The bet on Customer Transformation to build enduring relationships

Maria, who lives in Luxembourg, was dreaming about going to Porto in May 2020, taking advantage of the abundant number of bank holidays during this month. She even booked her plane tickets and accomodation quite in advance, cleverly anticipating that prices would go high during this period.

In March, she was already in countdown mode, thinking about the coastal city (also known as “The Undefeated City”), its generous gastronomy and whimsical landscape. But, as we know, fate or whatever you believe in, had other plans for Maria. COVID-19 suddenly seemed to loom all over Europe (and all over the globe!)  and lockdown was imposed in many countries, Luxembourg being no exception.

Not surprisingly, but with a heavy heart, Maria received an email from the airline. What happened next isn’t hard to guess: the trip to Porto had to wait for an indefinite time due to the dire situation. That’s how her ordeal and that of thousands of people started. 

Sad and disappointed, Maria tried to rebook her trip or get reimbursed, but the hotline included in the cancellation email was, expectedly, busy all the time. “Why are the customer support hours the same as her working hours?” she wondered. She kept calling with no success, being on hold for 20 minutes or more each time until the call would automatically halt. 

She didn’t even dare to send an email or complete a contact form because she suspected the answer would probably never come. Would the effort be worth her time? Hence, she moved on to the social media channels, but was faced with thousands of comments from frustrated customers going through the same experience. 

Eventually, after reaching both exasperation and anger, she got hold of someone from customer service. For the ticket to be reimbursed, she was transferred to the finance department and, after filling a required form, she stopped worrying about the matter for the time being. Three months later, no reimbursement was made. More calls, more “please hold the line”, more complaining tweets, more frustration. Yes, she ultimately got the money back, but the whole experience was anything but smooth.

That’s why Customer Transformation, or customer-driven business transformation, is key. The COVID-19 pandemic brought this approach, mindset or strategy—whichever you prefer —to the fore as businesses and organisations understood that reshaping customer experience would undoubtedly be a “make or break” moment for them. 

This article explains what Customer Transformation entails and how it can deliver a great customer-centric experience that eventually drives business growth. 

 
What is Customer Transformation?

In simple terms, Customer Transformation is about putting customers or potential customers first and making their experience with the  business the best possible throughout all stages (or touchpoints) of their journey, from their first interaction with the brand, product or service, to actually having made the purchase, and even beyond, at any post-sales touch point. So, it’s all about the customer experience (CX), happening in the physical and digital realm, including channels such as mobile, email, contact center, website, showrooms, among others.

At this point you may wonder how Customer Transformation fits into the user experience (UX) equation. While Customer Transformation entails all the customer’s interactions with a brand across all touchpoints, user experience (UX) focuses on a unique interaction, for instance, with a specific product, website or even feature within the website. In other words, UX is what one experiences when using a product or service (especially digital) to achieve a certain goal. 

Businesses, public sector organisations, individuals, legal entities, and even third parties (especially in a B2B2C business model), can all benefit from implementing Customer Transformation solutions. 

 
The perks of Customer Transformation

First, with Customer Transformation, businesses and organisations will be fitter to cope with change. Pushing the business wheels while going through the COVID-19 crisis has taught them an important lesson: change readiness is a must-have skill. In fact, during the crisis, businesses, governments and public institutions had to refocus their attention on customer service and find new ways to engage with their customers (or citizens) since they weren’t able to do so physically. For businesses, this also meant certifying and expanding their identity that is, to differentiate themselves from their competitors, so that customers would choose them and remain loyal. 

Public institutions were particularly keen to go through such transformation so they could deal with the COVID-19 situation and reassure the population and communicate with them. The Luxembourg Government, for instance, is cited as a good example of efficient coronavirus management. They communicated quickly with their constituents via live stream, social media campaigns and by sending flyers to people’s homes in the four main languages (Luxembourgish, French, English and Portuguese); they put in place a dedicated website which was updated frequently (almost daily) with the latest information in terms of number of infections, deaths and measures; and they smoothly implemented large-scale testing and a dedicated web portal.

The pandemic’s aftermath not only led businesses and organisations to want to know more about their customers and improve their experiences, but the data volume they got from an increasing number of online customer interactions allowed them to do so. 

But there is more. Customer Transformation can bring more value to businesses and organisations in varied ways. By allowing them to share the right, engaging messages through the right channels at the right time, it can help them to increase their conversion rate by turning a potential customer into a new customer. It also can enhance customer loyalty and engagement leading to more sales, and boost customer referral and advocacy. Businesses and organisations could reduce costs and save time as well by introducing automation whenever pertinent (for example, in marketing and sales). Ultimately, Customer Transformation can stabilise or even increase revenue and create a continuous dialogue with customers. 

 
What are the steps of the Customer Transformation journey? 

Customer Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, neither is it an easy, one-shot task. It requires the leadership’s commitment, resources and a plan. 

The first step to kick off the transformation is to come up with a well-defined strategy, followed by the design of all the customer journeysfrom awareness to purchase and ultimately to loyalty and advocacyfor different services, departments and products. The next step is to identify all the pain points, to categorise them, and to analyse how the current processes, people and solutions could help, or not, to solve them. Then, it’s important to gather all the gaps and brainstorm on new solutions to close these gaps.

In sum, the goal is to help organisations to optimise their processes and solutions at any level of the value chain, which in turn will contribute to their growth and customer retention. 

 
A closer look into the role of digital enablement

It’s undeniable that we’re  living in the era of digital transformation. If organisations want to keep up with the pace, a digital enablement plan to implement digital platforms and solutions that will streamline their internal operations is a must-have.

Digital enablement is leading organisations to adjust their business models and to adapt to any changing market reality. What is interesting is that they aren’t doing it only for them, but for their customers, to answer their needs and desires. However, this might not come easily as it requires changing the strategy more often than before. While in the past that adjustment or change happened every five or 10 years, now it’s every year. And technology embracement is, then, much needed to reduce the risk of failure and to appeal to the younger generations. 

Some examples of digital enablement that are closely linked to Customer Transformation include digital identification (for instance, biometrics), customer feedback collection tools, virtual events and digitalised onboarding solutions, and subscription management systems, to name a few. Another important aspect brought by digital enablement is the democratisation of self-service options as this will save staff and sales representatives’ time and allow them to be more focused in assisting customers during more valuable instances.

 
Don’t worry, the human voice is here to stay

You may wonder next: how can good Customer Transformation strike a balance between human interaction and technology? We all have been, at some point, somewhat disappointed when we needed some information and realised that the answer was coming from a bot and not from a human being. In all fairness, some simple interactions, such as providing basic information or carrying out simple operations, can be done by a virtual agent. 

However, the human element should still be in the room and it shouldn’t disappear, now or in the future, especially when it comes to performing complex tasks or requests. For example, when dealing with a very specific client segment, businesses will still need an advisor to assist customers throughout their journeys, from providing tailored information and advice to helping them with the purchase process, or even reassure them. Giving customers the feeling that they are being listened to and understood, and treating them as individuals and not just as a number, is fundamental and will remain so. 

 
What to keep in mind when taking the Customer Transformation road

 

  1. Remember that old habits die hard. People have their own ways of working (whether it be using specific processes, documents or systems). So, when introducing a new way of interacting with clients or new solutions, organisations may face resistance from their employees. Having them on board before and during the adoption phase is key. It’s important to engage with them from the outset of the project, collect all their pain points and address them. In sum, organisations want to make sure their employees are keen to implement the changes and use the  tools accompanying that change, and even to become advocates and recommend them to their colleagues.
  2. Be aware of risks. As businesses and organisations gather plenty of data through their interactions with clients, they need to ensure that it’s properly and safely collected, processed and stored. They must be aware and compliant with GDPR, which is crucial to increase customers’ loyalty and gain their trust. eIDAS is another important regulation, as it builds trust between businesses, customers and the digital solutions (for example, the e-signature). 
  3. Avoid the silos. One usual problem we face as customers when interacting with a company through their different channels is that they don’t always have the same story to tell us. It’s important to ensure that all the information and interactions are consistent between all the departments and that client data is centralised. On the service side, businesses need to ensure the quality and accuracy of the information they provide to customers and offer the right service in terms of transactions and expertise.
  4. Keep it personal. Companies tend to fit customers into one box, but we all have different personas— characteristics, preferences and roles. In other words, you can interact with companies under different hats, for instance as a father, as a businessman, or as a plant aficionado. Having centralised data allows businesses to define the different personas based on each individual’s multiple roles.

Afterthoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic can be classified as an unexpected and extraordinary event. The lesson to be drawn from it is that organisations need to be ready for the unexpected and the extraordinary, always. However, this is crucial not only because of global pandemics, but also because customers’ expectations and needs are constantly and rapidly changing. Thus, adapting  accordingly is the skill of the century. 

 
What we think
Patrice Passé-Coutrin, Director Technology Consulting at PwC Luxembourg
Patrice Passé-Coutrin, Director Technology Consulting at PwC Luxembourg

The COVID-19 pandemic showed that organisations must be reactive, even proactive at times, to adapt to new market realities. That’s where Customer Transformation comes to the rescue. But ultimately, even though there are many trends in terms of solutions and processes in the market, you should keep your transformation journey simple. If it’s complex for you to manage, it will be complex for your clients to understand it.

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