Winning customer preference
Editorial

Winning customer preference

In the old days of one-way communication between a brand owner and target customer, life was simpler.

Messaging was controllable, channels were fewer, media options were less fragmented and implementation was largely communications led. In today’s service-dominant economy, however, it’s not what you say but how you do it that makes the difference between winning customer preference and not. So how do marketing leaders need to adapt? 

The first step is to put the customer at the very centre of the organisation’s strategy, believes Annabel Rake, chief marketing officer at Deloitte UK. “Strategy is a crucial first step to embarking on any customer experience journey – and your customers, and what those customers want from your organisation, need to be the starting point for that strategy.”

That might sound obvious, she admits. “But it’s all too easy to think of customers as names on a spreadsheet."

At Deloitte, however, we see them as individuals first. They may represent only one part of an organisation that buys services from us, but we see them as a person first and foremost and that is the point from which we create their experience with us. From there, we work out what that person wants, how we can deliver it to them in way that will meet our objectives as well as their own and it’s that which ultimately differentiates us from our competitors.”

Today’s empowered, connected and informed customer has greater expectations of the experience they’ll receive from a brand, as well as the role they’ll have in personalising and shaping that – and rethinking your strategy in this way really is the only way organisations can respond, especially in the world of B2B, she says. “Interestingly, in B2B marketing, we were getting customer experience right before getting brand and communications right, which does now put us at a huge advantage.”

Most businesses will say they put customers at the heart of everything they do, acknowledges Rake. “But in most cases, they exist to make a profit and all too often, that means their starting point is what they want to sell.

But if you do that, you’re starting in the wrong place and you simply won’t build a great customer experience.”

Ensuring consistency on a range of touch points within the customer journey is particularly critical, adds Rake. “The way we achieve this is by having a lead client service partner for each and every client and that individual is effectively responsible for the entire relationship with Deloitte - from how we serve the client, right through to understanding what we have coming up from a ‘relationship assets’ perspective. That might be around an industry-specific insight through to something more personal like career development we can offer a client. This enables us to really pick the best of what we have to offer as an organisation and make sure we are bringing that to bear with the client. That is, in the end, how we get the best consistency.”

It’s not that brand consistency isn’t important, she says. “We do of course ensure that every client has a clearly Deloitte experience if, for example, they come to an event one week and another three months down the line. But a bigger focus is building the relationship, and that means having someone they can deal with, whom they know well.”

This is where there’s a big difference between B2B and B2C, she believes. “In B2B, we have the luxury of understanding who the client is – what’s keeping them awake at night, the type of people they are - whereas in B2C, that could be very hard, if not impossible, especially in the mass market. But the principle of trying to create a tailored experience for each customer you want to work with is something that is absolutely transferable.”

Despite Rake’s belief in consistency, she says it can be better – certainly within Deloitte – to do one thing brilliantly on the customer journey than five things that are just “good”. “That’s because the quality of the brilliant experience is something the client will always remember. Just doing stuff that’s good, on the other hand, won’t really move the needle in terms of client relationships. That said, it’s critical not to create an experience that doesn’t meet the client’s expectations and which leaves a bad taste in their mouth. It is for this reason that it is so important to become familiar about what their expectations are of you. In fact, I’d say it’s among the key ingredients for success when trying to connect brand promise with the reality of customer experience.”

Another key ingredient in making this connection is measuring the customer experience that you provide, so that you can tweak what you are doing accordingly, believes Rake. “There are lots of ways of doing this. In our business, for example, we do overall brand tracking studies.

We also do quite a lot of in-depth, one-to-one interviews. In these cases, we ask a range of different people in client organisations about their experience of working with us. It’s not just about how they feel a particular piece of work went and whether they are satisfied with it, but whether they take advantage of career development opportunities we offer, whether they come to our events, whether they take part in events like Deloitte Ride Across Britain event and so on. The idea is to get a real feel of what is going down well with clients and to take that information and marry it up with the overall views from brand tracking studies so that we can really start to see which things make a difference and which things aren’t even being mentioned, perhaps leading you to question whether you should even be doing them. This measurement piece is critical to what the customer actually experiences.”

The depth and breadth of the customer base can be a huge stumbling block in providing customer experience, believes Rake. “We work with roughly 20,000 organisations, but we focus less on the actual organisations and more on the people within them that we want to get to.

It’s all about prioritisation and looking at who are the key clients to continue to start developing, or continue developing, a relationship with.” A further solution is to focus on providing a joined-up service for all clients, she says. “Because Deloitte is based all around the world and provides a number of different services, it’s not unusual for senior clients to be buying from many different parts of our business. So we have to make sure we have an integrated approach rather than working in siloes. We enable that integrated approach through technology – for example by using marketing automation to support communications with clients.”

Digital is another potential stumbling block, adds Rake. “For us, technology is an enabler, for example, in providing brilliant data on clients. But it should never be a replacement for having a direct relationship. Failure to appreciate this can lead to some fundamental mistakes – for instance, in our case, it might mean sending an insight piece on change when we’ve just finished an organisational change programme with them six months previously. It’s hard for a ‘system’ to know everything.”

So whilst technology can provide marketers with great insights, it needs to be overridden with an approach that takes into consideration what you are doing for that customer at the moment and what digital is going to add to the overall customer experience, she says.

“In particular, intelligent marketing automation systems are fantastic at providing insight into client preferences and can help clients have an element of self-selection in terms of how they interact with you as an organisation.

Over time, for instance, you might learn that a client never opens an attachment to an email, but likes coming to events, which can change the way you engage with them. You might also learn that John Smith at X company is really interested in a particular topic, but you haven’t had a conversation with him about that yet and so you use the system to help you build an improved relationship. The key is that the technology must always be taken back to the human interface,” she says. “Of course, data privacy comes into play here, so you also need to put processes in place to ensure that data is being used in an appropriate way.”

Digital has also changed the goalposts in terms of how and when marketers engage with clients, reports Rake. “Whilst B2B marketing used to be strictly 9-5, with the exception of sometimes engaging with people at breakfast or in the evening, smartphones have changed all this. But just because people have smartphones, you have to be careful not to take advantage and intrude on people’s personal lives with business propositions.

That said, when it comes to insights, personal time – such as Sunday morning over the papers – can be absolutely the best time for clients to be willing to engage and read about the insights your business has shared with a journalist. The question marketers need to ask is, When is my audience going to be ripe to think about this particular issue and how can I get my content to them at the right time?”

The other big change in B2B, says Rake, is the shift from content-based events to experiences that provide an insight into what it’s really like to work with your organisation. “An example is Deloitte Ride Across Britain, an annual cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Clients do this alongside our people, and that shared experience is something they will always remember having done with that individual, making it absolutely invaluable in terms of client relationships. Yet it’s something that wasn’t really happening, even five years ago.”

Another example is Deloitte Ignite, she says. “Our clients are frequently patrons of the Royal Opera House and because of our relationship with the institution, we can do things like give backstage tours. If you love ballet or opera, those ‘money can’t buy’ experiences are often the things people talk about as much as the performance itself, and because they've done it with us, it’s once again brilliant in terms of personal relationship building.”

Whilst life was certainly more straightforward for marketers in the days of one-way communication, Rake concludes that they weren't actually any better. “Ultimately, it’s the engagement piece that makes the customer experience more meaningful. Without it, trying to understand what your customers really wanted was really just guesswork.”

Looking to learn more on this topic? Sign up to our Introduction to Customer Experience course and discover ways of mapping the customer journey. 

Annabel Rake Chief Marketing Officer Deloitte UK

Winning customer preference

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