Playing the long game with customer data

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Lasting customer relationships are built on trust. The customer trusts you, trusts your product and trusts the service you provide. That trust has a tangible financial value to businesses - one of longevity.  This is the source of repeat revenue, customer loyalty, good reviews and long-term success, and, with GDPR on the horizon, that trust is more important than ever.   

Use of customer data treads a delicate line. Customers expect reliable service, relevant recommendations, curated convenience, and tailored experiences, but they also don’t like it when advertisers or brands seem to know too much. Whether it's the advert you swear pops up the day after you were speaking about a particular product, or the horror stories of the loyalty cards that could predict pregnancies, engagements or divorce, use of customer data can all too easily stray into intrusive territory.   

As a marketing leader, I am all too often on the receiving end of pitches from companies trying to sell me solutions or technologies that, as a consumer, would make me intensely uncomfortable. While compliant, these technologies push us over that invisible boundary of what’s ‘okay’. Just like marketers everywhere, in these moments, I’m called upon to make a choice - but the choice is not an ethical one, or even a regulatory one. It’s a choice between short-term gains and long-term success.

Unethical use of customer data can undermine the very foundations of consumer trust. For a short-term boost in sales using data unethically, brands can erode the relationship they have built up with that customer. Consumers now have more power than ever and their experiences, and what they say about them, can have a big impact on your business. In a digital age where competitors are just a click away, a tweet can go viral, and that public record is indelible. Lost trust and consumer confidence can be irreparable.   

But not all use of customer data is creepy. Increasingly, people are prepared to share their data if they get better and more personalized service in return. Using customer and prospect data can actually enable you to deliver a better, more tailored interaction. So just how do organisations use customer data in a way that builds trust, rather than erode it? 

Pre-empt issues 

Customer expectations of response times are rising. In 2013 only 52% expected a response within two hours on social media, but in 2016 that rose to 72%.  Smart use of customer data and analytics can help pre-empt issues and problems before a customer even knows about them. For example, a helpful message may trigger if a person has visited a certain page multiple times, or an email will automatically send if a sensor in a warehouse detects that a frequently purchased item is out of stock.

When a consumer’s actions imply they need help - when they are looking not for service but for a quick solution - smarter search tools, chatbots, and knowledge management applications will direct customers to content that correctly answers their question.   

If it doesn’t they will seamlessly transition to human support. Agents backed by intelligent software and smart analytics will have a variety of ways to personalise the customer experience of tomorrow and serve customers faster and more accurately than ever before. 

Personalise and contextualise 

The connection between smart, real-time data and services has vastly improved our lives. Say, for example, that a man’s pregnant wife has a craving for pineapple. It’s 10pm and he needs to know where the nearest purveyor of exotic fruit might be. All he needs to type in is ‘grocer’ or ‘fruit shop’ and Google will return the nearest available shop, alongside its opening hours. The holy grail of experience is connecting that one person to exactly what they need, in the moment they need it. Real-time data can help us do that and create a powerful, trusted, consumer relationship in the process. 

Overcome silos within the brand 

Consumers don’t see a call centre, a live-chat team, a customer complaint department and an instore team - they see a brand. Not only that, they expect choice in how they contact you. Fifty-two percent of consumers use three or four channel platforms when seeking customer care2. Regardless of a company's internal silos, the customer expects every channel to act consistently and have access to the same information. They don’t know about how you operate and they don’t care.  All they care is that they are not having to start over when switching channels. Trust comes when consumers believe you can manage their data effectively. Creating a single view of the customer across multiple channels will ensure brands avoid consumer frustration and can create stronger relationships. 

Help people help themselves 

Today’s customers actually prefer self-service—finding answers to their questions on their own. But only if the customer experience is optimal. Not only is self-service important for customers, it’s critical for your organisation as you scale your support. Nine out of 10 people say they would use an online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs. Two thirds of respondents said they prefer self service over speaking to a company representative. Using customer data to intelligently serve knowledge base articles to customers in their moments of need helps increase satisfaction and time to resolution.   

Tools like our Answer Bot use machine-learning to better serve customers with timely and effective issue resolutions. Using artificial intelligence, it automatically resolves high-frequency and low-touch tickets by suggesting relevant articles to customers while they wait for an agent. It learns from each customer interaction and trains itself to deliver more relevant and customised content with each solved ticket.

Customer trust is hard won, so brands must ensure they are making smart decisions to preserve it. A good experience, informed by smart use of customer data, is shared rapidly and turns a customer into a repeat customer or even an advocate. A bad, or creepy experience is shared even quicker—and with more people.   

Using customer data intelligently, in a way that builds trust through great experiences rather than undermines it, is critical to long-term success.   

Jeff Titterton, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Zendesk 

Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock