For most customer-facing businesses, digital services used to be relatively simple and one dimensional. Whether in finance, retail or the media, the main priority of technology was that final exchange with the customer. In many cases, a website’s sole function would be to facilitate transactions, and ensure that the right money was taken in the right way, from the right person, for the right flight, bank account, book or any other product or service. While this approach was well suited to a time when the very act of being able to make an online transaction was the height of good consumer service, this model is long outdated. Today, the journey to transaction is just as important as the transaction itself, in some cases more so: companies like eBay and Disney have proved that – whether a company has emerged in the digital age or is evolving to suit it – changing the customer experience can have a huge impact. Consumers increasingly want to use online services on their own terms, with a more engaging, personalised and seamless experience which meets their expectations from start to finish. In 2017 and beyond, the all-important transaction is just the tip of the iceberg.
Playing the odds
Quite simply, more than 99 percent of customers’ interactions with a brand take place before that final transaction. For instance, instead of visiting a travel agent, browsing a few brochures and booking their holiday, modern consumers will go online to search not only potential destinations, but every combination of flight and hotel to get them there and back to find the best compromise between price, speed and timing. Similarly, consumers wishing to watch a film won’t visit their (probably sadly departed) local video store, but jump across review aggregators and rental and streaming sites before they hit on the perfect watch for them. And banking customers, instead of trusting the advice of their local branch manager, will research interest rates, house prices and the various products on offer across both established and challenger banks before taking the plunge on a mortgage. Even for the most basic of commodities this process can take some time, during which the customer may make hundreds of interactions on a multitude of sites, over a period of several weeks – with the ultimate goal of making just one transaction. So how do you make sure that the final transaction happens with you?
Never let me go
It may seem evident, but if an online experience is too slow, the customer will go elsewhere. Just as customers visiting a business in person can be put off by long waits and inefficient staff, digital customers expect to be able to find the information they need quickly and consistently. If a business can’t provide that, then it will quickly find itself abandoned in favour of a less frustrating experience.
Critically, businesses need to be certain that their online services will operate flawlessly regardless of demand. Just as customers window-shopping will happily move onto another store if the one they want is overflowing, any digital offering that cannot perform will simply be overlooked in favour of the competition. Even in the best-case scenario, customers will browse there only to perform their final transaction at a more reliable competitor.
With events such as the Black Friday weekend, Christmas season or summer holidays increasingly responsible for a vast majority of businesses’ revenues, guaranteeing uninterrupted performance at these times in particular is vital.
Give the right options
Even in today’s digital-first era, customers always prefer the personal touch. When offers and interactions are targeted to them, they are more likely to reward this personalisation with the all-important transaction. For instance, when looking for a mortgage, a new family won’t be interested in offers designed for landlords, or for people outside their age or wealth band. Similarly, a customer purchasing, say, lightbulbs on their favourite eCommerce website won’t be thrilled to see a deluge of lightbulb recommendations sent to them, rather than targeted offers for other home & lifestyle products. Personalisation is increasingly expected of all online services, and adding this capability is critical to achieving tangible results.
The right tools for the job
A major issue for most organisations is that they have the technology to process those final transactions quickly, accurately and consistently. However, what works best for dealing with highly regulated, highly consistent actions may not be suited to cope with the increasingly fluid and complex online experience. Some organisations will still attempt to use their existing transactional technology to deal with the 99 percent; for instance, by modifying or using software add-ons to provide the functionality they feel they need.
Yet this approach is riddled with potential issues. The more technology is modified or added to, the more complex and expensive it becomes to manage and operate. At the same time, unless workload is carefully balanced and provisioned for, there is the very real risk that performance will suffer. Organisations could end up with the worst of all worlds: technology that either cannot provide the performance needed to service customers’ needs at any point of their journey; that is at increased risk of downtime; or that only continues to provide the service needed by becoming essentially a black hole that swallows resources.
Move with the times
Ultimately, businesses need to examine their ratio of interactions and transactions, and ensure that one can be turned into the other. After all, the return on investment for any new technology isn’t measured solely by the final transaction – it’s measured by every interaction that leads up to that final point. Realistically, this means ensuring that technology is up to the task. For most, this will mean realising that their legacy technology, built around mastering transactions, is no longer enough and must be supplemented with tools and infrastructure that create a ‘system of engagement’ – allowing the business to truly engage with customers.
Increasingly, the 99 percent of customer interactions are where businesses will live or die. There’s no need in mastering transactions if your customers will inevitably take their business elsewhere before they get to that point. Being able to serve the 99 percent, not just the one percent, will be critical if businesses are to survive and thrive.
Perry Krug, Principal Architect, Strategic Accounts, Couchbase
Image Credit: A. and I. Kruk / Shutterstock