For Jenn Wong, the key to customer centricity in 2022 starts with the pillar of any good relationship: communication.
As the co-founder of Brooklyn, NY-based Gone to the Dogs —a social enterprise partnering with women artisans and makers globally and locally to bring handmade ethical pet goods to market — Wong knows there’s no point in trying to surprise and delight customers if you can’t even provide them with your product. Supply chain issues are just one of the ongoing obstacles that could continue to affect the quality of customer experience (CX) brands offer this year.
“Let customers know that there are delays due to shipping and production. Businesses should be prepared to help customers with other options as gifts. It is also essential to keep customers updated in every way possible whether it be via website, social media, or in person.”
This may sound like common sense, but with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 bringing back restrictions or even lockdowns in some areas again, brands are being particularly mindful of getting the CX basics right.
At Toronto-based SEO firm Rank Secure, for example, CEO Baruch Labunski said his approach to customer centricity in 2022 is to pay more attention to learning what really matters to prospective customers.
“These are folks in my pipeline, so they have absolutely no reason to pull punches,” he said. “I want to know what services matter most to them, what will turn them off, and what value-added options will make them loyal customers for life.”
Labunski said his plan to reach these prospective clients is via his CRM software, in the form of brief questions, including some open-ended ones that invite free discussion. Another simple tactic is following up with existing customers to check to make sure Rank Secure is meeting all their existing needs.
“Whether it’s a quick email or Skype call after a project is finished or simply a routine check-in, I want to know if there’s more I can do to help them grow their businesses,” he said.
Where loyalty is headed in 2020
David Slavick, co-founder and partner at Ascendant Loyalty, agreed that customer centricity is all about becoming more knowledgeable about who you’re serving through data. However he pointed out that many customers are showing increased sensitivity around how their information is used. As a result, they want companies to prove that they are leveraging insight to deliver outstanding service, relevant product recommendations and a strong price/value equation, he said.
“A key investment trend continues to be advanced predictive analytics founded on both zero-party and first party data, which is essential to help optimize margin on goods sold,” Slavick said. “(We’re going to see deeper investment in price optimization tools, supply chain and logistics planning capabilities, especially in the retail/specialty retail space.”
Jay Myers, vice-president of Growth and co-founder of Bold Commerce, predicted loyalty programs will become a thing of the past, giving away instead to models based on the Amazons and Costcos of the world.
“People crave membership and community; it’s human nature. What’s not human nature is to crave being in a loyalty program,” he said. “Brands will embrace the membership model and add value to their existing programs through benefits, such as exclusive access to products, content, offline events, free shipping, partner discounts, and other forms of entertainment and convenience.”
And unlike loyalty programs that customers are hesitant to join, these membership programs will be so compelling that customers will actually be willing to pay to join, Myers added.
Customers might not only gravitate to memberships but actively participate on “boards of consumers” that provide insight that informs CX from the outset, said Rob Holland, CEO of agile research provider Feedback Loop. This will help them avoid mistakes and even controversies that lead to financial challenges.
“For instance, if Kim Kardashian had tested the brand name Kimono (the precursor to what is now SKIMS) with consumers before launch, she would have known it hit a cultural nerve and could have avoided significant backlash,” Holland said. “This is not to say that marketers won’t have bad ideas in 2022 — that’s inevitable — but we’ll at least see more of them skip the part where they turn those bad ideas into catastrophic decisions for their brands.”
Customization and targeting in 2022
Even vendors within the CX space are fine-tuning their approach to customer centricity.
At Tel Aviv.-based customer intelligence platform Affogata, for instance, co-founder and CEO Sharel Omer said the firm is in the process of customizing its offering for specific verticals such as gaming and fintech, as well as for specific roles within organizations, such as product.
“Although that might sound a bit generic, our entire mission as a company is to enable our clients to be customer-obsessed,” he said, citing Wix and Lemonade among its existing clientele. So when we say customize by vertical, we might mean taking into account influential trading groups beyond Wall Street Bets and their relative influence on fintech players, or Discord forums for gaming customers. The insights that can then be gathered have value for marketing, high-level decision making, and of course product.
For product teams, for instance, Omer said Affogata could highlight specific data points that are crucial for guiding product teams and enabling them to modify products in real-time, helping with market and product launches.
Companies have been conducting both market research and user research long before terms like “customer intelligence” emerged, of course. With apps and websites becoming the new storefronts and marketing acquisition channels, market research will converge with user research to become one continuous function, predicted Rick Kelly, CPO at Fuel Cycle.
“We will see more maturity come into the UX research space, meaning the tactics typically used for market research will also be used in user research,” said Kelly, whose firm provides cloud-based software in this area. “This convergence will support user research as it gradually emerges as the essential research category over the next few years.”
All this researching and data analysis shouldn’t take away from another basic truism of customer centricity, said John January, CEO of Kansas City-based marketing and design firm Signal Theory. It all comes down to how the experience makes people feel in the moment.
“For any brand, it comes down to connecting with the humanity of your customers (and your employees for that matter). I know that sounds simple but all too often this basic premise can gets overshadowed in the bright lights of technology and data,” he said. “Whatever product or service you are offering, in the end, you need to remember that you’re selling joy, comfort or meaning — a.k.a., belonging. Maybe a combination of those needs or maybe just one. Those are the pillars of human needs. Ask yourself how your product, services or experiences feed into those and you’ll win.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.