Customer EngagementCustomer Experience

Enough of the ideas, where’s the execution?


I’ve just had the pleasure of chairing a customer engagement conference. There were some great speakers. One of my favourites was Stewart Bromley from Atom Bank who spoke eloquently about the use of emotion in customer experience design.

Things are undoubtedly moving on. For instance being an app only interface, and therefore 100% digital, Atom is laying claim to being the first telepathic financial services brand!

Yet that’s not so crazy when you think that Amazon launched a predictive shipping patent in 2012. Based on your transactions, wish list and even more subtle purchasing behaviours such as time spent hovering over an item, Amazon has figured that they know what you will next buy from them. So much so, they will forward ship it to a local depot in anticipation.

Atom wants enough of that predictive insight to feel telepathic to its customers.
Other speakers at the event also relayed their own equally compelling stories of pioneer brands experimenting with how to evoke the right emotions in their customers. Hotels are well advanced in their use of scents to influence our mood. The power of smell apparently generates the longest memories within our five senses.

This is all getting rather clever. As indeed are those ‘Intelligent Advisors’ which are now on the cusp of our awareness in the contact centre space. These provide a new form of user interface. They can be talk, text and even be ‘clothed’ as an avatar if desired.

Underneath the bonnet, they utilize a cunning mix of natural language processing, machine learning, semantic search and predictive analytics. All that means they are smart at serving customers with the right information while learning from every interaction how to improve their value for the next customer.

Why mention all of this?

Well the creative possibilities now available are truly wonderful. Certainly compared with just a decade ago, when our horizons and technologies were capable of much less. This is the age of the inventor, the artist, the director. For the most visionary brands, interactions with customers are already a theatre of engagement.

But do the rest of us get that yet? Or are we dragged down to the level of coping with the next operational issue which slide into our inboxes in inexhaustible supply? I’m not arguing that stuff doesn’t need fixing. It always will.

All I’m suggesting is maybe it’s time to let someone else push the rock up the hill: someone still wanting to win their spurs. I’ll bet there’s a queue of them when you start looking. Instead, invent an opportunity for yourself to become truly fascinated with making your brand special in the eyes and hearts of your customers.

Some argue that being a ‘special’ brand is a matter of which market you are in. Luxury goods or fine hotels are places for that. But a utility, telco or insurance company will never be that important to consumers. It’s just a commodity.

Think beyond current perceptions. These businesses provide services that are absolutely essential to our well being. Does water matter to us? Does the ability to connect and communicate with our world matter? Is helping us recover from life’s unforeseen disasters important?

It all depends how we view the value of what we do and draw inspiration from it. Let’s face it the core service of a hotel is to provide a bed and something to eat. But it is so much more than that and hotels are expert at reminding us of that perception.

Large organisations are generally poor incubators of imagination. They encourage conformance more than risk taking. They prefer to over organise with process and policy than trust in the talent they have hired to tune in and respond rapidly.

This uninspiring and slow moving work culture is now an existential threat in the networked world of apps and social platforms. The unexpected is much more common. Needing to confront your Uber, AirBnB or Atom Bank is just a matter of time. Is your organisation fit for that challenge?

Attracting and keeping the right talent is going to be essential in the struggle to adapt and therefore survive. Younger generations are native to the experience economy. They get the base line and are instinctively inventing and directing their imagination towards the next iteration of what can be done.

Why leave that world and become imprisoned in big corporate cultures? Unless of course these businesses show signs of being able to reinvent themselves and recover from believing that just being the biggest means being the best.

While it’s going to be a tough trek, I’m prepared to believe it is possible. Corporate adaptability begins and ends with individuals. Put another way, each of us has a choice to make.

  • Wait for the next corporate initiative and jump on the ‘adapt or die’ bus
  • Refuse each and every opportunity to get on the bus
  • Or bootstrap our own motivation and start now, powered by our own purpose

Option three is for people with low tolerance for mediocrity and a high personal expectation for delivering outcomes that matter. These people get that ‘use it or lose it’ is one of those home truths in life. Simply ‘doing time’ to pay the bills is a lousy trade of one’s time and need for being happily engaged.
Over the course of the master classes I’ve been running with Capita this summer, we have covered no end of opportunity to advance customer engagement. The need is real for both consumer and brand. Moreover there is now more than enough of the right resources to make it happen. All that’s required is leadership.

But waiting for that to turn up as a trickle down source of inspiration and direction is going to be a long wait for many organisations. In fact every real improvement I’ve ever witnessed has occurred outside the parameters of ‘official’ initiatives. Instead it’s come from determined individuals who cared enough to ignore the status quo and do what worked.

Yes that can result in being shot down, grounded and even exited from the business. But what’s the alternative to getting on with ‘putting a dent in the universe’? Kicking your heels and losing your self confidence?

Customer engagement is a fast changing plot. Let’s hope your current organisation is smart enough to value you as inventor, artist or director. These are the new mindsets that deliver outcomes that matter.

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