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Bad customer service kills brands, but these 4 steps fix it

By WYNAND SMIT, CEO of INOVO

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South African businesses are faced with an exceedingly difficult task. They have to find ways to survive in the face of ongoing political uncertainty, fast eroding business and investor confidence, and declining consumer spend. From large retail banks to small consultancies, local businesses have to fight hard to win customers – and even more so to retain them. Indeed, as competition intensifies amidst a slowing economy, brand loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. Today, consumers switch between brands at the slightest hint of better prices, more responsive service and higher quality outcomes. More than ever before, businesses have to stand out – they have to have a clear differentiator in order to survive (and thrive) in a tough environment. 

But how do you stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace? The answer is straightforward: provide outstanding customer service. 

Instead of looking to change or adjust their service or product offering, South African businesses can attract and retain customers simply by providing seamless and efficient customer service. In an environment in which quality customer service is infamously absent, this can be an almost instantaneous (and relatively easy) way for businesses to gain a critical competitive advantage. 

Get your customer service right, and you will instantly stand out from the crowd…

Beyond the buzzwords

There can be no doubt that modern businesses have lost touch with the consumer and end-user. While this can be attributed to many factors (urbanization, the loss of the ‘corner store’, retail chains, hyper connectivity, etc) the end result is the same: businesses no longer have a personal, ‘human’ relationship with customers. They have no knowledge of who they are dealing with, what that person’s needs are, their historical relationship with the brand, etc. All intimacy and connection has been lost – the essential link has been broken. 

Some companies have recognised this, and have taken steps to repair the broken link. In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of myriad technology solutions and platforms to help businesses get it right. Arguably, however, many ‘solutions’ have been sold on the back of attractive buzzwords (cloud, virtualisation, AI, Big Data, chatbots, etc) that have seldom translated into positive and measurable outcomes for businesses. 

Yet the problem doesn’t lie within the technology itself: the problem lies with the simple fact that businesses still do not understand who their customers are.  

Get Back to Basics 

To provide world-class customer service and thereby differentiate themselves, businesses have to get back to the very basics of engagement. Forget the technology for now, and place the emphasis on restoring the lost link with the consumer. 

There are four key steps to take on this journey, and to provide a strong foundation for growth…

1 – Consolidate All Interactions 

In an attempt to stay ‘relevant’ and trendy, businesses are adopting multiple channels and touchpoints without understanding how to integrate them properly. We are seeing the use of WhatsApp, chatbots, social media, etc, to engage with customers, yet with no ability to track, measure and follow through on queries. 

To avoid providing lacklustre service on these channels, make sure that you consolidate and bring all the mechanisms into the same queue, i.e. into the measurement environment. If they cannot be consolidated, rather remove certain channels than allow them to dilute the brand.  

2 – Identify the Customer 

Once your channels have been consolidated, the next step is to learn to identify the customer across all the various mechanisms. To provide great service, every interaction must quickly and easily reveal who the customer is. 

3 – Harness the Data 

Once the identification piece has been solved, you can then begin to gather historical data and create a holistic view of the customer. This data can be used to predict behaviour and thus empower call centre agents with the ability to personalise their service and meet individual needs. 

4 – Create Accountability 

The final and critical step is to create accountability. Make the customer a promise, and then put mechanisms in place to track and measure if that promise is being fulfilled. Without a culture of accountability, any attempt to enhance customer service will fail. 

This also means reassessing and changing existing metrics. Today, efficiency and productivity is often measured according to the number of calls answered in a time period. Yet this means nothing in itself…were the issues resolved? Were there promises made, and were these promises upheld? 

Basics drive profit 

By getting back to the basics, understanding their customers, and creating a culture of accountability, businesses can quickly transform from within – without major investment or internal upheaval. There is no doubt that creating a winning customer service proposition is one of the fastest ways to drive bottom line profits today. 

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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