By James Hall, Commercial Director, Doxim
A combination of events over the past few years – ranging from COVID-19 to Brexit and the war in Ukraine – have left UK consumers facing inflationary pressures few have experienced in their lifetimes. The Consumer Prices Index, including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) for the 12 months leading up to January 2022 was at its highest level since 1992. Even more alarming are the forecasts that heating bills will rise 50% this year without government intervention and that 37% of Britons cannot afford to heat their home to a level where they are comfortably warm.
Those inflationary pressures are unlikely to disappear anytime soon either. Research from the British Chambers of Commerce shows that 62% of companies expect to raise prices, a new historic high. That figure rises to 75% for retailers and wholesalers, 70% for construction firms, and 72% for transport and distribution firms. Everything will, in other words, continue to get more expensive. In the face of those pressures, many customers have little choice but to cut back where they can. Chances are they won’t cut back on day-to-day luxuries. Instead, they’ll cut out the kinds of services that we all know we should have, but which are grudge purchases. Insurance is one example, as are saving and investment vehicles offered by financial services companies.
Organisations in those, and other, sectors will therefore have to work even harder to retain customers. As they do so, customer communication will be critical. Like any relationship, the one between a customer and a business requires communication to remain strong.
Equally critical, however, will be the recognition that it cannot be business as usual. Customers face unprecedented volumes of information across every device they use. Now, more than ever, organisations looking to stand out from the noise need to understand their customers’ communication preferences and be able to meet them where they are.
Over the past couple of years, those preferences have changed drastically too. A McKinsey study, for example, found that COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalisation of customer interactions by three to four years. Today’s customer doesn’t just expect to be able to communicate with an organisation through a single digital channel either. They expect to be able to carry an interaction across whichever channel is most convenient to them at the time.
Moreover, they expect those interactions to be hyper-personalised and to be able to get the assistance they need instantly. They’re also less willing than ever to go through traditional intermediaries – including brokers and third-party advisers – to get that assistance. That means that organisations must ensure they’re in a position to communicate directly with their customers and be able to assist them with their queries as soon as they come in.
Refining and utilising data
Data is, of course, key to any organisation’s ability to cater to those preferences. But data, in and of itself, can only take an organisation so far. In order to provide the kind of hyper-personal experiences that customers desire, organisations need to be able to combine disparate data sets and refine them.
Organisations should particularly be on the lookout for data that includes information about the individual customer (such as contact information, geographic location, basic demographics, communication preferences, and data processing consent), information about what the individual customer does (typically found in internal data sources such sales and communication histories), and big external sources of data which are useful in refining the shape of the customer.
By combining and refining these data sources, organisations can go a long way to getting a single view of the customer, which makes providing tailored experiences a great deal simpler.
The right technology
When it comes to translating that refined data into actionable customer communication, technology can be a powerful enabler. A communications management (CCM) platform, for example, can help ensure that organisations send messages to customers that are no longer generic but tailored according to customers’ needs and specific platforms (web, email, text, print) and devices (mobile, laptop, tablet, PC).
They also ensure that any message received by a customer takes their entire history into account, as well as the entire context of the interaction. This contextual information includes lifestyle and life-stage needs, history of online activity, and personal preferences.
Critically, it also helps organisations provide consistency across all the channels that customers interact through. That’s vital to providing the kind of great experiences that are so crucial to keeping customers loyal.
While technology and data can go a long way to ensuring that organisations meet changing customer preferences, utilising them effectively does not mean that organisations can afford to become complacent. Keeping up with changes in customer behaviour and preferences should be an ongoing effort.
And at a time when customers are under immense pressure, it’s critical that organisations redouble those efforts. If they fail to do so, customers will quickly view cutting off that particular service as an expedient way to lighten the load on their wallets.