By Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Zoho Corp.
Inflation is on almost everyone’s mind right now. Around the globe, the supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been compounded by the war in Ukraine and tight labour markets in some countries. South Africa is no exception. In July, the country’s inflation rate hit a 13-year high of 7.8%, before softening to 7.5% in September.
Both businesses and their customers are being adversely affected by this inflation. Since operating expenses have increased for businesses, they are compelled to raise the price of their products and services or suffer severe revenue losses. But doing so also entails running the risk of losing clients who will either completely forego a purchase or hunt for a less expensive substitute.
In that kind of environment, great customer experience is no longer just a competitive differentiator for businesses but a matter of survival. In fact, research shows that as inflation rises, companies can expect to see an inflated demand for great customer experiences. So, far from cutting back on investments in customer experience to reduce price increases, companies should ensure that it remains a major focus.
CX goes beyond being just a competitive advantage
Of course, CX has long been a critical differentiator. According to 2021 research by Gartner, 89% of companies primarily compete on customer experience. That’s significantly higher than the two-thirds which did so in 2018. Moreover, another study shows that as many as 80% of customers have switched brands after a bad experience.
That means, in a world that provides customers limitless options even amidst high inflation, the experience an organisation provides doesn’t just have to be better than that of its competitors. It also has to be good enough to convince a customer that they still want to buy from the organisation and nurture a long-standing relationship, despite having to cut back on goods and services elsewhere.
What makes for an exceptional CX?
The first thing to remember is that customer experience isn’t just about what customers go through when they’re browsing a certain website and then paying for a good or service. It instead encompasses the totality of their experience with a company. That ranges from marketing to the shopping experience itself, billing, and after-sales service. And for those experiences to be consistently exceptional, they have to be personalised, meaningful, timely, and engaging. A good CX tool will, for instance, ensure that a customer interaction is timely by either alerting a CX-facing team or by being context-aware enough to understand when a customer will be interested to make another future purchase and establish contact with them.
Unified customer profiles that transcend internal divisions can enhance CX
To achieve experiences of superior quality, organisations need to ensure that all internal divisions have a wholly consolidated view of customers and their respective preferences. Building that consolidated view means breaking down silos within the organisation to ensure that everyone has access to the same customer data (handled securely and ethically, of course). For instance, an integrated business process suite can guarantee total integration between a company’s customer relationship management, marketing, and sales initiatives, and its commerce. It will also bring data together in such a way that the CX team has the full context of a customer’s interactions with the company, allowing them to deliver interactions that are personalised to each customer and which are meaningful to them. That context will also show what kinds of messaging the customer responds positively to, ensuring that each engagement is as engaging as possible.
Having that data also allows the organisation to ensure that each customer interaction is exceptional. Perhaps even more importantly, it allows the organisation to consistently learn and adapt, further improving the overall customer experience.
Waiting won’t help
While governments and central banks around the world are doing everything in their power to bring inflation under control, organisations simply cannot afford to wait and hope. It will leave them vulnerable to losing customers and ultimately put their survival at risk. Hold-ups in the supply chain or conflicts between nation states cannot be controlled, but what businesses can control is the experience they provide their customers. And if they use the tools at their disposal to ensure that their customers have the best experience possible, they put themselves in a much better position to survive and thrive in the future.