Archives For Customer Experience

Online business is gearing up for an exciting leap forward over the next five years as artificial intelligence really starts to take a run at some big hurdles in the online selling arena.

Our top business technology brands have been focussing on AI for a while now, and we’re becoming familiar with bots like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. But what are the practical improvements we can expect in the near future?

Enterprise SaaS company Flamingo, supported by SugarCRM, recently led a survey that highlighted how the market is ready on all sides to embrace artificial intelligence online.

Send more Chatbots!

On the consumer side, just over three quarters of people surveyed said they’re comfortable using chatbots and think they would improve the online experience. It follows on the business side, 73% said chatbots are relevant and almost 60% are seriously considering using chatbots within the next five years.

So customers are already expecting to engage with AI as part of their experience. Customer experience is ultimately about loyalty and profitability – so it’s good to see that two out of three people surveyed said their customer experience program objectives align with their organizational mission. But how exactly do chatbots fit into the customer experience story?
robot-customer-service

 

What’s a bot to do?

One of the most vexing problems today is that potential shoppers frequently abandon online purchases or applications at some point in the process. A whopping 60% of consumers surveyed said they’ve done so in the last three months. So it’s clear that businesses aren’t successfully guiding even half of their potential customers through the online buying process.

There’s light at the end of this tunnel though. 77% of consumers say immediate online help would increase their likelihood of completing transactions, and 85% of businesses say it would improve online sales conversation rates.

So online AI should be well-received, but chatbot interaction has to be meaningful. Without meaningful help, potential customers will simply leave.

This is what the next generation of chatbots will tackle. They won’t just spit out pre-determined answers to customer questions, they’ll also examine customer and employee interactions over time to offer increasingly meaningful guidance.

Flamingo is already developing just such a chatbot called Rosie. According to Flamingo, “Rosie is knowledgeable and responsive, she is able to guide customers through any problem, and she learns as she goes.”

SugarCRM has also announced that its intelligent digital assistant named Candace is currently in development. Candace is, in part, being designed to remove the need for people to insert, add and modify information in their CRM manually. It will bring in data from outside sources to enhance the view of the customer and will call out important insights and make recommendations.

For now, we’ll need to compromise a little; with the next wave of chatbots there’s likely to be a practical approach where a human can be called in immediately if a shopper poses a difficult question – great news for the one fifth of consumers who are not happy with chatbots because they can’t always answer everything.

The question of just how “human” chatbots should be is still on the table: male or female? Young or old? Friendly and polite or just knowledgeable? There are some hints at general preferences but perhaps each brand should decide for itself, based on what’s best for their audiences – which makes it critical to understand exactly who customers are and what they want.

Flamingo’s survey shows there’s a growing appetite for meaningful AI from both consumers and businesses. Getting AI integrated with existing business systems and CRM is critical if businesses want to take customer experience to the next level with this new human-shaped technology.

The Flamingo Customer Experience Inc survey report is called “Conversational Commerce and ChatBots: Business & Consumer Usage and Attitudes (Nov 2016)”. The survey was conducted by Fifth Quadrant and sponsored by SugarCRM.

If you are interested in a copy of the full report, drop me an email at vmikhail@sugarcrm.com

 

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Banking Strategies)

Not too long ago in financial services professionals built relationships — and created a positive experience — by meeting the customer in person for coffee or lunch. The customer would then gain confidence in the professional’s knowledge and ability to anticipate and address their needs.

Today, the financial services landscape has changed, and it’s all about “digital.” Digital technologies have revolutionized how banks communicate with customers. Just as sending a letter to a client doesn’t work in today’s world, businesses can no longer rely only on email or the phone. Modern customers want real-time communications and personalized customer experiences.

In fact, a recent Frost and Sullivan report shows almost one-half of financial services customers use three or more communications channels in a year. Whether it’s instant message, mobile applications, websites or social media, customers now have multiple channels at their disposal. They now demand and expect the same level of personalized customer experience regardless of the medium.

However, there is a digital downside. The digital revolution makes communications significantly more complex for banks, credit unions and other financial services institutions. Even without the lunches of yesteryear, financial institutions still must provide personal, unified and memorable customer journeys to remain competitive. Research by Gartner reinforces this point, with 89 percent of companies reporting that they compete solely based on customer experience. This presents an even bigger challenge to financial services industries: Besides increasing their customer numbers, they must also retain current customers — that are more engaged and knowledgeable than ever before.

Meeting customer demand is necessary in any industry, but especially critical in the global banking sector, which has a reputation for “lack of commitment.” And since digital communications make it easier for customers to switch companies, it becomes clear that financial companies must find ways to use the digital world to their advantage.

So what can financial institutions do to embrace the digital age? And, is there really a modern-day equivalent to meeting in person for customer retention?

The answer lies with the customer journey. A guiding principle should be to plan this, and align your business operations with the average customer life cycle. You can do this by conducting an easy “customer journey exercise.” Start by identifying how a customer typically makes a purchase and examine the customer life cycle and interactions with the company. This will help you learn where your company fails to meet customer needs. Once finished, the customer journey exercise will become a best-practices document you can use as a company-wide resource.

With the advent of social media channels, all businesses must truly understand and know their customers. This requires research and deep knowledge of the customer base. Customer relationship management (CRM) technologies help companies navigate these new channels. Customer services teams can have access to all customer information in context to fully understand a complaint. Having all the facts associated with a situation or account remains critical to provide great customer service. For instance, a customer service representative will be more effective handling a complaint when he knows whether a purchase is from a loyal customer and whether they prefer to communicate via Twitter or Facebook.

However, embracing the digital age doesn’t mean discarding human interaction. I still advocate for people actually talking to their customers: It just needs to be relevant. Combining digital technologies with human touchpoints represents the best formula for providing context and creating a unique customer experience.

Meeting customer demands in today’s digital age requires dedication, research and planning from companies. Incorporating these new digital and social methods is essential to make financial services organizations more agile, quicker to respond and better able to provide a unique (and personalized) customer journey across all channels.

Remember, we’ve all been customers ourselves. Shouldn’t these be the goals of customer service?

I just returned from a jam-packed two days at the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit in Las Vegas. While there, I met with analysts, existing SugarCRM customers, and a lot of prospects and IT leaders looking for the next “big thing” in application software.

gartnerimage002After dozens of great conversations, it is exciting to know that the IT and line of business leaders who attended are driving change in their organizations – mainly around the customer experience. And, perhaps more important, they are doing so in ways that align perfectly with the vision we have here at SugarCRM.

Here are some key takeaways I brought back from the event. I think they are pretty telling about the state of the industry and where we need to be as solution providers for businesses of all sizes looking to reinvent the ways they interact and build customer relationships:

Disruption is a serious issues for nearly ALL industries. I spoke with (and spoke to during my breakout session) individuals from all types of industries – both old, establish firms and even some startups. They ALL said they feel disruption BOTH from digital native upstarts as well as see the changing demands of the customer as disruptive forces.

Transformation over Migration/Modernization. I LOVED hearing that those with older technologies performing CRM functions were looking to go broader and truly transform their cultures and engagement strategies, and NOT simply put in more up to date systems. Right now is a time for transformation, not migration.

You gotta have a platform to win. In nearly every conversation we had with those managing a transformation, or even a broad CRM initiative – they indicated the need for a process-driven platform at the heart of the project. We built the Sugar platform, and embedded advanced workflow, with these types of projects in mind.

CX and CRM are Merging. Well, maybe to be more accurate, as one Gartner analysts described to me – “CRM is becoming a subset of CX.” Meaning, all businesses need some sort of core CRM tool, which can be a foundational system to power broader, more inclusive, end-to-end and omni-channel CX initiatives. I think the attendees are still bewildered around how to create a wholly inclusive CX strategy, but we as an industry need to be experts and be there to help guide them.

Value Matters, Always. We had hundreds of people coming by our booth at the conference and one overarching theme was that a lot of companies simply do not feel they are receiving value for the biggest and entrenched enterprise CRM players. We had a lot of productive conversations about how to drive value inside a CRM/CX initiative – and as more CIOs and business leaders are pressed to do more with less, we will continue to strive to be a leading value-oriented provider for all types of businesses.

Ultimately, it is comforting, energizing and exciting that we have built up a portfolio of offerings and solutions that align well with the needs and visions today’s business leaders see as necessary to remain successful in their respective markets. Thanks to all of the attendees and analysts with whom I had the pleasure of speaking to at the event. It was an awesome few days of learning and sharing ideas!

The scientific method is an elegant one – always experimenting in the pursuit of the truth and accepting that new facts overturn previous belief. Our experiences shape and builds our understanding, and and it’s critical to never assume we know everything.

Great marketing is borne of this mindset. Best practices, judgment, and instinct guide marketing strategy, but what sets makes it great is the practice of experimenting, observing, analyzing and breaking new ground.

If you’re a Marketer today, and you’re not thinking this way, it’s time to reflect on whether you’re doing your best.

Marketing must be transformational

Your organization might be failing because it’s not responding to changes in your marketplace. And, you might not even know it.

Unless you acknowledge that marketing needs to adopt an inquiring and observational mindset in order to identify and lead business transformation, then you’re missing a huge opportunity – for you and for your organization.

We’ve seen some spectacular failures where brands just haven’t responded to change quickly enough; Borders and Blockbusters have become sad case studies in failure. And, we’ve seen others like Amazon and Uber who have not only responded to new customer preferences, but been forward-thinking enough to shape them. So what about your organization? How can you make sure it’s a master of change, not a slave to it?

Understand and experiment based on holistic observation

Be brave enough to keep asking questions about your customers and your organization, and develop the means to answer them. Stay close to your customers – understanding what they want and why, what they’re doing, when and how.

This isn’t a new idea. But there are modern approaches that provide new insight, about customers, and opening up a whole new line of understanding. It has the potential to keep us right on the pulse of change so we can tell the organization how to respond.

What exactly is this new method?

SugarCRM recently partnered with Telsyte to talk with 255 CMOs in Australian & New Zealand about how they’re getting closer to customers and shaping business transformation based on their observations.

From those results, we produced a report for marketing leaders entitled “Digital Leaders Use Customer Journey Maps to Guide Business Transformation.”

The paper looks at the value of personas and customer journey maps in relation to business transformation, and some of the practical steps to implementing them.

About half the Marketing leaders said:

“Our team promotes an understanding of the customer across the organization, helping to shape its entire approach to business transformation.”

Are you in this half?

 

We can all picture a swan gliding calmly over still waters. As business people, most of us can’t help thinking of those two legs beneath, paddling tirelessly, navigating currents, rocks, weeds and the odd pinching crab.

In the business world, you need to paddle hard to be a swan these days. Consumers’ expectations of always-on, mobile-friendly digital services are crossing industry boundaries so that it’s not good enough to just be better than your direct competitors. Instead, your business is being compared with the best customer experience in every industry. If it’s too complicated to get something done on a small screen with tiny keys, then your customers go elsewhere.

Further, every industry is at risk of disruption by new digital-native entrants, whose business models are designed with a customer-centric digital strategy first, and who move with an agility that established businesses struggle to match.

Customer Experience

In the past, “customer experience” has been something you could bolt onto a business, but in this age of the customer, the customer experience goes to the heart of every business model.

Analyst group Forrester refers to the three E’s of customer experience; Was the experience effective in achieving the outcome the customer desired? Was the experience easy to complete? Was it enjoyable; or at least leave the customer in as good a mood as when they started?

Even if your business provides an effective service to historically loyal customers, if your competitors can provide a similar service that is easier and more enjoyable, then you are at risk of losing that loyalty.

The burden of complexity must sit somewhere

How do you make experiences easy and enjoyable? Unfortunately, it is often the case that the easier it looks for the customer, the harder your company needs to paddle under to the water to deliver the great experience.

Every business has to have structure and departments; it is why we often refer to companies as “organizations”. However, the particular idiosyncrasies of your organizational structure are not the customer’s problems. Customers don’t need to know that a particular interaction crosses three departments. The burden of this complexity shouldn’t be pushed onto the customer. They don’t care.

So how can you manage this complexity?

There was a time where the answer was to buy a fully integrated application that crossed all business functions. Unfortunately, the reality is that IT systems evolve at different rates; ERP systems that manage finances and warehouses evolve more slowly than CRM and Marketing Automation systems, and new social media management tools are released each week.

As a result, a fully integrated suite is likely to be really good in one area but result in a whole lot of compromises in others. These compromises may impact aspects of the customer journey today, or reduce your agility by preventing you from changing components in the future.

Best practice today involves favoring agility over efficiency. A highly efficient system that restricts your company’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing customer demand will ultimately cost you dearly. “Orchestrating” information systems so they share data through loosely coupled web-services or middleware layers provides the ability to deliver great a customer experience, and easily replace any individual technology component that starts to play out of tune.

No-one is an expert any more – make data driven decisions

It used to be that 25 years experience in an industry would make you an expert on how your customers behave. Now, customer behavior is changing so fast that you it’s dangerous to rely on these long-held “gut-feeling” type opinions.

Today we’re awash in data. Use what data you have, or start to gather the evidence you need to make decisions. When you’re unsure, run experiments; test ideas. Resist hubris, and be humble enough to accept that the accepted wisdom may no longer be true.

Understand Customers

Ultimately it is the customer that matters to every business. If you want to understand your customers, you need to embrace complexity and turn it to your advantage, use your Customer Relationship Management system to consolidate information and surface new insight. Who are your ideal customers of the future and why? What motivates them, what will their journeys look like, and how can you redesign your business to deliver the best customer experience?

Be the swan. Use technology and insight to focus on all the right questions, and create elegant, simple answers. Your customers will thank you for it.

 

 

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Business Insider Australia)

Buyers always want the best customer experience and so sellers must constantly reassess what the new “best” means, and transform themselves to deliver it. This is more important than ever for businesses competing in a buzzing, digitized market.

This is why leaders understand the importance of business change, and their long-term strategies cater for experimentation and innovation. But innovation isn’t one-size-fits-all for every area of the business, so what does it mean for marketers?

From a strategic perspective, the more marketing looks at the business from the outside, the more it can help to transform it from the inside. A brilliant way to get externally-focussed like this is to actually “become” the customer.

You can do this by creating a true-to-life, virtualized world of customers and their journeys through the business. While this sounds lofty, it’s possible with the right technology and by using a practical step-by-step approach.

Telsyte and SugarCRM recently produced a report for marketing leaders, titled “Digital Leaders Use Customer Journey Maps to Guide Business Transformation” It draws on feedback from 255 CMOs surveyed in the 2015 Australian and New Zealand Digital marketer Study.

Just over half the marketing leaders said, “Our team promotes an understanding of the customer across the organization, helping to shape its entire approach to business transformation.” Six common themes stood out:

  1. Predict and embrace change

There’s no doubt that change is happening – fast and merciless – as we watch some brands like Uber and Amazon thrive while others like Blockbuster and Borders have collapsed. A common thread is the way these brands respond to changes in customer preferences – to what ‘the best customer experience’ looks like. Some embrace the new best, while others seem to keep doing what they’ve always done and stagnate themselves into irrelevance.

Businesses need a logical and intelligent way to understand and engage with their markets, to constantly figure out what they need to change and why.

Marketing can help to identify and respond to change by creating virtual world of customer types and the interactions they have with the business. This system, which is based on real-world customer behaviors, tells the business what ‘best’ means to any customer at any point. It’s based on customer journey maps populated with customer personas.

  1. Define your customers with personas

You can think of a persona as “a fictional individual that represents a group of people with similar needs and behaviors, and aims to bring this group to life.”

Consider, as an example, the imaginary persona of ‘Brian’. First you create a short story of his current situation based on the information you have, and then distill this into a fact-based profile that shows exactly what’s important to him. This is powerful stuff, and now marketing can creatively engage with Brian, and anyone in the business who has contact with him can help to deliver Brian’s own specific idea of ‘best customer experience.’

The information you use to build personas can come from a number of sources – perhaps it’s anecdotal, gleaned from people around the business who have contact with Brian. Or maybe it’s a set of facts taken from a survey that Brian completed.

Don’t despair if you think you don’t have the budget to create personas. You can start simply by creating ‘assumption personas’ based on whatever insight you can gather from around the business. You can hone these personas every time you come by qualitative insight from observation, direct contact or formal research.

Looking at customer data over time will allow you to make new judgements too, like “most people matching Brian’s profile tend to abandon a website if they can’t work out how to navigate it right away.”

  1. Use your persons to build a customer journey

Now you have a set of personas, it’s time to see how they interact with your business. Customer journey maps put the personas into real-world context by visually modelling the steps the customer follows as they find, buy, use or talk about what you’re selling.

By going alongside the customer as they take a journey through your business, you can see what’s important, when and why. You can identify points where the business isn’t providing exactly what the customer wants, or where things are inconsistent and confusing, and help those areas to make changes. By shaping the ‘best’ journey like this, you can guide the customer to their final destination and make the whole experience something that sets you apart.

You can engage user experience designers to create detailed customer journey maps for you, but if you don’t have budget to set aside you can start by sketching them out yourself. Try running workshops around the business with individuals and teams who have contact with customers who can give you relevant insight. You can improve and build on your maps with information you glean from your ongoing marketing activities.

Whichever way you choose to develop your maps, be sure to make them relevant and useable. Startlingly, a huge 45% of organizations surveyed said they do have customer journey maps but rarely use them.

So what makes a customer journey map useable? It should clearly highlight information that various parts of the business can use to shape the customer experience at their points of contact. You might want to list a clear set of steps and label which departments are responsible for the experience at each step.

There are a number of ways to visually present your customer journey maps, each with its own advantages and limitations. Whatever you choose, be sure that the people who need to use your maps understand their value and how to use them.

If you’re keeping your maps up to date, you’ll quickly see when customer preferences and behaviors are changing. And if the business is actively using your maps, it can quickly respond to this change. This is a key enabler for successful digital business transformation.

  1. Make personas and customer journeys work in the real world

Your personas and customer journey maps will most likely be created and updated with both qualitative and quantitative data captured from multiple sources. Bringing data together like this is easiest with a modern CRM software. A best-in-class CRM integrates with other systems and forms a unifying backbone for both sharing and gathering customer information across every part of the organization.

Once your personas and customer journey maps are created, people in direct contact with customers need to easily match customers to a persona, to see where they are in their journeys and act accordingly.

The key word here “easy.” For most businesses, their customers’ journeys are messy and complex. Maps make sense of them, and when they’re made available via the CRM throughout the business, orchestrating great customer journeys – and evolving with change – becomes much easier.

  1. Create a culture of customer experience

The point of having personas and customer journey maps is to support customer-centered decision-making across the business. Once you’ve created your personas and maps, and then made them accessible and easy to use, the next challenge is to motivate people to actually go ahead and use them.

When you work with colleagues to build your maps, you should explain what you’re doing and why. It’s vital to get the whole organization excited about understanding the customer, as well as changing as a business when customer preferences change.

Share the vision that everyone has a role to play in providing the best customer experience and thereby contributing directly to the success of the business. Creating and owning customer journeys together is a great way to get everyone behind this shared vision.

It’s important convey that personas and journey maps evolve over time, so everyone’s ongoing participation is crucial for them to be a powerful business transformation tool.

  1. Nurturing innovation

So back to the idea of business innovation; imagine if marketing can suggest innovations that will be guaranteed to deliver more value and better customer experiences than  ever before. By using a CRM to bring customer personas and journey maps alive across the business, marketing can offer exactly this.

Like with any business investment, you’ll need to demonstrate the value of CRM-enabled personas and journey maps. Once you’ve got these practices in place, you’ll be in a position to measure not just marketing performance but also the contribution of every area that touches the customer journey.

You’ll be able to demonstrate how changes based on customer insight are directly impacting customer satisfaction, performance and profitability.

Something so valuable to the business should be worth further investment so you can develop and deliver more, and keep marketing in the center of business transformation.

To find out what other marketing leaders are doing with customer journey mapping, and get some pointers on how to put it in place, get yourself a copy of the report.

Maybe this experience is familiar to you: You want to grow your business, but don’t have confidence in your growth machine. Your current sales organization performs adequately, but ramping up new reps is hit or miss, some are total flops.  It’s clear the growth formula just isn’t there. Making it harder, marketing keeps handing over leads that are barely qualified and rarely pan out.  And, the constant pressure to grow, grow, grow, is weighing on the team.  

How to solve this when you have too little consistency in how your sales reps engage with your prospects? And customer hand-offs from department to department also seem to be a constant challenge. After all the hard work of signing up a new customer, it frustrates your sales team to no end when new customers have less than an ideal experience with the rest of your company.

On top of all that, your budget is finite, and you aren’t exactly sure increasing your sales and marketing spend is the answer (yet) to dramatically increasing growth anyway.

If this sounds familiar, I have a suggestion that will help close more deals and keep more customers, all without blowing the budget…take a close look at your CRM implementation.

Here’s why: a new, fresh approach to your CRM can change the way your organization interacts with customers, qualifies leads, manages the sales cycle, and helps you differentiate yourself from the competition. In many cases, this self-analysis will lead you to evaluating a new CRM solution for your company.

It’s simple really: Legacy CRM is primarily all about reporting numbers to management with little, to no, focus on helping your people deliver an awesome customer experience. This is amazing to me given that, with a few exceptions, different companies in the same industry usually offer just a variation of the same services or products. And every one of those competitors are just a simple Google search away from each other.  How you win customers is now based on how you treat customers as much, or more than, as what you sell.

That means the need for an exceptional, and unique, customer experience is more critical than ever before.  Think about it, I’ve stayed in many business class hotels all over the world. There are some minor differences, but they all offer a comfy king-sized bed and a bathroom. The list goes on: airlines, rental cars, even Uber vs Lyft. How do you differentiate yourself when you offer similar goods or services as your direct competitors?

The answer is your customer experience. The companies that win in this era of empowered and intelligent customers win because they create better relationships with their customers. That makes sense, but a natural follow up question (and the key question to this whole blog post) is: How can you create a better customer experience when you are using the same, uninspired CRM system as your competitors?

Last month, at SugarCon 2016, we heard many great stories from SugarCRM customers who started out by looking for a different approach to CRM. We heard over and over again that they didn’t want to look like their competitors. They realized that they needed a different kind of CRM to build a different kind of customer experience.  These folks were all mavericks, disruptors, mobilizers of change. They were tired of adequate, average, and the status quo. They saw Sugar as a chance to find a better way. And, their research and investment paid off:

  • Jaime Morillo of Marathon Sports said his organization has seen a 225% increase in customer purchases during monthly promotions and increased customer retention from 47% to 57% since implementing Sugar
  • Naomi Ward of CitySprint in the UK talked about how Sugar is powering their logistics and delivery company’s fight against major disruption from the likes of Amazon and Uber, while driving sales growth.
  • Rober Amber of Unifin, a financial services company in Mexico, said his organization was able to reduce credit application processing time by 60% and grow sales revenue by 300%

These organizations, and many others, understood they had options when it came to CRM. They felt playing it safe was not really all that safe. They realized a modern CRM could help them sell more, increase revenue and build their brand without having to increase budgets.

I challenge you, don’t be a follower. Separate yourself from the CRM pack. If you follow your competition’s tools, you’ll follow everything else.

Besides, the view from the front is much better.