multiple channels?

If you take a luxury Swiss brand, the parent company spends a lot of time and effort building reputation. Trying to marry that with some of the conversion requirements in ecommerce is quite hard work. Online, you want nice white space and not so many bells and whistles to push the consumer along. There’s a fundamental disjoint between that and the brand’s needs. These brands are finding it difficult understanding how to manage this space. We have to prove to them that luxury can be sold in this way.

MW: How can we bring different channels together to better ensure a seamless customer experience?

Ian Godbold (IG): There are those who think the internet might go away again, so don’t put too much effort into it. Or, if it is still around, it will have changed so much anyway. Their feeling is that you can’t keep up with it so wait until it settles down.

As a branded goods manufacturer, rather than a direct retailer, a lot of this is also cost efficiency. We sell a lot of aerosols. Something that costs £3 to sell to someone, taking into account the packaging, won’t make a profit online.

MW: For service industries, is it possible to make online operations more customer centric by bringing in real-time elements? We also have a lot of pick-ups from concert venues with multiple exits. We can inform customers which exit they should take to meet their driver quickly.

MW: Are the challenges of staying customer-centric online different for business-to-business brands? People also have very different roles to fulfil [in their companies] and they are coming to our website with those roles in mind. We’re not so good at understanding the full customer journey at every touchpoint and engaging them across every channel.

MW: Is that because you’re not selling anything?

SHD: We do have products; we’re selling The Carbon Trust product. But perhaps we don’t have the pressure of physical delivery. Yet we can do a better job because if we’re not engaging users, then we’re not getting them back, not getting their data and not understanding what their needs are.

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MW: How do you drive engagement in a complex industry, such as financial services?

NW: Relevance. The extra headwind that financial services has is that no one trusts us. There is also the issue of emotional engagement versus willingness to buy online. You can sell credit cards all day online because if a consumer gets it wrong, they can cut it up and get another one. But it’s different for pension products, where there are consequences if they get it wrong.

The space that is ripe to play in is consideration. Your brand might drive awareness but the path to purchase for the average consumer could be anything. Someone might read a Sunday supplement to see what the options are or visit Moneysupermarket.com, use social media or ask friends their opinion. Trying to predict their path to you is pretty much impossible.

MW: Do you find a willingness inside your organisations to get customer engagement right?

NW: Yes. The old insurance idea of that ’guy from the Pru’ knocking on your door, awakening your need to invest and then convincing you how much you need to invest and finally closing the sale all in one channel is over.

Zurich has a relatively strong brand presence, awareness campaign and fulfilment distribution capability but we now need to own the consideration space. That is happening more online now. How can you drive people online and build the confidence that they’re not going to get ripped off? It’s about trying to find relevance, understanding the customer and segmenting them to work out where the under-served areas are.

MW: What data helps you drive that engagement internally?

NC: Our main driver of sales is email marketing. Social commerce is more difficult for a luxury business we’d never have a Facebook store, for example. We do have multichannel options, though our catalogues for example. They bring in a response and we can track those sales to see how successful they’ve been.

We use segmentation, content and targeting, and in the future I’d like to personalise emails using all the data that has been collected and do a lot more on customer relationship management.

SHD: Targeting and personalisation are so important no matter what industry you are in. It is all about relevance and understanding your customer. How do you get that data, how do you analyse it and how do you understand more about your customers and their journey? Even in the B2B sector, we’re engaging with people through mobile because it’s not about the channel, it’s about being there for customers when they need it. Ours is a very competitive market we have good products but you can get them elsewhere. We use email marketing to make sure we’re constantly in the face of our customers. They have to buy these products from somewhere, so why not buy from us? Talking about opting in, we still use the shotgun approach. We let people unsubscribe but we’re firing out there first of all.

Because we grew organically over 21 years, our in-house database is very good. They’re people we know. Even if they haven’t been a customer for 10 years, they know who we are. So we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of unsubscribe emails. The worst response we get is when we’ve bought in a list. We’re just dipping our toes in the world of social media. We thought LinkedIn would be great for us and it hasn’t been. I’m disappointed by the result.

MW: So how can you use the social channels effectively to suit your customers?

AH: We’d always considered having a social and mobile presence and our customers have accelerated that. We didn’t really have a major social element until during the summer festivals people started tweeting about us after booking us on the website, and suddenly lots more bookings came through and that was all without mobile site technology. We also started to see comments on customers’ Facebook pages where they asked friends if they wanted to share a cab. At some point, we are going to introduce social cab sharing.

AJ: We’re looking specifically at blogging and creating interesting content, fundamentally to drive search engine optimisation. We’re also trying to define customer groups. We have an incredibly broad range of watch brands and we can’t really communicate with customers unless we have a lot of data about them. Because of the wide price range, we have to be fairly clear on what we’re communicating and to whom.

People buying very expensive watches may also be picking up cheaper watches as family gifts.

What is quite interesting is where these people hang out online. Our luxury watch buyers are incredibly active on blogs and forums. They’re very passionate and a couple of forums in Europe are absolutely key in driving purchases.

The tricky bit is getting an opt-in. We can get people to ’like’ us, but getting them to type in their email address and find out the area they’re interested in, that’s a lot more complicated.

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BJ: It depends on your audience too. Phones4U’s head of social media, for example, is very clear that social media is his channel to communicate and drive people back to the website to buy. He feels email is less worthwhile as most of its consumers are so young they’ve grown up without it. Phones4U puts its offers through Facebook it’s converting a lot of people that way.

SHD: Social media can use a variety of tools to understand your target audiences. We did a campaign on offshore wind farms to get engineers to submit ideas for a groundbreaking solution. We did a lot of listening on Twitter and we identified key influencers. Interacting with them drove a huge amount of people back and we had an amazing response. Social media was used in a very particular way to say “these guys are technology fanatics and there are various ways of engaging them”. That’s what social media is good at.

MW: If social media does so well for some brands, does this mean that instant responses are expected by consumers?

IG: At an automotive event recently, one company had done research on the next generation 14 year olds. They didn’t want email, they wanted instant message, instant contact. As far as they’re concerned, why would they need to come out of Facebook? They can engage with friends, message, and read without going to another site. Look at the UK riots trending on Twitter some people were watching Twitter rather than Sky News. We use social media as a monitoring tool.

AC: The consumer is evolving their use of social media all the time and at such a pace that most brands are trying to play catch-up. If we use the riots as an example, messaging is free on BlackBerry, and Twitter is more or less instant. Speed and timeliness are becoming so important.

How can we get as much information as possible on any individual so that we can be relevant and we can make sure that our interaction is at the right time? Email might be where we’re most comfortable but we need to understand where our customer is. By default, we will find out how powerful and useful that communication channel is, so I think the social media explosion will continue.

HR: We’ve done a number of campaigns this year that have been potentially controversial. One for Femfresh intimate wash caused instantaneous Twitter chat. And, because some radio stations wouldn’t run our radio campaign, we ended up using [music streaming service] Spotify. It was unbelievable the amount of comments on Twitter about it. We’ve done lots of ads and never had any comments but now people have a voice and an ability to make that voice heard very quickly.

MW: So can social media help you gather data about the customer in order to help optimise your products and services? Our customers will sometimes use the internet to search for a holiday but they don’t like giving their credit card details over the internet that’s a generational issue. They’ll want to pick up the phone and speak to someone. But the call-centre operative won’t know they’ve been online or what holidays they’ve been searching for. Clearly they can’t then cross-sell or upsell them another product because the two aren’t linked.

MW: So how can we get ahead of the customer?

AH: I suggest that if you put an electronic device in front of a seven-year-old, they’ll start jabbing it. They’re not used to keys; they use touch. That’s going to have a profound impact on how websites are designed. Whether it’s a tablet or gesture-controlled TV such as Microsoft Kinect, you will see more of that coming through.

What that means is the level of data entry the customer will enter when making a transaction will somehow have to be reduced. They won’t want to be getting the credit card out and typing the numbers in. Companies will have to have a lot more data or have departments that hold this data, so it will need a kind of passport for customers to enable this.

NC: Since installing PayPal onto my sites, I’ve seen a sharp rise in traffic coming from mobile devices. I’m surprised at the mix of sales that PayPal is accounting for it’s about 15% and I thought it would be 5%. You’ve got Google Wallet too as a payment gateway. People don’t want to be typing in their numbers if they’re on a phone walking around.

BJ: Amazon does this very well with its one-click buying system. The site stores credit details on your phone or website, you put everything in the basket and one click buys the whole thing. It’s almost too easy.

MW: So how will we go about measuring how effectively we are being customer centric?

IG: The automotive industry is notorious for its lack of response rates. You could be looking to buy a £60,000 car, you might email the company and still no one will get back to you. We need to change that. We’ve embarked on a guest connect centre. It’s not a call centre. It’s monitoring our response times to be sure that every email is answered within the hour. It’s going to be hard to put in place but it is one true measure that you can give in managing response times, particularly as we’re not transactional, we’re a lead generation site.

NW: The part of customer centricity that I’m working on at the moment is the cross-sell and upsell. To do that well, you need to invest in customer insight, understand what the consumer wants and build a relevant value proposition, not just a product. Once you have something relevant, you can invest in data modelling and start upselling campaigns. When you’ve gone through that journey, it’s a virtuous circle.
AC: A fundamental element is that you need the organisation to believe in the customer-centric approach. That doesn’t exist in every organisation. Vision needs to be driven; it needs to be taken to the board. This isn’t the job for marketing alone.

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