By: Max Speur
Internet is everywhere now, no more a privilege commodity restricted for a few. Internet penetration is almost two-thirds of the population in mature markets, and it’s expected to go up further as smartphone penetration increases. With the advancement in the connectivity and the availability of affordable smart devices, today’s customers are more connected and more digital than ever.
This digital revolution—aided by Internet of Things and Social Media—has also changed the traditional customer behaviour and expectations, as customers get used to real-time, everything, everywhere information and services. This customer behaviour change has profound impact on the way enterprises across industries—be it financial services or digital and communications services or utilities—treat their customers.
But it’s not always easy to define today’s “typical” customer. Various factors have to be taken into account such as age, education and social background. However, customers in certain demographic groups, such as the younger, more computer-savvy generation, are increasingly characterised as digital ‘new age’ customers who have very clear expectations of what they expect from customer services – from product selection to point of sale, service delivery, and ongoing technical and customer support.
Such “digital natives”, as you could also describe them, have grown up in an increasingly virtualized world where e-commerce and online customer support are not only the norm but also the expectation. These customers expect to be able to buy any service or product they require online, anywhere and at any time. They also expect 24-hour support on every issue, from technical support to account queries. “Nine-to-five” is not part of the vocabulary of these customers, and it is incumbent on service providers to rethink how they do business—or risk losing these customers forever. Today’s customers are also not easily fobbed off with alternative suggestions; they know what they want and they will only buy what they want.
In essence, ensuring a good customer experience is now essential at all times because customers in today’s digital world are far more demanding than ever before. For instance, private and business customers of a telecom service provider will expect to be able to talk to the same customer service representative regardless of the service in question—whether voice, data, fixed broadband or mobile; they will quickly develop an aversion to a brand that still has a “silo-based” mentality to its different service offerings.
Digital customers expect a personalized, service that not only takes into account their individual needs but will also support multiple subscriptions from a single source should they subscribe to more than one service from a particular provider
As just one indication of how hard companies have to work to ensure a good customer experience in order to retain customers, Accenture’s 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Research shows that 66% of customers surveyed switched companies in at least one of 10 industries due to poor customer service. The survey also showed that 89% of consumers used at Least one online channel, and 79% expressed frustration when providers promise one thing but deliver another. These digital customers also have more power, and make good use of social media and online ratings sites to post comments.
The demands placed on service providers by this new breed of customer—particularly those service providers with well established and often legacy businesses that have been serving customers over decades—create challenges at multiple Levels. What’s more, changes in regulation also have to be taken into account. For example, a bank or telco is not permitted to use certain customer information for upselling or marketing. For an enterprise customer, net neutrality rules would prevent a preferred site from being given preference with regard to bandwidth allocation. If we look at how some industries have evolved, such as banks and telecommunications, it’s clear that considerable changes have already taken place. For example, although I did hear about a bank asking for faxed confirmation of a customer request to set up a standing order—and it is safe to say that any bank that still relies on fax machines in this way is not keeping up with the times—most modern banks these days have an increasingly sophisticated online presence. Not only can you now see and manage your accounts online, you can also carry out international transactions, pay bills online, and also have access to mobile apps that provide many of the same functions on your tablet or smartphone.
Similarly, in the telecoms world it is now possible to order your fixed or mobile service online, view and pay bills via direct debit and receive online customer support—often in the form of instant messaging.
Banks and telecoms have also converged with the advent of mobile payments, mobile banking and mobile commerce along with technology such as near-field communications that allow even easier ways of paying for goods and services. In the developing world, mobile money services have revolutionized the Lives of people who previously had access to neither a bank account nor a connected computer.
Although companies of all types—especially providers in the financial and communications sectors—have been implementing changes, there is still much to do. Why? As McKinsey puts it, tools and standards are changing faster than companies are able to react. “Customers will soon be able to search for products by image, voice, and gesture; automatically participate in others’ transactions; and find new opportunities via devices that augment their reality,” the company said in an article last year titled ‘Digitizing the consumer decision journey’.
What’s more, today’s digital ‘new age’ customers are not only extremely demanding they are also very unforgiving and all too ready to move on should they not get complete satisfaction.
This also applies to enterprise customers, which although have evolved at a slower place than consumers, are also now making increased use of online channels and increasingly expect better customer service. In a 2014 report on B2B customer experience, Accenture notes that the customer experience is rising in importance for B2B companies because of business customers’ higher expectations for customized and cloud-based solutions and their increasing price sensitivity, among other aspects.
What service providers such as banks and telcos must embrace is a complete digital transformation of their businesses to be able to act quickly and spot opportunities and problems before the customer does.
It’s easy to say, but not so easy to accomplish this. Accenture describes it well in its Global Consumer Pulse Research, noting that companies have typically been playing “not to Lose” instead of making carefully calculated moves to ensure growth. It’s no surprise that companies have erred on the side of caution against the backdrop of a global financial crisis in recent years, but while they tread carefully, their customers have continued to evolve.
Companies must be able to orchestrate the customer experience in such a way that the customer gets what he or she wants, when they want it, and how they want it.
Those service providers and businesses that do not take on this challenge risk failing to meet the expectations of their customers, in turn becoming obsolete and ultimately failing as customers go elsewhere. If they want to retain the loyalty and business of their customers as well as attract new customers, change is essential to engage in this new era of the digital customer experience.
So how do they do this? In one example, McKinsey provides a well-defined breakdown of the different steps that customers should be taking, from the application of advanced analytics in order to gain what it describes as a “360-degree view of the customer” to the crafting of a compelling customer experience that is tailored to customer needs and the creation of highly collaborative, cross-functional teams within organizations to ensure the delivery of the right customer experience at all times. Indeed, customer experience analytics is the new competitive battleground where companies will fight for the loyalty of the customer.
Revenue management and business assurance systems are important tools to help achieve this digital transformation and ensure a good customer experience. Service providers risk confusing and potentially losing customers if they have inaccurate bills, or billing and revenue management capabilities that don’t support customers’ desired ways of interacting with the providers of digital products or financial products and services. The use of such tools can help remove all silos within a company’s legacy organization to provide a “360-degree” view of the customer, thereby ensuring a customer experience that looks completely seamless from the outside.
Companies failing to react to the changing customer behaviour in the digital world, will be unable to keep up with the pace of change and face the risk of Losing the hearts and minds of the digital ‘new age’ customer.