Power in the palms of their hands: serving the customers of the future

Customer information is provided at every touch in our socially enabled lives. By 2020, everything will be known about us

Predicting the future for how technology will change companies’ relationships with customers is not straightforward.

“A year in technology is a long time, so predicting how CRM [customer relationship management] will look in the future is not easy, but with 4G mobile services accelerating, people are going to have more power in the palms of their hands than in a FTSE100 company’s traditional desktop and with high bandwidths available, organisations will be even more accessible.”

So says Mark Langley, business intelligence specialist at consultancy DrPete Inc. 

He says the growth of big data is the biggest game-changer as it means information is provided about customers at every single touch in their socially enabled life. “The food you eat, the programmes you watch, where you go on holiday – everything will be known about you,” he says.

At the Financial Times (FT), big data and insights about customers are more manageable since the creation of one internal team to look after customer service – a key development in keeping up with new trends in CRM in the run-up to 2020.

“We had external agencies and internal people looking after single products and systems were scattered. If a customer subscribed to different products, it wasn’t necessarily known they were the same person,” says Christina Scott, CIO at the FT.

This has changed with the introduction of the new team, and by consolidating on a cloud service – which Scott says will help the FT put the customer at the centre of operations as we approach 2020.

“With one platform view of the customer, we can think in terms of pure customer experience which is consistent, irrespective of which channel they choose to interact with us,” she says.

Serving multichannel media users at the FT

The Financial Times (FT) now has one internal team to look after customer service, and will be looking at how it can cater for the variety of ways users want to interact with the FT, which CIO Christina Scott sees accelerating over the next seven years.

She sees some interesting trends – channels such as mobile and social media are driving traffic, and she expects this to accelerate as we head towards 2020. Mobile now drives 30% of traffic and 15% of subscriptions to FT.com, and accounts for 10% of advertising revenue.

The FT’s social media community consists of more than 2.8 million Twitter followers, 500,000 Facebook fans, more than 1.6 million Google+ fans (more than any other newspaper globally, claims the FT) and 23,000 members across the FT’s LinkedIn company page and groups. The FT’s global social media audience is more than five million.

The younger readership, not surprisingly, is especially keen on social media and using mobile devices to access FT.com. Globally, the number of FT.com registered users under the age of 25 grew 17% from 2009 to 2011, according to the FT Global Survey.

Users under the age of 25 are more likely to access FT content through the mobile app, showing support for the strategy of developing new product channels that appeal to different demographics, says Scott.

As new channels grow, they must be supported, and Scott has identified that more and more calls about FT products are along the lines of, “How do I do that on my iPad?”

“The future means that people who are customer service agents are increasingly going to have to be technically minded and understand how to use devices with different operating systems, although it will be impossible to know everything about everything as devices proliferate,” she says.

Scott believes the future focus will be on building self-help communities, so it is possible to find out pain points and help work things out. “Our experience from other channels, for example when we launched the first digital product, was that users would get in contact to say it was not working when really it was a problem with their internet connection. We always try and provide self-help guides that are searchable so you can find what you need,” she says.

She also foresees devices becoming even more varied, and the need to understand what customers are using to engage with the FT. “With external agencies and different systems, we didn’t have a good view of data. Now we can focus on being more proactive,” says Scott.

Customer-focused technologies

Choice is key to success and customer-focused technologies will help businesses stay in tune with their customers, says Chris Chamberlain, head of marketing for digital marketing specialist HTK Horizon.

“Vital to all this will be the ability to maintain a single customer view across all trans­actions and touchpoints, bringing together and exploiting data that historically has been in separate systems like billing and CRM. Without a single view of each customer, engaging in a personalised, relevant conversation with them is simply not possible,” he says.

Complexity can only increase and make the job more exacting, because more channels will be added to the mix in the run-up to 2020. But Jay Patel, chief executive officer (CEO) of mobile specialist IMImobile, says whatever new technologies develop and however disruptive they are, old technologies will not disappear.

“Just because there is on-demand streaming, the radio hasn’t gone. History shows that every new bit of technology doesn’t totally replace what went before so it will just make the job of engaging with customers even more complex,” he says.

Organisations will have to run many varieties of engagement, but will not be able to shut down older forms. “The call centre will not become redundant, and it will still be good to have a physical presence, but the variety of channels means a silo approach will not work. It will be even more vital to have a single customer view,” says Patel.

Scott’s experience at the FT demonstrates that new channels do not replace older ones.

It is still early days, but new tools mean query times have been cut by more than half, and channels such as “click to chat” have been added to satisfy the growing demand for new ways of talking to organisations, which Scott foresees continuing. “Click to chat has not replaced people phoning, but it has provided additional traffic, and is telling us things we didn’t know before,” she says.

However, with this holistic in-depth view of the customer, organisations should be cautious about protecting privacy and not abusing the knowledge they have.

Counselling charity Relate is exploring social channels, and is considering Facebook, but is conscious of its social responsibility and the sensitive nature of its services.

“Clients may be able to have interaction via Facebook in the future, but we don’t know how comfortable people will be interacting with Facebook for counselling,” says Stephen Thorlby-Coy, head of Relate Response at Relate UK.

The lesson here is that just because you can do something due to technology doesn’t mean you should, although Thorlby-Coy recognises the growing popularity of social media channels, which he expects to continue as we approach 2020.

“We will increasingly make more services available online,” he says.

Speed of response

If organisations do web-enable services and use more social media channels, the pace of CRM necessarily speeds up, which is a factor the FT’s Scott is aware of living up to.

She says “speed of response” is the interesting thing about the newer channels.

“We used Twitter to broadcast delivery delays in the US when it snowed. We also use it to listen to what people say about the FT. If you use Twitter, the frame of mind is instant, and you have to live up to that speed of response,” she says.

This real-time responsiveness will become more critical in the future and Scott says customers should be able to speak to the organisations through whatever channel they choose. “Social media will grow in terms of customer service,” she says.

Thinking ahead to how customers want to be communicated with – whether online or via emerging or traditional channels – is vital.

Ben Norman, managing director of digital marketing agency Koozai, believes the importance of being customer-centric will grow over the rest of the decade. He is aware that CRM will not stand still and organisations need to tackle increasing customer expectations.

“Brands will no longer be able to churn stuff out depicting how people should listen to them. The successful organisations will be asking, ‘How do you want to be communicated with?’ and marketing interactions with customers, including campaigns, must be integrated and across every platform,” he says.

Social data mining

Consumers will become even more social, and the data generated from social network sites will be mined in different ways by organisations for insights.

“Using links on websites to determine whether an organisation gets the thumbs-up or not will decrease in importance. A better factor in deciding ranking will be looking at what people say socially,” says Norman.

Work in personalisation will feed into customer services so we can present content that is relevant and of interest

Christina Scott, CIO, FT

Christina Scott, Financial Times

What people say socially and being able to mine data more creatively will help organisations exploit new customer-led opportunities and deliver real business benefits.

Scott says CRM will help the FT focus on the lifetime value of the customer – she believes real-time evaluation of customers will feed into levels of responsiveness and retention strategies. 

“If you have the data and the right tools, it can help the decision-making process. For example, you could put more effort into lower-value customers by letting them know the advantages they’ll receive if they upgrade. It will allow us to be more proactive,” she says.

The move to digital has increased focus on engagement and provided more feedback from customers, which will flow into new products over the coming years. At the heart of any decision will be developing a closer relationship with the customer.

“We chose an HTML5 app rather than the Apple App Store because we want customer data and to have that direct relationship with the customer. If we are just the content provider, we lose that relationship, which we want to retain,” says Scott.

The future will be about intensifying work in personalisation and recommendation and driving engagement with customers.

“Work in personalisation will feed into customer services so we can present content that is relevant and of interest,” says Scott.

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This nine-page Buyer's Guide to Customer Relationship Management (CRM), written by Computer Weekly speciaists, analyses the factors CIOs and senior IT professionals need to consider as they plan their CRM strategies.


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CRM for survival

Koozai’s Norman says CRM will be the most important element for any business to get right by 2020.

“CRM will be the key factor in an organisation’s survival. It used to be possible to treat customers like cattle and they’d get angry and then calm down and forget, but now reactions to poor customer service hang around on social networks and can’t be erased. This will ruin companies. Even the bigger brands will fail if they don’t get customer service right. You just need to look at HMV. There will be more such failures along the way if organisations don’t keep up with developments in technology, and we will see them getting beaten by smaller brands that get CRM right,” says Norman.

He predicts more companies will employ social media managers: “Social media managers will help organisations address their social profiles and fix problems instead of fighting them. If they don’t they will lose market share and money.”

Whether or not organisations decide to develop new CRM roles for technology-savvy employees, one thing is certain – 2020 will witness closer engagement between organisations and their customers and the organisations that don’t develop this two-way relationship will struggle.

Scott concludes: “We have moved from being an inbound customer services organisation to being a lot more outbound. This will increase as we engage further and get thoughts fed back, so we move from being a newspaper company in broadcast mode to a digital company in two-way mode.”

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