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The New Era of Customer Relationships

By Brad Cleveland

The future is underway. We are, even now, seeing the emergence of the greatest customer movement in history.

Studies reveal that the vast majority of consumers now use search engines, social communities and feedback sites to better understand a company’s commitment to service before making brand or product decisions. Bad experiences (even if they are one in many thousands of interactions from an internal perspective) end up on blogs, tweets, video posts and rating sites – all readily found through search. Good experiences also spread quickly, and organizations that consistently deliver great service can build phenomenal and resilient brand loyalty.

In short, customer service – and its central component, customer communication – have never been more important. So, what will the next era of customer communication look like? How will organizations need to evolve to remain competitive?

From the customer’s perspective, accessibility to information and service will continue to evolve dramatically. Today’s smart phones, location-based services, video capabilities, social media, and similar developments, point to a future where resources are only a click (or voice prompt) away. Mono-media (i.e., traditional telephone) interactions will fade, as emerging multi-media capabilities enable face-to-face dialog, seamless sharing of files and content, and new kinds of communities and interactions. (As I write, I am preparing for a keynote to a U.K. audience next week, which I will co-deliver with another presenter in the U.S. – all through a video conference service that is inexpensive and readily available.)

How will customers use these capabilities? Who will they reach out to? A big part of the answer will be in communities of people who have similar interests: other customers of specific companies, products or services; those interested in similar issues (i.e., travel, political concerns, health matters, local interests); others who are facing similar opportunities or challenges. In many cases, these communities will be formed dynamically and quickly through readily available search and collaboration capabilities.

These trends are requiring organizations to rethink services and to redouble efforts to understand customers. The contact center’s role is changing significantly – and becoming more important than ever. The next generation contact center will be the internal engine organizations depend on not only to handle interactions with customers, but also to listen to and engage in external communities. And it will be integrated with other business functions at a much deeper level, e.g., to help operations pinpoint quality problems, marketing develop more focused campaigns, IT design better systems, and to be an early indicator of marketplace developments and changing customer needs.

The nature of contact center work will also change. The contact center jobs that are growing – and many predictions suggest underlying growth in these jobs will outpace the overall job market – will require more complex analysis, human know-how, and a good measure of empowerment. Interactions will increasingly involve multiple channels and serve customers that are connected, informed about their options and diverse in their needs and expectations.

What does your organization need to do now to prepare for the changes ahead? I believe there are a handful of critical success factors:

  • First, provide a full range of access choices to customers – enabling them to reach the information and service they need through the channel they want to use. This includes cultivating, supporting and helping to build communities that matter to your customers.
  • Second, tend to the essentials – manage workloads effectively so that as customer needs evolve, your organization is accessible and provides consistent high levels of service and quality.
  • Third – take every opportunity during service delivery to build customer relationships and capture insight that can be used for innovation and product improvement.
  • Finally (and this is a prerequisite to the above), build a strong organization (hire right, train well) with a cross-functional commitment to understanding and serving customers.

Organizations that rely on past practices will pay a heavy price. But the returns for those who understand the trends and cultivate the right services will likely be significant and include benefits such as:

  • Extraordinary loyalty
  • Cost efficiencies (right channel for the right purpose)
  • Customer driven innovation
  • Improved market share
  • Additional sales and revenue
  • And positive brand recognition and word of mouth

This is a time of great change. The future promises enormous opportunity for any organization to build strong customer relationships and differentiate through service.

Please drop me a note with your stories, comments, feedback… I’d love to hear from you.

This article was originally published by ICMI, www.icmi.com

Copyright 2015, Brad Cleveland.