Few people in today’s day might remember the times when purchasing a car or a scooter in India meant a wait of several years. So also for a landline telephone number. And other similar products and services.
During those times, what could you say about customer experience? If the automobile company allowed you to come into their premises, make you wait for a few hours, but after that, accept your application form and cheque, for a car that you wished to purchase (whose delivery could be after a few years), you should have been happy and satisfied!
From that level of what would now seem to be an abject form of customer experience, to where we are today, in the digital era, and in times of abundance (having moved out of the “shortage” economy), is a long journey.
Today’s customer is ever-demanding customer who does not have much patience, who will rush to social media to rant about a brand if she faces the slightest friction, and who can be rally around support from peers, against a brand. In terms of her expectations, the phrase that sums it up, is “I want Instant Gratification. And I want it NOW..”.
So, what changed in terms of the customer’s expectation from a brand experience?
Some of these aspects are beyond digital. For example, that we have gone from what was largely an economy of shortage, or of limited availability, to one of abundance, and one of ample choice. That means that a consumer is not stuck to one brand, and if she is unhappy, she has the opportunity to move her business elsewhere.
Also, the opening up of the economy brought in many foreign brands, who had higher standards of offering a great customer experience, and as they acquired a larger share of the business, they pushed their Indian counterparts to also raise their level of customer service.
But in addition to these factors, came the advent of digital!
We were in the era of Google and Facebook, and Amazon and Flipkart. Brands that responded rapidly in digital. Like when you search on Google, you don’t “wait” for a response. It is there instantaneously. Or when you post something on Twitter or Facebook, you get responses pretty quickly. Or when you order on Amazon or Flipkart, and they promise quick delivery.
So, at one level, the customer got used to getting quick responses.
While these were in fact, digital responses, the expectation of speed rubbed off, also on physical experiences and deliveries!
And then everybody also became “media”, thanks to social media! So as a dissatisfied consumer, one took to Twitter or Facebook, to let the world know about the dissatisfaction! Again, while for most people, the reach of their social media is very limited, sometimes these rants also come from people with larger follower base. Or many people start sharing their own stories of bad experiences with a brand. Either ways, it starts affecting the brand adversely.
Due to these factors, brands have had to find ways to improve customer experiences. What are the different changes that brands are making to deliver better customer experience, on digital platforms?
- Being available and responsive: at Mirum, we have seen the evolution of brands going from being occasionally present on social media, to being 24×7. This is because the consumer is present 24×7 and when that consumer has a question at 10 pm in the night, he is not happy to have to wait till next day 11 am to get the answer from the brand. This has forced brands to work on 24×7 social media command centers to respond to customers quickly.
- Being friendly and occasionally, funny as well: It is not enough for a brand to be available and respond. Is that response friendly? Does it appear to show a human face and not look robotic? Is there an element of humour that could bring a smile on the customer’s face? All those are also becoming necessary in today’s times.
- Being transparent: A good customer experience today includes knowing the origin of a product, knowing about the environment quotient or the chemical content, or if real animals were damaged while shooting the scene for a movie etc. Customers ask these questions, and while brands got away with not responding earlier, today is the era of transparency. A good customer experience demands that as well.
- Giving good value for money: Especially in the digital era, businesses are pushed to give discounts, coupons, deals of various kinds, to essentially deliver a value-for-money experience to the customer.
What has also changed in terms of actual implementation of such changes is that the silos inside organizations are slowly breaking down. In traditional media, each department was able to manage their respective reputation, their respective customer engagement etc. However, on digital, a customer could come and talk about customer service and product quality and price all at the same time. It forces brands to put up a common single face, and to do so well, internally, they need to combine and collaborate across the departments. Something easier said than done, thanks to legacy systems.
While it might seem that all these changes that brands need to do to deliver a good customer experience, are sort of, forced on to the brands, and are in a way, defensive measures! Well, not entirely so.
Digital also enables a unification of fans of brands, and the ones that deliver a fantastic experience can also hope for strong bonds of loyalty, and also for these fans to stand up and defend the brand on digital, even before the brands themselves jump in to do so.
Overall, therefore a lot has changed in customer expectations and delivery of a good customer experience. A brand with a lesser than adequate customer experience will surely suffer in this era, and the ones who are good, can also expect significant returns and benefits, coming via customer love!
Sanjay Mehta, Jt. CEO, Mirum Digital Pvt Ltd