Feature

Find out what the customer wants and deliver it effectively

Jamie Turner, technical director and founder of Postcode Anywhere, has based his business on knowing what the customer wants and delivering it effectively.

The address management and location services provider offers more than 250 services including addressing and validation for e-commerce and customer profiling, geographic and spatial web services and route optimisation. 

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All services are geared towards ensuring customers have a happy and efficient experience, leading to strong customer loyalty, essential for survival in today’s turbulent economic climate.

Great customer service is one of the firm’s core values: “We should treat every customer with the utmost respect and leave them with an experience they will tell others about,” says the promise on its website.

This ethos is even more important in an age when customers are increasingly connected and willing to share their experiences – negative or positive – via the internet, social media and mobile technology.

“Our proposition was about customer experience. If you want people to trade with you, you have to give them a positive experience. If a customer shops online, they don’t want to have their goods sent to Stockport rather than Southwark. It is one small piece of the customer experience, but it is often the most tactile part of their experience where you have to type in and divulge information. We wanted to make it as painless as possible,” says Turner.

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Getting the correct addresses quickly is essential for the success of retailers – whether customers are shopping online or via a call centre.

“Addresses in this country are long and are not well structured. If you outsource to a call centre in India and the agent is trying to capture and spell a Welsh address, it can be extremely annoying for the customer. Our services give a dual benefit – customer service is better and for the client, it is cheaper because they need fewer agents,” says Turner.

Good customer service

Some online sites are ruthlessly efficient about pushing their customers down the online route because it is cheaper than being contacted any other way, but Turner believes it is important to give customers options to ensure good customer service.

“It’s fine if someone’s buying a CD and knows what they’re going to get, but some purchases or services are more sophisticated and people expect old-fashioned service even in the new world. We want to offer strong customer service as well as strong self-service,” he says.

Organisations can often learn most and engage more meaningfully with customers who call up directly.

“Rather than just go down the self-service route, we did the opposite and deliberately put our numbers online. We always answer a call and we don’t have buttons to press – 1 for sales, 2 for accounts, etc. If people phone us it is a brilliant opportunity to have a conversation with the customer to learn about them and how we can improve our product,” says Turner.

“If organisations don’t innovate and try to improve customer service, they always have to be on the defensive, but it is no good trying to put lipstick on a pig.”

He says organisations need to address problems head-on and digest and learn from that experience so they can improve: “As long as you admit it, the best experience for customers and the strongest relationships can come out of making things right.”

Cloud-based CRM

Postcode Anywhere has developed its own cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software because it has the in-house expertise, but Turner believes the cloud is the most efficient way forward for organisations.

You have to make sure everything works on everything. Consumers want to be able to buy something from their smartphones, without having to necessarily turn on a PC

Jamie Turner, Postcode Anywhere

Jamie Turner, Postcode Anywhere

“We developed our own CRM technologies because the products we looked at did not offer the level of integration necessary for us to run our business, and it would have cost a fortune,” he says.

His advice for getting CRM right is to marry the business and the technology.

“The business as well as the technology has to be properly tied together, otherwise you end up with a big mess if you disassociate the two,” he says.

To gain greater visibility of the customer and to become more proactive, Turner says integration is key.

“We integrate the CRM system with everything – the support system, the phone system, every platform. If there is no integration, CRM technologies can be extremely over-rated and people end up making the same mistakes bigger and twice,” he says.

The cloud approach means Postcode Anywhere is extremely efficient in sweating its assets.

“We are ruthless with our hardware – for what we do with our amount of kit, we rinse every £10 out of it, and this approach forces us to build carefully,” says Turner.

He says organisations can be prone to throw away hundreds of pounds in “fear and danger money”, but if they think about design carefully, they can iron out problems.

Big data and CRM

Jamie Turner, founder and technical director of Postcode Anywhere, says there is a danger of mis-selling through accessing irrelevant data that does not improve the customer experience.

Although there is the opportunity to learn more about customers today than ever before because of the wealth of data they generate about their opinions and experience, he says there can be pitfalls using big data for CRM.

“You have to be super-careful commercially. You can’t assume because you find out a customer’s favourite colour is yellow, they now need a pair of yellow shoes,” he says.

Social networking should be a better way to talk to customers.

“It is possible to interact in a way that gets you much closer to the customer. We use technology to understand our customers. I love big data but you have to be so careful that you don’t come across as Big Brotherish, and also that you don’t infer ridiculous things,” warns Turner.

He suggests spending time listening to how customers communicate, but says it is worth remembering that using social networking sites is often not a subtle means of communication.

“It can be like waving your arms and using flashlights. There are extremes of behaviour exhibited, but you need to understand that you can have very vocal minorities, but you don’t need to react all the time,” says Turner.

It is important to respond to consumers positively through what you learn, but Turner points out that high feeling may be transient and it is important not to overreact.

“Be open to suggestions, but carry on doing your thing and don’t prejudice your values because someone is having a bad hair day,” he says.

He also warns that CRM technologies can get it wrong. “There was an ad in the US for a CRM system that showed an English country manor house owned by someone with a name like Tarquin and the milkman delivered an extra pint because the son was back from Oxford in his green sports car. Often CRM technologies are newer and bigger, but can fail to deliver because they get it wrong on a big scale,” he says.

One of the most important things to learn when capturing big data about customers is to understand that they move into different states and to plan your interactions with them accordingly.

“We integrate all the interactions we have so we can bring everything together and build up a picture of our customers, so we understand what’s going on with them and we use CRM technologies to watch and learn where they struggle. It’s snakes and ladders. If an invoice is coming up, they are probably in a negative state so it’s not a good idea to send out marketing material. We try and build up a picture so we can identify patterns, intervene earlier if something is going wrong and try and offer a good price and an efficient service,” says Turner.

“We have been operating in the cloud for over 12 years and we have learned from real innovators like Google. Thanks to cloud we can do performance releases which give customers a progressively better experience. Organisations always need to be thinking about things carefully and how they can approach problems or sticking points in a different way so they are always improving their customer experience,” says Turner.

If Postcode Anywhere doesn’t get it right, then clients will lose customers, and the company in turn will lose business, so focusing on innovation is key to future survival.

“We have to be very efficient and think about improving our business to improve customer service. We are investing more in design than in the past and making the product better to improve the interactive touchpoints of clients’ sites,” says Turner.

To this end, products have been developed that are more user-friendly and able to be incorporated into sites more easily by non-technical marketing workers who need to respond rapidly to customers’ demands in an increasingly demanding market where access can be from a variety of devices.

Time for innovation

Time is earmarked for innovation, such as “Friday projects”, when employees think creatively and play with ideas which might come to fruition.

“Having a playful spirit keeps everyone sane and sometimes amazing things can come out of it, which goes towards improving customer experience. The challenge is to think, ‘Why not?’, because it is important to stay ahead of the competition and think about different ways of better serving customers. We are constantly looking at our internal systems and processes,” says Turner.

With the democratisation of technology, one trend is to make technology open and easily accessible to all, not just the technically able.

“Typically, we provided APIs [application programming interfaces] to techies, but now we have more pre-packaged products which work on mobile devices properly for example, and you don’t need a computer science graduate to do it. It’s all point and click. If you think about how customers want to consume services differently by removing any possible barriers, then you give consumers a nicer experience and improve trade,” says Turner.

This is crucial for any organisation’s ability to keep up with the widening choice available to consumers.

“You have to make sure everything works on everything. For example, a few years ago it was OK if something worked on Internet Explorer, but now there is a much wider variety of browsers. Consumers want to be able to buy something from their smartphones, without having to necessarily turn on a PC,” says Turner.

Nobody today has the same browser or the same device or wants to be forced down one interaction and if they are, they will react by voting with their feet and going elsewhere.

Sensitive to consumers

“You need to be more sensitive to consumers’ different environments; they are more advanced and agile with a proliferation of devices,” he says.

This is especially true of younger customers and Turner says it is essential to cater for their tastes in technology: “It is a new world and if you ignore the kids and don’t deliver great customer service to them, you will alienate a future market.”

He says there are real opportunities to get closer and learn from customers through social networking sites, and it is worth exploring in order to deliver better products and improved services, and generate greater customer loyalty. 

“One can be a cynic about social networks, but it is important to recognise there are real opportunities there as a lot of people use them as a way to exchange information and will start to engage with companies, but it’s important not to engage with them in a ‘shouty’ way with all upper case letters. You need to use it as an opportunity to learn. Social networks are like villages – vocal, chatty and accessible,” says Turner.

Setting the bar higher is important to any organisation’s success, and learning comes through engaging with customers.

“We look at how to avoid potholes,” he concludes. “If you use technology to engage with your customer, you can do smarter things in a more intelligent way.”


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This was first published in July 2013

 

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