Customer loyalty has never been more crucial to business success than it is in today’s ultra-competitive global marketplace. Brands are increasingly approaching loyalty as a vital business function – examining metrics and tweaking strategies in the tireless battle for market share says Karl Brough.

As this battle rages on, customer acquisition costs remain high and businesses can ill afford to lose sales to competitors. With prices increasingly commoditised in many industries, today’s battleground is now centred on the customer experience, which is fast becoming the foundation on which customer loyalty is built.

In this customer-focused landscape, the brands that deliver the best experience are the ones that consumers will most want to deal with. Companies that place customer experience at the heart of their business can expect increased loyalty from existing customers, leading to higher retention rates, and revenue growth from word-of-mouth as existing customers provide positive feedback to friends and family.

The recently released Sitel whitepaper, “Age of Experience,” notes that brands work hard to engender affinity and loyalty from their customers but there are challenges brought by the realities of business. The continued pressure on cost, rising customer expectations, increasing complexity and decreasing cycle-time make it difficult to provide outstanding experiences while maintaining margins.

The good news is that there are a number of steps that brands can take in order to improve customer experience and consequently, increase customer loyalty. Some of the key areas where businesses can help improve the customer experience include technology, customer service operations and employee management.

Technology and Innovation

Social media, mobile, analytics and cloud are significant drivers in revolutionising customer care. Consumers are increasingly turning to the latest technology to contact customer support. For example, consumers using Twitter to contact brands with issues rather than call is clear indication of the shift in customer expectation. However, it’s not just about support. Modern marketers must also be prepared to use location data to provide timely and compelling offers directly to smartphones, providing a proactive customer experience.

The customer experience centre of the future will be a confluence of technologies, and IT’s alignment with the experience journey is critical. Consumer demand for simplified service and support will continue to increase exponentially as our lives become increasingly interconnected with technology. Organisations must take a forward-thinking approach to this technology-driven world to create stronger customer relationships.

Customer Service Operations

Customers want more than products and companies must deliver more than goods. To improve overall customer service, companies should assess their operations, and should:

  • Initiate proactive customer service efforts: Brands that anticipate customer need and make outbound efforts will find that these differentiated, high-touch services reinforce brand identity and customer value proposition. These companies will gain competitive advantage by ensuring their customers receive convenient, useful information when they need it most.
  • Move to recentralisation: For 10 years, businesses have been aggressively chasing new channels and layering them on operationally, trying to engineer to the lowest cost to serve. However, each interaction across channels and over time must be consistent, positive and on target with a company’s brand promise. Companies must learn to run a thread through all channels and experiences by centralising with omni-channel strategies.
  • Fully enable self-support: Utilise all channels, from the web to advanced voice and visual applications to provide low-cost personalised multi-channel self-service 24/7. Technologies such as speech recognition and personalisation can help provide a more natural, effective, and less frustrating interaction than traditional touch-tone systems.

Employee Engagement

One essential tenet still holds true no matter how big a company is or what industry it operates in – no customer service strategy can be effective unless the front-line staff are motivated and trained effectively. Brands can take the following steps to improve employee performance:

  • Monitor analytics and workforce intelligence: Metrics obtained from workforce intelligence solutions can help clearly define goals and measure ROI from learning initiatives. By making goals and outcomes tangible, companies can ensure concrete improvements.
  • Embrace generational shift: Millennials have significantly different expectations of their workplace experience. Brands will need to adopt increasingly sophisticated tools and processes to better predict, incorporate and react quickly to changing employee preferences.
  • Introduce gamification: Gamification is now established as a valid enterprise engagement tool that can drive workforce and customer engagement, as well as business growth. As customer service organisations have vast experience in goal setting, rules, and incentives, gamification can be used to align work with personal passion and commitment.

Loyalty through a Positive Experience     

Customer service is going through a monumental transformation. Shifting customer expectation, technology advances and changing employee behaviour offer a glimpse into what will drive customer loyalty in the future.

As customer experience plays an ever more important role in business success, brands must focus attention on the vital part that technology, operations and employees can play in providing good service for clients. Customer loyalty is vital for business success and, in today’s increasingly customer-centric and competitive global environment, customer experience can ultimately determine a company’s success or failure. Brands that prepare for this new customer service landscape are sure to gain considerably and steal a march on less forward-thinking competitors.

About the Author

Karl Brough is Regional Director for the UK, Ireland and Nordics at Sitel, a global leader in outsourced customer care innovation. Sitel recently released its “Age of Experience” whitepaper examining the trends that are reshaping customer service.