From restaurants and retailers to manufacturers and service organizations, technology has fundamentally changed how people buy goods and services. With the creation of Amazon, consumers have come to expect a similar shopping experience no matter what or where they purchase. We have reached a fork in the road where some customers value the overall experience, while others are more focused on convenience. It is the organizations that are able to provide both through an optimized e-commerce presence that will realize the greatest success.
Today, businesses in all industries have the ability to cultivate deeper relationships with customers by leveraging digital technology. To realize the benefits of these technologies, it is imperative that companies understand how to choose the right solution and how to tailor programs to specific customer demands and preferences. Achieving that balance can build a more meaningful connection with your customers and ultimately increase your brand’s reputation and profitability.
Developing a comprehensive digital platform is a challenge for many middle market companies, as shown in RSM’s 2018 Digital Transformation Survey. Only 26 percent of middle market CFOs believe they are leading their competition when it comes to digital transformation. Of the companies that feel they are lagging behind competitors, the primary reason is the inability to align technology applications, customer experience and corporate strategy into an effective digital solution.
To effectively utilize technology to strengthen the customer experience, you must consider how innovation can enhance your sales efforts in two key areas: cultivating existing customer relationships and attracting new customers. You need to look inward and ask questions about your current strategy from both perspectives and determine how to shape it moving forward.
For example, from a current customer perspective:
- Am I using predictive analytics to understand customer habits and needs?
- Am I staying digitally connected and monitoring social media for trends and product opinions?
- How am I segmenting or treating different types of customers?
- Is my company easy to do business with, and are operations aligned with customer strategies?
Conversely, to gain new customers:
- Do I have an effective outreach strategy and measured programs to obtain new customers?
- Is my company leveraging data analytics to determine what products customers need and when?
- Am I leveraging digital marketing to build partnerships with retailers?
- Am I utilizing customer relationship management (CRM) software to determine if potential customers are viewing my content and information?
- Have I developed innovative ways to enable potential customers to try my products before buying them?
Cultivating current customer relationship
Whether you are selling goods and services in a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) environment, digital solutions provide organizations with an opportunity to establish loyal customers by delivering a streamlined and purposeful experience. For example, one of our clients is both a contract manufacturer that also manufactures products under its own brand, creating separate B2B and B2C channels with different technology demands.
From a B2B perspective, the company has implemented predictive analytics technology to remain agile and forecast appropriate inventory levels throughout the year to better serve its contract manufacturing client demands. However, with its own branded B2C business, developing and maintaining a customer connection takes on a different meaning.
When selling its branded product through other channels, the company must still protect its brand even without the direct consumer channel. Therefore, the company has implemented social listening initiatives to monitor and enhance engagement and consumer confidence on social media, allowing the business to collect valuable data that is then integrated into its CRM systems, so it can understand customer preferences and be more proactive about potential issues.
Creating opportunities with new customers
A key factor to enhancing a new customer’s experience is expanding the use of data analytics. Companies collect data from customers and must leverage that information to develop the right product mix and selling strategies. Today, we have seemingly endless volumes of data to decipher patterns and preferences. However, you can further enhance your understanding of how to reach your customers by using technologies such as CRM applications and marketing automation tools.
The Digital Transformation Survey shows that CRM and marketing automation are two of the most important components of digital strategies, with both mentioned by 95 percent of middle market CFOs.
CRM platforms are particularly helpful to developing new customer relationships. Utilizing these systems effectively can show how users have interacted with your company, such as reading an article or visiting a particular page on your website. These insights can help you tailor your sales efforts or your product offerings to a potential customer at the right time.
A new wave of technology is challenging the traditional commerce framework and creating more opportunities to increase profitability. One example involves vendors more actively supporting retailers and using technology to create a more end-to-end customer experience drawing people to their product. Many companies have created interactive displays for deployment in retail stores and have taken responsibility for these investments, instead of the retailers themselves. The companies that are on the cutting edge are implementing this type of partnership approach, because they have leveraged technology and data to better understand the consumer.
In addition, leveraging digital marketing applications such as social media, mobile apps and email applications provide creative ways to dip your toes in the water with new customers and gauge their interest. In many ways, these applications present new avenues to introduce people to your products and encourage them to try your products or services.
The use of social media initiatives is already prevalent in the middle market, but there may still be room for improvement. RSM’s survey finds that 89 percent of middle market CFOs rate digital and social media as either extremely or very important. With its direct insight and access to customer behavior and preferences, social media should arguably be a key strategy for all organizations.
Another way companies are using technology to enhance the buying experience is with augmented reality and beacon technology. For example, eyeglass retailers have developed augmented reality solutions that allow customers to see how they look in different frames without visiting a physical location. Both augmented reality and beacon technology are not necessarily new, but it takes time for the consumer to embrace innovation. Timing is everything when implementing technology to create optimal value from the investments.
Technology can also help decrease the impact of brand risks that have accelerated in today’s digital age. With social media and increased connectivity, news of quality issues, cybersecurity risks or any other concerns travels quickly. Your company can use several technology solutions to implement controls to mitigate risks and create a plan to generate notifications to affected consumers, typically leveraging those same communication channels to issue a prompt response. Issues may never be completely eliminated, but developing an effective and efficient remediation strategy can ease customer anxiety and help reduce the impact.
Often, companies are reluctant to implement new technology, because they do not know where to start. However, without effective technology applications and capabilities in place, customers can feel digital frustration and then move to another option that is easier and provides a better buying experience. In that very common scenario, companies that lack innovation can face an uphill battle to maintain market share and may struggle to grow their business.
Nonetheless, investment in technology needs to be thoughtful, and implementation needs to be thorough. Organizations often end up chasing good dollars with technology solutions that never end up being accepted, because internal resources do not understand how the solutions will drive success. However, an experienced advisor can help drive the discussion and lead internal change management. Investing in the right technology makes a tremendous difference to your customers and can generate sustained success for your organization