New tech tools help build customer loyalty

Emerging markets, especially in Asia-Pacific, are leading the way in adopting customer experience tools compared to developed markets in North America and Europe, a new survey by consulting firm Bain & Company reports. Unhindered by legacy IT infrastructure and facing fewer regulations on data privacy, Asia-Pacific companies are more willing to experiment with, and adopt, innovative tools such as predictive analytics, sensors in products, delivery drones, and personalised experiences to gain competitive advantage, according to the report.

“The new basis of competition is how reliably you can deliver delightful customer experiences,” Gerard du Toit, Bain & Company’s global head of customer experience capabilities, said in the report. “This has generated intense innovation and experimentation to find ways to effectively use new and existing customer experience tools.”

The survey of more than 700 companies globally revealed that 28% of Asia-Pacific companies have used at least one customer experience tool over the past five years, compared with 19% in Europe and 12% in North America.

Customer experience shapes customers’ interactions with a company and informs consumer opinion about a company’s branding, pricing, product, and customer service, said Richard Hatherall, Bain & Company’s head of customer strategy and marketing practices in Asia-Pacific.

The novelty of new technology is a big win in giving customers a unique experience that is not offered anywhere else and offers companies a chance to stand out.

Personalised experiences in South-East Asia’s Groupon

Fave, an online-to-offline mobile app that offers daily deals for products and services, is a case of taking an existing business model that works and making it better for its users by providing personalised experiences backed by big data.

Operating in South-East Asia, the company had progressively acquired US-based Groupon’s businesses in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, and employed data from users’ geolocation and app usage times to send deal suggestions at the time when users most welcome it.

Wong Chee Mun, Fave’s head of special projects, gives the example of a Monday morning commute. His team identified a consistent spike in app usage between 8am and 9am, and their hypothesis is that people are commuting to work on the train and have time on their hands. In that one-hour window, Fave’s customer relationship management software sends deals that are tailored to each user based on their historical purchases and location.

“If you’ve proven to like food and beverage deals, we will send you more of those. If you’re female and like massages, we’ll send you those deals,” said Wong, who added that his team only knows users by their type, namely gender, spending habits, and geolocation, and has no knowledge of their names or any personal identification. That’s one way the company tries to ensure users’ data privacy.

Going beyond selling deal coupons, Fave expanded the business model to include FavePay, a digital payment platform that is linked to a bank card. With FavePay, users do not have to purchase a deal ahead of time. Instead, they receive cash back for every purchase, which is essentially a discount. This model provides Fave users with a convenient cashless payment method and drives recurring sales for merchants on its platform.

Getting started on customer experience tools

Customer experience is already considered a major battleground for companies. A Gartner report last year found that 81% of marketers expect to be competing predominantly on the basis of customer experience in two years. To get started on customer experience tools, it is crucial to know your goals and choose the right tool for the job. Bain & Company’s Hatherall outlined three principles:

Have a clear vision. A tool or a technology is a means to an end. Not having a clear vision of where the tool will be used will hamper results, Hatherall said. He added that a firm may come across “a neat piece of tool or an idea, but there isn’t a problem that it’s going to solve”.

But understanding what you want the technology to accomplish, such as reducing customers’ checkout time or callers’ wait time on a customer service hotline, will allow goals to be measured.

Choose the right tool and the right people. Collaboration across the organisation is critical to the success of executing a new technology. While some companies have dedicated customer experience departments, implementing tools will require different skillsets that call for various departments to work together.

A data analytics tool to provide personalised suggestions to customers may be rolled out by a marketing team, but a biometric tool such as payment through facial recognition may also involve the IT team.

“The way we see companies can go wrong is by looking at these tools in isolation and coming from an ivory tower philosophy, disconnected from the line, and the tools don’t go anywhere” Hatherall said.

He added that the key is to quickly embed the new tool into the business process and test its performance. That way, the company can decide to adopt it and scale it across the business or drop it based on its performance.

Adapt to even newer technology. Using customer service tools as part of company strategy requires keeping up with the latest technological developments and continually innovating. It’s about “making sure it remains world-class”, Hatherall said. Senior managers will want to work with tools experts to see which new tools are ready to move from the fringes to the heart of an experience to more effectively meet the organisation’s goal.

“There is an increasing seriousness at the C-suite level in the importance of nurturing your customer balance sheet as much as your financial balance sheet,” Hatherall said. “Certainly in the service sectors where there’s a wake-up call when competitors in the likes of Alibaba are setting the bar. Incumbent companies are saying … we need to up our game.”

Alexis See Tho is an FM magazine associate editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact her at Alexis.SeeTho@aicpa-cima.com.