Executives Agree, Digital is Aiding Greater Customer Experience

By: Which50 for AIMIA

Recent roundtable discussions with senior executives have uncovered a shift in how they now view customers and the significant potential a customer experience approach provides. New tech and digital channels are no longer simply a cost-cutting mechanism, but a way to engage customers.

Marketers who are charged with delivering great customer experiences often need to engage the work of digital agencies to execute their plans. As such, they find themselves managing not only the growing expectations of their customers but also the priorities of their peers.

That lead one senior digital executive in a Melbourne to observe, "CMOs are morphing into chief customer officers".

A new whitepaper from AIMIA available for download today describes the thinking behind this point of view along with the other areas of discussion.

For example, an interesting trend is taking hold as companies adopt a digital-first approach to engaging with their clients.

As companies such as Google, Apple, Uber and AirBnB deliver world-class online experiences, consumers now expect that level of service into the analogue world of real things.

Another change, the days when digital was seen as an efficiency play are also over.

Initially, many companies - and more than a few CFOs - saw online self-service as a way to save money.

The idea that digital should be thought of as a way of shifting work onto the customer is wrong, or at best, a very limited view, according to both the marketing leaders and the digital agency heads involved in the roundtables.

All agree that it is better to think of it in terms of the overall engagement with the customer.

As one marketing executive stated, “For us I think it’s more about service than it is about cost control, to be quite honest. It’s the customers that are asking for this way of engaging with us, and we need to meet that need”.

The reality was always different because it became clear early on to many practitioners that implementing effective self-service is not really a cheap option. “It’s going to cost us a heck of a lot of money to turn our company around to operate in that way. Over time, will we see cost savings?”

That's because well-executed self-service actually encouraged more contact between customers and brands. Another executive described an interesting and seemingly contrarian trend. “It’s interesting, with the increase in smartphone penetration, calls to the call center are actually not slowing down.”

The reason? Technology. “Because it’s so easy to click the button, make the call.” Just as importantly, our industry leaders said a digital-first approach should not cause you to lose sight of the fact that digital does not define the whole customer experience. Retailers need to be just as concerned about in-store experiences, banks about their branches, and the travel sector about the actual experience a client has on their travels — not just the process they go through getting there.

At the Sydney roundtable, participants considered these issues in the context of the insurance sector.

Customers used to have a strong preference to speak to a bank or a broker, and to collect all the information they needed before they took the next step towards a purchase. That changed as a result of the Global Financial Crisis, which made people nervous about trusting financial service providers.

Customer behavior changed, and people started doing a lot more of their own research online.

This all happened during a period when technologies like smart mobility emerged, and there was a general shift toward the online provision of information.

For insurers, suddenly customers were coming to the conversation with a much higher level of education and knowledge. The asymmetrical information advantage the seller had traditionally enjoyed evaporated.

From a marketing perspective, the customers were taking care of much of the top of the funnel and mid-funnel journey themselves.

Today, insurers will sometimes engage with the customer directly, and sometimes through the network itself. As one insurance industry executive described the problem, “The complexity arises as the shape of the customer changes and the customer demands, and what they expect out of our brand and our service changes along with it.”

That change can happen quickly, and many companies are still not equipped to deal with the shift.