I recently gave a talk at the Contact Centre Leaders Convention titled Understanding the Customer of the Future.
I set out to define what a future customer might look like by reflecting on a time when the future customer was me. That was in the late 1980s when Next Directory and First Direct launched within a year of one another – 1988 and 1989 respectively.
- Imagine a fashion retailer that you could call up to 10pm at night, to chat about style and accessories and place an order, and have the goods delivered to your door within 48 hours? And if something didn’t fit, to call back and they’d send someone round to pick the items up?
- Imagine a bank that you could call 24/7/365 to talk with someone about your money and financial offers, that considered itself a customer contact channel first and a bank second? And imagine getting straight through, no on-hold Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or IVR?
This was at a time when direct mail dominated and order coupons set the tone – wait 28 days for delivery – when banks closed at 3:30pm, when a 1st class stamp cost 98p, a pint was 99p and a litre of petrol was 34p.
It’s interesting to me, that what was key to the ‘future customer experience’ in the late 80’s was ideas, not tech. As marvelous as these innovative approaches were to retail and banking, there was nothing new in the delivery mechanisms of the service.
- It was the idea of shopping by phone taken to an entirely new level, supported by a fabulous, high quality catalogue, designed and manufactured in Italy, with fabric swatches and top-class photography. It was the idea of speaking to knowledgeable customer service fashionistas to 10pm in the evening who were in love with the brand as much as you were.
- In banking, it was the idea that it was YOUR money 24/7/365 – so why shouldn’t you be able to speak with a professional that understands financial products who’s empowered to increase your overdraft, cancel fees and offer you better products at any time – day or night?
Ideas – not tech. 34 years ago. Outstanding by today’s standards, out of this world back then.
Which begs the question, what’s a ‘future customer’ today?
Again, I see ideas over tech driving customer expectations – why can’t I ask Alexa to do my shopping (Amazon Prime)? Why can’t I cycle to get fit in the comfort of my own home (Peloton)? Why can’t I walk in to the food store, grab what I need and walk out and let technology take care of the payment (Amazon Fresh)? Why can’t I listen to every song I ever loved and watch every new movie whenever and wherever I want to (Spotify, Deezer, Netflix, Disney+)?
The opening up of the high street will certainly set demands on brands to offer experiences that truly excite, enthuse and engage customers – but this will need to be creatively sustained online, on mobile and on social after store closing time – the new ‘phygital’ reality of today’s consumer/brand interplay.
Now given my life has a different focus than it had in 1988, I decided to ask my 15-year-old daughter for her view on what mattered to her as a consumer. As an avid subscriber to fashion vlogs, I suggested she write a list of her favourite vloggers, what she liked about them and what brands they represented:
- Top of her list was Freddy My Love. Freddy Cousin-Brown from London is in her early twenties and vlogs on beauty and fashion and has racked up 106.1m views on her YouTube channel since 2014, with more than 1.1m subscribers. My daughter commented: “although she does shop higher end brands, she includes affordable dupes for them. And she’s a Londoner.” FMLs brands include Zimmerman, ZARA, ASOS, H&M and Hollister with a focus on fashion hauls, outfit ideas, and wardrobe essentials.
- In second place is Kerina Wang with 52.5m views and 670k subscribers. Kerina is Chinese, now based in Singapore, and offers styling tips, outfit ideas, and look books – “videos are entertaining, featuring affordable brands, and she also includes discount codes.” Brands include Shein, BooHoo, Romwe, and Nasty Gal.
- In third place is another Londoner, Sian Lilly. The youngest in the top three, Sian has notched up 26.9m views with 570k subscribers, offering outfit ideas and wardrobe essentials from ZARA and House of CB.
Dupes. Look-books. Fashion Hauls. All new to me.
All three have a collective Instagram following of over a million.
These figure pale when compared with Vanity Fair’s top three which include Mark Fischbach (gaming) with 24.3m subscribers, Ethan & Grayson Dolan (lifestyle & comedy) with 10.4m and Emma Chamberlain (lifestyle and comedy) with 8.43m subscribers. Collectively, more than 40m subscribers.
I attended Influencer Marketing World in March. The global influencer-marketing platform market size was valued at USD 4.6 billion in 2018. Recently released figures indicate that the value of this specific market more than doubled between 2019 and 2021, growing from 6.5 billion to 13.8 billion USD dollars in three years alone.
Where next for our future customer then? Livestreaming! Just as QVC in the 1980s brought tele-shopping to the masses, now the combination of these millions of subscribers and viewers across a multiplicity of social media platforms are being targeted by livestream ‘shoppertainment’. Livestream e-commerce is expected to reach $25 billion in sales in the U.S. by 2023, and since its launch in 2019, the AliExpress in-app live streaming feature, has drawn an audience of nearly 92 million globally, with more than 84 million interactions (comments and likes).
Ideas not tech.
How do remote customer management and engagement operations need to respond to the future customer? The customer care team, whether inbound or outbound, whatever the channel, underpin the experience of customers, reactively and proactively, pre, post and during the purchasing/brand interaction journey. So, while we’re working on our Bring Your Own Device strategy, we also need to be driving a ‘Bring Yourself as a Customer’ mindset, skillset and toolset:
- The mindset, for example, needs a knowledge base that extends to who your brand’s top influencer marketers are, what they’re saying on vlogs and how they look and describe your products and services.
- The skillset needs to emphasise 21st century customer journey realities, what these channels offer your business – not last century KPIs and SLAs. By elevating the role of the advisor in this way to ‘trusted customer advisor’ we’re truly offering empowerment.
- The toolset needs to excite and enthuse customer facing employees no less than the new tech and platforms available to vlog subscribers and livestreaming shoppers. That’s how you back up empowerment, accelerate an intrapreneurial spirit and motivate your colleagues.
We also need to look at the ‘phygital’ relationship between stores, ecommerce and the customer management operation. Just as customers will expect to be sustained online in their in-store experience of the brand, so too there are increasing opportunities to blend in-store and remote customer management:
- Take the AVONDX analytics solution for retailers. It takes the established functionality and benefits of the customer contact environment and applies it to real-time, in-store staff/customer engagement. Just as we seek to ensure advisors are on message while at the end of a call, now it’s possible to do the same for staff working in face to face environments. Proof points of increased customer engagement, revenue and advocacy are just as attractive as they are for remote customer service.
- Heal’s recently piloted the use of live chat on their website connecting customers direct to in-store staff. They saw an increase of 50% to 100% in order value and a 10 fold conversion rate. Walking down Oxford Street recently as stores reopened, seeing all those retail staff wandering aimlessly through the aisles in their stores would make a WFM director weep! Elevate, empower and enable them!
Ideas not tech.
What next then for BPO or CXM? Or is it CXBPO? Even this nomenclature debate reflects the challenge for the industry today – MPS: male, pale and stale. I use the term provocatively of course. ‘Pale thinking’ (up there with ‘beige’ in my book) isn’t the preserve of any generation, gender or role. And the skills, expertise and significant experience of thousands upon thousands of brilliant managers and directors are constantly driving innovation and new thinking in the delivery of customer management and engagement.
But reflecting on my daughter’s consumer persona, the investment of businesses like Inditex in digital (+30% of capex) or the phenomenal investment of Amazon (+$42bn) to cement its position as the world’s biggest retailer, for me the question remains: is the industry thinking wide enough and deep enough about the experiences of the future customer to ensure today’s operations are considering all the options open to them, and thereby the best offerings by way of response?
This next decade will be dominated by a working and consumer generation for whom the world without internet is unthinkable, where digital experiential assets are bought and sold as NFTs (non-fungible assets), where blockchain is a driver of everything from currency to direct customer involvement in the creation of a brand’s products and services.
Our industry needs to have the conviction of its pivotal and unequivocal role in the great ecosystem of customer/brand value exchange. We need to ‘fail, fail fast and fail better’, to arrive at the successes that will reimagine that role as an unassailable and powerful engine room for 21st century customer management and engagement, just as it was in the 80’s – with ideas, not tech.