Customer expectations are higher than ever before. Customers have more choices, are more connected, more social, more mobile and better educated about products and services than at any other time. A sea of options and the instant-access nature of digital environments have empowered customers to constantly explore alternatives.
According to Forrester, 65 percent of customers have a high willingness to shift spend or are building on that mindset. Put otherwise, two-thirds of your customers are at risk of leaving.
The high bar set by companies like Amazon and Netflix have irrevocably increased customers’ expectations for personalization, responsiveness, service and delivery. Although initially considered attributes of “the millennial mindset”, these expectations now cut across all customer demographics and market segments – from small businesses to the mid-market and beyond.
What exactly do customers want? Although the symptoms manifest in many different ways, customers want a relationship with your business. According to Gartner, “members of the next generation of customers flock to businesses that treat them as if they were special, rather than as ‘just another number.’ These customers want to have a connection, a relationship, with the organizations they deal with.”
Regardless of your industry, this is your mission – build a relationship with your customers or lose them to the next business who will. But how do you accomplish that? Utilizing a CRM system seems like an obvious answer – it is a Customer Relationship Management system after all. But how much of traditional CRM is designed around building relationships with customers? Surprisingly little.
Legacy CRM systems were built for large enterprises who value process automation and sales team monitoring and management. These systems view the customer as something to be managed and optimized for profitability rather than someone with whom to build a relationship. CRM was designed to serve the needs of sales management as they forecasted pipeline for the next quarter. This worked 20 years ago but is no longer sufficient for today’s empowered customers. This approach does fairly little to benefit the salesperson and does virtually nothing to benefit the customer.
With competitors just one click away, today’s best brands focus on building customer loyalty and trust through every single interaction. Each interaction generates data, and modern relationship-centric companies harness that vast stream of data to customize and personalize each customer’s experience – building brand loyalty, trust and credibility in a fortuitous loop, with every interaction deepening that customer relationship.
Customers expect you to anticipate their needs and orchestrate meaningful interactions that create real value for them – not just marketing and sales opportunities for yourself. Understanding the “why”, making better decisions as a result of this customer data, and actually delivering benefits to customers by anticipating their needs is the formula for building customer relationships.
Rather than simply managing customers, CRM applications need to make the leap to become Customer Relationship Platforms designed to map, measure and grow customer relationships. CRM must get closer to the customer, but it must also grow smarter – and artificial intelligence will serve as a key component of this evolution. AI will drive the future of CRM in a few ways.
First, and this will sound counterintuitive, but using AI to help customers self-serve without a human interaction is a key strategy for building a better relationship with them. Modern customers want 24/7 customer service, they don’t want to wait on hold, and they don’t want to talk to a human unless needed. The majority of modern customers do not meaningfully differentiate between in person and digital environments, and they are comfortable self-serving.
According to Gartner, “these customers don’t want you to put humans in their way if they could complete a task on their own. They don’t see the need for another person to be involved when technology so rarely fails them.”
Using AI, often in the form of chatbots, companies can reduce friction for their customers and allow them to conveniently self-serve. Customers exhibit signals in everything they do, but harnessing these signals is the key to success for relationship-centric brands. In the early years of big data, companies captured everything they could, but it was difficult to make sense of it and even harder to take meaningful action based on the insights gleaned from customer interactions.
Now, AI can sift through vast amounts of information and then use it to engage customers in a meaningful way. Furthermore, by connecting these engagements to the broader system of record within the CRM, companies can begin leveraging greater insights once the customer actually wants to interact with a front-line employee. In this scenario, AI serves both as a force multiplier for the business to achieve greater scale, but also as an insights engine that allows employees to be more effective in their interactions with customers.
By building a customer relationship platform and making deep customer relationships your goal, you will place the customer at the center of everything you do, and you will gain their loyalty as a result. Using AI to help customers self serve and employees become more engaged and effective, you will orchestrate value-added activities that create the signals you need to better understand your customers and take meaningful actions to improve your relationship. It’s time to treat every customer as if they are your only customer, whether you have tens or thousands of them.
As Forrester says, “building the ultimate lifestyle-enhancing customer relationship will be difficult, but you don’t have a choice. If you don’t offer your customer a digitally disrupted experience, another aspiring lifestyle-enhancing provider will.”
About the Author