The context is King

catalyst

Knowing more about your millennial customer at a given moment — is she at the movies, does she have a cold — is the clincher

You often hear about the importance of customer experience. You also hear about how customer expectations of it are changing. But why have they changed? And, for that matter, have they?

Let’s get back to the basics … all the way back to the customer.

Who is a customer?

You are a customer. I am a customer. And what do customers do? Shop!

Let’s take an example from our everyday lives. Let’s say we buy a book online. We expect to “see” the book, the cover page, and maybe the table of contents. We expect to see the price and check whether any discounts are on offer. We expect to see what other people have bought. We expect to see reviews and comments. We expect to get delivery in a day or two, maximum. We expect delivery to be free. We expect that, over time, the book-selling website remembers us, sends us recommendations, and so on.

So, that is who a customer is. And, that’s how today a customer behaves in all walks of life, and all this is what a customer expects.

The millennial is never satisfied

Now I am one of the relatively older generation of customers. Someone who remembers ‘the good old days’ when you walked into a store and browsed books, had a cup of coffee, maybe bought a book or borrowed a book (yes, that old). I am easily pleased with the internet shopping experience. But, there is a younger customer who hasn’t seen “that” world. Who thinks that getting a book over the net in a day or two (seems fast to me) is extremely slow. The younger customer, also called the millennial customer by marketers, hasn’t seen the ‘good old days’.

This millennial as a customer is what enterprises have to deal with today. If the millennial has to ask his friends if they like his new shirt, he doesn’t wait to meet them. He WhatsApps with a click. If he needs to fix his car, he doesn’t open the car manual. He googles. If he has to learn a programming language he doesn’t have to enrol in a local school. He opens an app or signs up online. For him (or her) it’s all instantaneous, here and now. And enterprises, be they car manufacturers, fashion boutiques, schools or banks or any other organisation — all must cater to this new customer.

Now, that’s who the customer is. But when you talk about serving “this” set of customer, or rather delighting them, fulfilling the immediate need is a challenge. Social media is abuzz with cribs about bad customer service, even with levels of service that enterprises today think is a marked improvement on the past. Common irritant: “These guys cannot service me. They don’t even know about me what they ought to know!” How many times have you, as a customer, felt that the call centre service rep doesn’t seem to know you even after years of patronage?

What’s missing?

Context! But… but… what is context? You thought it was just jargon and now it’s gone missing?

Let’s look at something really simple. Like someone saying “I am hungry”. Let’s think that this is a customer need. What do you think she expects? Food? Of course. That’s common sense. But, what food?

Let’s add context. She is 12 (that’s a customer demographic). Now what do you think she expects? You can guess better, but it would still be a generalisation for that age. You still don’t know what she needs, wants, expects. Let’s add some more context. What if she has a cough and a cold and it’s winter? Well, then, maybe she needs some soup. What if she has just returned from school and she has called you at work? Well, maybe she needs a hearty lunch but since you’re at work, you can only order in (that also adds a few more things to consider about payment, delivery times, and so on). What if it’s an intermission at a movie and you have planned dinner later? Well, maybe she is allowed a small popcorn.

So, knowing the customer is not enough. Add to that the expectation levels of this millennial set. If you don’t know their context you have barely scratched the surface. And, your service will end up ruffling some feathers on the way.

Context is everything, it’s decisive. It’s much more than the demographics. It includes the situation, the transaction history and much more. This is what enterprises are up against. On the one hand they have to cater to a completely new kind of customer set and on the other, they have to figure out the context of their customer.

Regardless of what industry you are in, which region you are from, whether you are serving businesses or consumers, your customer has a set of expectations that need to be not just met, but exceeded. Great customer experience is the fundamental expectation today.

And to achieve that, knowing not just the customer, but their business context and situational context is key. That’s the secret sauce of a great customer experience today – knowing the context.

Harness the context

As an enterprise, you have to know the context, and you have to know how to harness it, and how to leverage it. How do you do that?

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it.

Context is, of course, information. Data. The customer identity, the demographic, the background, interests, the history and geography of it all. But, as we said, that’s like saying “12 years old” in the example we talked about. Additionally, the ‘secret sauce’ context is the “situational” context and “transactional” context.

Let’s admit that millennials expect these things because someone is providing them this experience in some form, in certain parts of their lives. They want to see this in their interactions with larger enterprises alike. They don’t know the difference between a very large bank with thousands of back-end systems and decades of legacy and a tech start-up born in the digital economy. They just expect the same level of customer experience.

Connect to get context

So, can a large enterprise or a mid-size company with years of legacy achieve this speedy and contextual engagement (if we can refer to it that way)? What is needed is a similar approach that makes organisations such as Uber, Airbnb, Etsy and Flipkart possible. Combine and connect the existing resources — people, processes, systems and things — to provide this customer experience.

This, of course, requires that the underlying systems and technologies support orchestration (workflows) that can carry the transactional content. This also requires that the system supports a case management like functionality to render flexibility in the process.

This also requires that the system empowers the decision-makers with the context — information to enable fast and contextually correct decisions. This requires the ability to have business rules systems that can be manipulated with ease to deal with changes in the business context. While you can think of transforming the IT systems, it’s nearly impossible to throw out the legacy and sweep across the board for these large-scale technology changes. However, you can still orchestrate among your people, systems and things better through a business process management technology integrated with a powerful enterprise content management system. The secret sauce of great customer experience – the context — is there for you to use. You just need to mix it well. Connect better.

(Ashok Kapoor is Vice-President - Marketing, Newgen Software)

Published on March 03, 2016

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