2 May 2017, a public holiday in Madrid. While making the most of this free day to spend some time on my hobbies, I suddenly realise my goddaughter’s First Communion is that very same weekend, on the 5th to be precise.
My rather short-sighted self realizes that he has no idea what to give to his 9-year-old goddaughter. The days when you could get them a Waterman pen or your first Swatch are long gone. It’s much easier these days. Whether they ask for an electric scooter, a mountain bike or a tablet - you just pop to the nearest shopping center and it’s a done deal - easy, right?
Nope. I wasn’t so lucky. With my dismal lack of imagination, I came up with what was probably the worst idea of all: to call my brother to ask my goddaughter what she wanted for her First Communion. And with that went all my good intentions. Her response was straight to the point: ‘I want the Nintendo Switch. It’s just come out and none of my friends at school have it yet’.
Right. Great. None of mine either. This product had been launched just two months earlier, and expectation and demand far exceeded the ‘few’ units that had come to specialized shops and warehouses.
Despite being well aware of this, I’d found myself caught in a trap where a gift card with the words: ‘This entitles you to...’ wouldn’t cut it, so I decided to turn on the computer and search on the Internet.
My good old friend the internet was going to get me out of this mess. This wasn’t the first time I had turned to the internet for help when looking for presents: book recommendations, music, weekend plans, restaurants to try out, or long hours scouring forums for advice on which stereo to buy. Each and every time from the comfort of the sofa in my living room, on my mobile, laptop or tablet.
I got right down to the search. First, I checked the large sales portals: nothing. Then, the department store sites, including specialized electronics stores: nothing there either. Finally, in an act of desperation, I began looking at specialized online chain stores, where I didn’t honestly expect to find anything. But, lo and behold, the console was available at two outlets of a well-known video game chain store in the city. So, tripping over myself to get one, I set out to call both stores. Neither of them picked up the phone.
Since I had the day off, I decided not to waste any more time. I took the car and drove straight to the store, wanting to get this over with quickly and get on with enjoying the holiday.
Within 30 minutes I was standing in the shop, waiting my turn and keeping a nervous eye on the people standing in line in front of me, least they ask to buy the much coveted console and, at the same time, looking to see if I could spot the model displayed on a shelf somewhere. After waiting for over 10 minutes, I took out my wallet, produced the card from it and pronounced the name of the console with all the confidence of someone buying bread in a supermarket.
The clerk, with a smile on his face, and more politely than necessary, replied that the console had sold out on the day it was released, and that all he could do was hold one for me when they were back in stock.
My heart sank. But I quickly remembered the other store. I checked the online shop again to see whether it was still available there in store, but I wasn’t about to cross the entire city for it again. I decided to make a phone call and wait until they responded. By and by, after several attempts, I got through to them, but it was all for nothing: there wasn’t a single one left in stock.
I was frankly dumbfounded, not that the product had run out throughout the entire city, but for other reasons:
- How could such a large, specialised chain be incapable of keeping each store’s stock up to date?
- How could this still be happening today?
- How could I, as a consumer, feel so alienated from a brand after one negative experience?
In order not to bore you, I’ll sum the rest up briefly, but yes, I did end up giving her an austere envelope with a card inside promising a gift, which, in the end ‘only’ took 5 weeks to arrive.
This was about two years ago, and you know what? To this day, the same thing still happens in a large number of the shops I go into almost daily.
Do these companies have my information or not? And if so, don’t they use it?
As a consumer, these kinds of experiences are a reality, regardless of the sector or industry.
Telecoms that offer us products or services that we have already bought, companies in the tourism sector offer us trips to ‘Ho chi Minh’ because we went there once two summers ago, and another summer is on the way. Retail companies whose efforts to keep our custom is to bombard us with ‘personalised’ offers on a daily basis, as if we had a 10,000 euro monthly budget for shirts, coats and jackets.
Recently, when talking to various marketing departments at a retail sector breakfast, many admitted having client information to exploit, but said that it was virtually impossible for them to process it by any means other than Excel.
‘Manual tasks merging Excel files with daily records’, just what you ‘like’ to hear the most in a job advertisement. Honestly, I still don’t know why I didn’t just throw my CV at all of them at the end of that breakfast.
This is one of the main problems we have with customers on a daily basis: the sheer amount of data to exploit, the difficulty of gathering it all into a coherent profile and then, even with all that information available, not knowing what to do with it. Practically nothing.
This is no longer just a question of ad campaigns, excel documents, machines, data... No: it really is a strategic problem, it’s about evaluating performance, it’s about decision making and taking what works or what doesn’t into account in each conversion. It’s about constantly striving for better results. In a nutshell:
Plan, act, enrich, measure, review and decide to do it even better the next time round.
The truth, so to speak, even seems simple, but the question is: Is this really happening at every point of customer interaction?
These points range from the process of discovering our products or deals, to after-sales service, including each and every point in between in which our customer interacts with us, both online and offline. Each client takes a different path; the direction changes at every point of interaction and can end at any point, from giving up to simply forgetting, or in the search for competition.
All this without forgetting the most thankless of all points of interaction: the after-sales. We only remember after-sales as customers. Since it doesn’t initially lead to more sales, this tends to be the lowest priority for corporations. However, therein lies the problem: what it really generates is value and loyalty. Another KPI that’s really hard to measure.
Do after-sales services really know who I am? What my interests are? Or what links me to that brand/company? The answer is ‘no’. Most of them are outsourced, which means the full customer profile is not made available for fear that data will be manipulated for their own use. It’s all a bit like a dog chasing its own tail: we end up with a partial and useless picture, and much of our work is wasted.
The interesting thing about this, especially considering the lack of affection with which the world of after-sales is treated, is that in some industries and some brands, excellence generates far more loyalty than the world of promotions and price wars.
From Customer Engagement to Customer Experience
All the more so when in such a globalized world, the same product barely changes from provider to provider (Hey Mr. ADSL/Fibre, identify with this?).
Unfortunately, despite the fact that technology advances at an incredible rate (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Predictive Models, Blockchain, etc.) we still adhere to the same old patterns, use outdated and rusty information silos, and continue to treat customers impersonally, completely regardless of context, and responding to their real needs at the wrong time.
From a business strategy point of view, it is essential to align sales, marketing and after-sales departments with set objectives. We have to be able to give customers a real experience, to stop being reactive to what competitors offer, to find our own way in the market.
If we use the right technology and the right platforms in the right way, we can achieve this and respond to customer needs properly with an agile, fast, unified and exceptional experience, achieving complete customer satisfaction.