Today’s consumers, whether B2B or B2C, are much more informed than ever before about the products and services they are buying. This newly found awareness based on product information, industry and peer reviews, and multiple social channels, has given consumers this sense of trust that if others “like me” purchased or bought this product, and they thought it was great, then it must be great for me as well. The impact of this is that it has set the consumer expectation at a very high level.
Most companies have not adapted to the socialization of their products and services with respect to how to conduct the full scope of business. Sales and marketing love it – they can get their name and product out to millions and millions of people, however on the reverse side of the business, the support and services group have to deal with the high expectations of customers, which has been created in part, by its own sales and marketing departments.
Thus the gap has been created.
Customer service is a complex process. To do it well, there needs to be a complete synchronization between the systems of record, people, processes, products and partnerships. However, in most corporate environments today, these attributes reside in either IT silos or departmental silos inaccessible by the organization as a whole to deliver that seamless level of service.
A good example of this is the financial services industry. They sell standard banking services, mortgages, credit cards, life insurance and other services, but each one of these products are a distinct business unit with their own systems of record, so it is no wonder that each one of them markets to you as if their product is the only one you might have purchased from them. Each system only knows what is going on in their space – customers are becoming rebellious to this type of corporate attitude.
A second challenge I see today is that there used to be a “time to quality,” meaning if I saw a product and it was a new design or a 1.0 release of software, I had an expectation that there may be some early glitches that would be worked out over time. I was willing to put up with these bugs in order to be an early adopter. Today I don’t believe that to be true. The consumer expectation is that if you are selling something, it better be perfect and it better be fully-supported from the onset, or else “I am going to be unhappy.”
On the flip side of this equation, I also believe that companies have not listened to their customers, and have not adapted their practices to meet some of the changing demands of their customers. Companies have not embraced the fact that their customers are more educated and know more about their products and services. Company and product transparency is a given due to the Internet. Look at the plethora of information available to your customers – blog posts, customer reviews, press reviews, online communities, and much more. Often, customers know more about the products and services they are purchasing than the customer service rep! You cannot hide from it.
Do I blame companies for being in this state where they are not able to adapt to their customers’ changing expectations? No. For the most part, over the past three decades, companies have purchased siloed products that capture everything an organization needs to know about their customers, their preferences, expectations, and more. The problem is, many of these systems don’t talk to each other, and so the proliferation of “systems of record” have clogged the companies’ ability to react and see their customers as a single entity.
If the customer has transparency – and insight – into your company and your products, don’t you think it would be good for you as a company to have the same level of insight into your customers? For example, what products your customers have purchased, how they use them, where they use them, upsell opportunities, and more. Laggard companies use the excuse that their IT organizations can’t keep up with the changing demands. While that is likely true, if companies continue with the traditional way of physically integrating siloed systems, they will continue to fail to gain better customer transparency and insight.
Forward-looking companies realize that customer insight comes from the ability to see your customer from different perspectives in what I call a single version of the truth. This single version of the truth comes from aggregating and consolidating data collected from all these siloed systems into a unified set of data without moving the physical data. Sounds too good to be true, I know, but the combination of Enterprise Search 2.0, knowledge management and customer experience management, can deliver on this view.
When the company and customer have a balanced transparency of each other, tremendous value is generated in the people, products, process and most importantly, the relationships, between them all. Until companies take the initiative to unify their view, and provide insight into their customers and customer service operations, there will always be an imbalance and the debate will go on.