All Articles Marketing Media How the customer experience sets you apart in the age of social business: Part 1 -- The value of knowing your customer

How the customer experience sets you apart in the age of social business: Part 1 — The value of knowing your customer

6 min read


Customer satisfaction is an aim that every company — whether in the B2C or B2B business — has been pursuing for years. Or at least that’s what they all claim. Whether companies actually do what it takes to satisfy their customers is another question altogether. Back in my days at FileNet, we had customer satisfaction surveys conducted. Our variable salaries were partly linked to the index value, so it was in management’s own financial interest to make sure customers were happy.

The way I see it, customer satisfaction has become even more important in the age of social business, since social media channels have given customers much more power. In the past, complaints could often be swept under the carpet. But now it’s easy to make them public, so keeping customers happy is becoming more important than ever. In English, a term has emerged that goes beyond mere customer satisfaction. “Customer experience” is all about the consumer’s overall experience with a company and its products and services.

That naturally raises the question of what a good customer experience actually is. I’ve made a stab at answering this, and I’m grateful for any comments and additions you may have. First of all, customer experience can obviously vary from business to business. If I’m speaking to Deutsche Telekom about my home phone line, that’s something very different to whether I — as a B2B customer — am satisfied with the introduction of new business software. But despite the differences, there are surely lots of similarities. So I’m going to take a general approach to the issue for now. No matter whether I’m a private or a corporate customer, the most important thing is that the company knows me. It may sound banal, but personal and personalized service is and will always be extremely important. That means that the company needs to have a comprehensive picture of me as a customer — which isn’t always as easy as it may sound.

Let’s take Telekom, for example. For many years, its landline and cell phone business ran side by side. The various representatives and organizations in charge of customer service did not necessarily know whether you had a contract with another part of the company, or what technical equipment you used. But, as the networks converged and as the Internet (the mother of all networks) boomed, that all had to change. Today, I expect my online account to give me to access to all my telecommunications information, and I expect the customer service representative I call to also have access to it. That may sound obvious, but you can’t take it for granted, especially in a B2B context, where it can actually be impossibly complicated.

That brings us to a second important issue: Customers are increasingly using a variety of channels to contact the companies they do business with. In the past, people used to go to the nearest bank branch. Then ATMs and machines that could carry out everyday banking transactions became more and more common. Today, most people use online banking. And they are no longer tied to their computer at home — they can use the services on their smartphones and tablet PCs.

Customers are interacting with companies via different screens — computer, tablet, smartphone, TV — and they not only want to have their personal and personalized information available on all of them, they also want to have access to the same functions and features. Providing them with that is no mean feat. After all, using online banking on a smartphone will obviously be different to using it on a computer, simply due to the size of the screens. Tablets are somewhere in between. Then, depending on the industry, a business has to decide whether to offer an app or whether it is enough to “just” find a sensible solution that allows its site to react and adapt to different screens. I won’t go into the subject of voice control here, but it looks likely that we will soon be able to use online services via voice control as well as mouse, touch screen and motion control.

Siri and friends are waiting in the wings. You often hear the term “multichannel” applied to the support of various end devices and screens I mentioned above, but the term should definitely cover much more than that. A coherent multichannel experience would certainly have to include phone and — depending on the type of business — face-to-face contact in stores or at events. It makes you feel good when a customer service representative “knows” you. Of course, that can take different forms. It can mean actually knowing someone personally, or it might simply mean that the person answering your call has access to the relevant information in the CRM or call-center system.

But whatever form it takes, “knowing” customers is certainly in the best interests of any company. If I know what my customers have already purchased, I know what other products or services I might recommend or sell to them. And I need to know what customers have bought and are using in order to help efficiently when problems occur. Those are two key aspects of a good customer experience: service, and cross- and upselling. I’ll start with the latter. I still love that Amazon recommends new products to me based on my previous purchases. It knows that I like wine mysteries, so it shows me titles that fit that bill. I find that information useful and I see it as added value, not as annoying advertising. What I do find annoying is when online shops where I’ve bought wine bombard me with marketing e-mails, special offers and newsletters.

The way I see it, personalized advertising that builds on what the customer already owns, identifies gaps and spots ways to expand the relationship is much more effective than trying to ram something down people’s throat by inundating them with spam mail and other in-your-face methods. These tactics produce the opposite of a positive customer experience but unfortunately companies still resort to them far too often.

Coming on Monday: Translating customer knowledge into great customer service.

Stefan Pfeiffer is IBM Deutschland’s marketing lead for social business in Europe. You can read more of his work on his blog.