Integrating technology with customer experience

Without robust integration between technology and customer experience, the encounters that consumers have with brands offline and online can be inconsistent.

In the US, research by senior marketing executive community The CMO Club and IT provider Oracle suggests brands can avoid this if they have a closer collaboration with technology companies, deliver consistent and improving customer experiences.

The study ‘The CMO Solution Guide to Leveraging New Technology and Marketing Platforms’ reveals that 21% of CMOs do not know where to start in terms of understanding a customer’s end-to-end experience with their brand.

On this side of the pond many European businesses are not yet taking the necessary steps to unlock the value and opportunities provided by their customers’ digital experiences.

A new study from Oxford Economics and Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work reveals that only a third of senior executives at companies based in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordics believe that their customers’ experience on digital assets could be described as ‘high quality’. This includes websites, apps, mobile services, in-store digital devices and wearables.

The effective integration of technology and customer experience is as much of an issue offline as online, of course.

In the UK sandwich franchise brand Subway took an integrated approach and spent a lot of time researching its customer base before re-launching the Subcard loyalty scheme.

By the end of last year customers had redeemed 59m Subcard points, which is equivalent to 118,000 free six-inch Subs. There are currently 2.4m registered Subcard users in the UK.

“Technology is helping to inform our market research strategy,” says Roger Cusa, head of marketing Subway UK and Ireland. He adds: “There is an impact from having sales data at our fingertips in real time because we can capitalise on a successful limited time offer.”

In January the company introduced the Chipotle Chicken Melt for a limited time as part of the Subway £3 lunch offer. The four weeks of in-store data captured during the campaign revealed it was a best-seller for the time period so the brand knew it should extend the offer and allocate extra funds to TV advertising.

Another brand integrating technology and customer experience offline as well as online is tyre wholesaler and retailer Protyre. It has 60 retail centres and is expanding nationally by acquiring local garages. Its challenge is to retain the trust these local businesses have built up in the local community.

The CRM system and web portal collects information about each customer, their transactions, their vehicle and the depth of their tyre tread.

Head of retail marketing Morgan Jamison says the company needs to understand the lifetime value of each customer and know when someone’s tyres or brakes might need changing. He is trying to make buying a tyre a positive safety and car maintenance experience rather than a distress purchase.

“We build trust by not selling tyres if people do not need them,” he says. “We will tell someone they have a few thousand miles left and then contact them a few months later when we are more likely to secure a sale.”

Subway researched its customer base before relaunching its loyalty card scheme

The data the company collects also reveals how many people leave it late before replacing their tyres, with many tyres below the legal limit of a 1.6mm tread. “The data we have on individual customers means we can run customer safety awareness campaigns which encourage people into our centres.”

The company works with call tracking and marketing analytics software provider Mediahawk, which records all customer calls to local centres that can be attributed to offline and online enquiries. It provides insight into every visitor’s online journey and the keywords, web pages and internet sources that result in phone calls to the local branch.

Brands that use this type of tracking can even add a small piece of code to their website to generate an exclusive telephone number for every visitor. They can also print a unique telephone number on offline marketing literature such as flyers or press advertising.

“The tracking revealed that online paid media was working better than initially thought because many purchases were taking place offline,” says Jamison. “Recording calls also gives us a better understanding of the consumer experience and staff performance.”

The rise in content marketing and the use of technology to produce it and gather data is exciting many brand owners.

Diageo, for instance, has created a real-time database of customer interests that it uses for ongoing market research into what content is the most effective for the Guinness online lifestyle publication 1759. The content itself is used to collect first-party data from readers who receive personalised messages based on their tastes and how they consume the content.

The brand implemented the Idio content strategy and intelligence platform and within the first six months email open rates for 1759 increased by 332% CTRs by 190% and the time people spend on the site rose by 121%.

High-end brands are also integrating technology to improve customer experience.

Private jet booking business PrivateFly.com has an online platform and app that integrates with a live global network of more than 7,000 accredited aircraft. It can pinpoint the best available private planes and arrange charters within 90 minutes.

Marketing director Carol Cork says the data collection process is simple. The company mostly uses Google analytics and strong SEO to drive traffic to its website, which is translated into 13 languages all carrying relevant content.

“The content you produce must be insightful and reflect your brand values and the data tells us what people want to read about,” says Cork. “For instance, we write about aviation, luxury goods and Formula 1 and how people can get to a race using a private jet.”

PrivateFly wants to do more face-to-face user testing with, for example, groups of personal assistants who tend to book the planes on behalf of CEOs, high network individuals and families.

Snack brand Graze changed 60% of its products after feedback from US customers

Content driven by technology and data is also crucial in the B2B space.

The online service Expert Market, part of the MVF group and recognised as the UK’s fastest growing tech company in 2014 on the Sunday Times Tech Track 100, helps companies to source office equipment and business services.

Its analytics revealed that a lot of visitors were requesting information on call forwarding services but there was no relevant content on the site. In response, features and reviews relating to call forwarding and call monitoring were added and the number of people requesting quotes increased.

“Purchasing decisions are far more considered for B2B products because the purchase affects the wider organisation, meaning the professional reputation of the resource manager is at risk,” says website manager Michael Horrocks.

“We are using technology, data and research to instil confidence in our visitors’ purchasing decisions by equipping them with all the necessary information they might need. If the average time spent on a page is low and the bounce rate is high, this is our customers telling us that things need to improve.”

In the utility sector, market research, and the technology and data that powers it, is crucial in ensuring customers are not tempted to switch suppliers.

E.On has an online customer panel of 28,000 residential and 1,200 business customers, and holds regular face-to-face meetings to discover how it can improve. The company’s tools, such as its Saving Energy Toolkit and Energy Toolkit for companies, also deliver insights that are used to enhance the customer experience, as do 400,000 smart meters.

E.On employs the big data platform Opower 6 to boost its revenues, margins, customer satisfaction and to market new products. The Opower behavioural science, data management and analytics software provides data that tells E.On’s customers if they are heading towards a high bill. It also generates personalised tips on saving energy.

“These technologies provide customers with disaggregated information about exactly how and where energy is used, offering them information to better control their energy consumption,” says E.On’s B2B and marketing director Anthony Ainsworth.

Technology is used by all brands in some form or another, but even for online businesses there must still be a place for marketers to act on gut feeling to boost customer experience.

When snack delivery brand Graze.com decided to launch its business into the United States last year it did not want to waste time collecting data on the local market. Instead it launched its complete UK range across the Atlantic knowing that some of its items would not suit American tastes.

It had confidence in its ability to react quickly to whatever feedback it received.

“For us it was a matter of finding out on the ground what people would like and what they would not. We ended up changing 60 per cent of our products for the US market,” says Graze.com CEO Anthony Fletcher. “Some British items that did well included our flap jacks and high quality granola bar, but the Bonnie Wee Oatbakes with red onion marmalade were not so popular.”

This is a refreshing story, especially as brands can easily be overcome by the vast swathes of data produced by the technology systems they invest in. Nevertheless, the data and the insight they gather is a powerful weapon for effective market research strategy and ultimately an improved customer experience.

Businesses must see sense and act now on the experience of every customer at every touchpoint because billions of pounds, euros and dollars of outcomes rest on driving change in customer experience (CX) programmes.

As Dixons head of retail Sebastian James suggests, making sense of big data, including social media activity, online history, ecommerce interactions and traditional customer data, is a challenge. It is also an opportunity for companies to emphasise how they are different.

To implement an effective, future-oriented customer experience programme in today’s world, companies must design a programme that helps them understand how their customers experience a brand at every touchpoint that matters.

They must engage with people in an easy-to-use and non-intrusive way, and analyse and synthesise the data this provides with other data points and omnichannel feedback to detect trends and risks. And, they need tools to disseminate the information to key stakeholders in real time so they can act quickly and personally.

The future of customer experience will be rooted in the synthesis of these crucial elements.

This is why Maritz Research and Allegiance merged to form MaritzCX. Maritz Research’s market sector, marketing science and research consulting and programme management expertise combined with Allegiance’s award winning software is the recipe to successfully drive CX outcomes.

Today technology is a key enabler in state-of-the-art CX programmes. Just a few years back technology was primarily used to collect customer feedback in a more efficient way. Now it can turn CX measurement surveys into true CX management programmes.

Dashboards provide a quick and relevant performance overview and point to the action required. This is a platform that synthesises data from multiple sources, so brands are clearer about the most effective action to take from their big data and automated text analytics.

Using customer feedback, operational and behavioural data, and other external data such as weather forecasts, successful organizations can use predictive analytics to influence customer behaviour before it happens.

Just as Amazon knows what its customers’ preferences are, companies can use the latest technology to provide their staff and stakeholders with action tools to be more relevant and individual, and to act quicker.

The outcome of a modern CX programme is better customer service, a higher retention rate, a growing customer base and greater lifetime value of each customer, which ultimately boosts company profits.

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