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These five trends in customer engagement point the way towards customer service excellence in 2014 – reactive, predictive, cross-channel and digital.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/digital_customer_engagement_small_367428.jpgLast night, a retailer lost a customer. After finding what I wanted on their website, I decided to buy at a local store. When I got there, the experience changed – the staff and stock were out of sync, and I spent 30 minutes trying to complete a transaction that could have been done in moments.

That experience highlighted some of the ways enterprises of all kinds can succeed or fail at engaging customers – and five trends I expect to come into their own in the year to come.

Digital engagement will be a big thing – but not the only thing

Digital engagement has become an increasingly important part of the communications mix for consumer brands, which need to reach out to millions of current and potential customers. Done right, social engagement – like Oreo’s headline-grabbing Superbowl tweet – is a low-cost way to increase awareness and familiarity.

Business-to-business brands may have fewer customers, but the insight into the behavior and attitudes of their customers provided by digital channels will be increasingly important; the convenience of a multichannel approach will be equally important for their customers.

Personal engagement will be “table stakes”

TIME magazine recently reported on “Samantha West”, a computerized sales caller who, when asked if she was a robot, laughed and reassured him that she was a real person.

 

In a world where robots can impersonate humans, humans cannot act like robots. Impersonal communication becomes actually harmful.

People hang up on “robocalls”. They delete emails beginning “Dear customer”. They turn away from merchants who pester them with inappropriate offers. Customer engagement takes more than a mail merge – it takes being able to reach and contact individuals as individuals, giving them information and opportunities they want.

Tolerance will drop for “fractured” experiences

Even when the interaction is not one-on-one, customers want a seamless experience. Cable companies are winning by bundling data, cable, phone and Internet subscriptions into a single, simple monthly plan. The easier a brand or provider makes it for customers to get to the benefit of their product, the more positive their interaction will be.

The move to apps will extend beyond the consumer space

I recently spoke to a head of customer experience who said that his company wanted to be its sector’s
Amazon. That doesn’t just mean being the biggest seller – it also refers to a particular philosophy. Successful consumer brands use a mix of mobile access
and dedicated apps to improve the experience of customer interaction everywhere.

Even business-to-business and specialist brands need to be looking at best practice in this field: if a purchasing manager is used to a high-quality retail experience in his private life, why would he or she settle for less at work?

From reactive to proactive

The traditional, reactive model contacts customers when they complain, or cancel a regular order – beginning the conversation when the customer is already unhappy or disengaged.

It is now possible to analyze the transactional and behavioral histories of individual customers, identify warning signs, and get ahead of the situation – whether that means introducing a new product, tailoring an offer or preventing a lost account with a timely intervention.

At heart, all of these trends are about the customer. Customer-centricity has been an aspiration, but we are now reaching the point, in particular because of the power and possibility of cloud solutions, where businesses of almost any size can consider strategies to deliver true customer-centricity.

To take a look at what SAP is doing to drive customer engagement now, and into, the future, check out our SAP customer engagement solutions site, or join the conversation on this blog or our @SAPCRM Twitter feed.

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