Amazon, Netflix, Starbucks — these are examples of some companies with fiercely loyal followings. Their secret? They are customer-obsessed, which means they have placed customers at the heart of their business. They focus on building deep, long-lasting relationships that will turn customers into fans and brand ambassadors, who will become a source of sustainable profit for the business.
Singaporean businesses need to do more to become customer-obsessed. They currently fall short of consumers’ expectations by as much as 28% when it comes to being customer-centric, according to the Heart Matters study by software company SAP. Comparing Singapore customers’ expectations to what they experienced in reality, some areas that local businesses were found to be lacking include responsiveness within 24 hours to customer queries (78% vs 51%), acting on customers’ feedback to improve products and services (84% vs 58%), and having a reward programme customised to their interests (81% vs 54%).
This gap is a cause for concern as customer experience, rather than price, is a key driver of customer loyalty and ultimately revenue. After all, the Pareto Principle says 80% of a company’s future revenue typically comes from 20% of existing customers.
“Consumers want to engage with companies that are authentic, understand their personal needs and preferences, and meet their expectations across the purchase journey. [Companies that can demonstrate] they have the customer at the core will be able to capture the hearts of their audiences, which will, in turn, bring in returning sales and brand loyalty that will drive long-term business growth,” says Peggy Renders, general manager and senior vice-president, SAP Customer Experience Asia Pacific Japan.
“Customers are looking for brands who understand them, not opportunistic ones trying to sell them something. Providing authenticity and empathy fosters more genuine and lasting relationships with customers while showcasing brand values as a company that cares for its customers,” adds Dave Dabbah, chief marketing officer of CleverTap, a customer lifecycle management and engagement platform provider.
New rules of customer experience
The pandemic has led to shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations. Renders shares with The Edge Singapore three new customer experience trends that businesses should note.
Firstly, consumers expect businesses to offer meaningful, memorable experiences as the pandemic has left individuals to look for deeper purpose and meaning in life. “Companies can [do so] by shifting their emphasis from the routine to the sublime, and find new ways to create and curate meaningful experiences across their products and solutions. These require customer data insights to deeply understand what customers need and desire,” she says.
Secondly, consumers demand businesses to be purpose-driven. They are increasingly engaging with brands and buying products that reflect their own values. According to the SAP study, Singapore consumers have high standards of expectations around people, the planet and prosperity. This includes respecting the rights and welfare of workers, reducing gender and racial inequality, treating suppliers ethically, having specific policies to reduce and report carbon emissions, and a focus on sustainability and ethics in sourcing and selling their products.
Renders notes that Singaporean businesses have shown “a positive shift towards building brand purpose and visibly demonstrating more societal concern and impact”. However, this increased focus is slow to trickle through all the layers in an organisation as “many companies do not see the immediate importance or direct outcomes of enhancing brand purpose if it does not improve their bottom line”, she explains.
As such, she advises businesses to educate employees on their role in building brand purpose and social responsibility so that such activities do not serve as a branding exercise but a reminder of the organisation’s purpose and values.
Thirdly, consumers want to take centre-stage as contributors. They are more open to providing opinions to receive better products and more personalised services. Businesses that can capture customer feedback — such as suggestions on new product design or offerings – and act on them will be in a better position to retain their competitiveness.
Integrating systems to be customer-obsessed
It takes more than just understanding evolving customer demands and making superficial changes to the business to become customer-obsessed. Singaporean businesses need to transform their operations to deliver exceptional and delightful customer experience throughout the purchase journey.
One way of doing so is by building a connected customer journey. Customer journeys today are not linear and straight-forward. They are a series of handoffs between traditional and digital channels, which can vary by customer type. This is why Renders encourages businesses to connect their various customer touchpoints into “one cohesive, end-to-end lead-to-cash process that provides consumers with a seamless customer experience”.
Companies need to support their customers’ freedom to choose how, where and when to interact [and deliver] precise and personalised engagement at the right time.SAP's Peggy Renders
Businesses can also gain actionable insights by integrating their data from multiple touchpoints. Renders explains that eliminating data silos enables business decision-makers to better understand the “interrelationships that exist throughout the customer journey so that they can create highly-personalised, seamless omnichannel experiences.” By consistently addressing a customer’s evolving needs and preferences, it can help businesses build a long-term relationship with the customer.
Take the case of Love, Bonito, for example. The Singapore online fashion retailer initially found it difficult to personalise digital communications across each stage of the customer lifecycle as it was using disparate IT tools. By implementing SAP Emarsys Customer Engagement platform to remove organisational silos, Love, Bonito managed to create automated personalised customer journeys across email, on-site and paid channels. This resulted in a 67% increase in lead to first-time buyer conversion, five times higher spend from active customers and a 32% increase in average order value.
Fostering customer loyalty through mobile apps
With over 90% of adults in Singapore owning a smartphone, mobile apps are becoming crucial for customer engagement and loyalty. But to do so, businesses need to first understand the user journey — like how, where and when users use their product or service — so that they can optimise the user experience.
Data analytics, such as funnel analysis, should be utilised to determine friction spots in the user journey that need to be targeted and resolved.CleverTap's Dave Dabbah
Next, businesses should enhance their mobile app’s customer onboarding process — such as through an easy-to-use user interface and by offering incentives — to create a good impression on first-time customers and get them to use the app frequently. “The key to successful onboarding is ensuring new users experience the app’s unique value as soon as possible. Users will not explore the app further if they are not impressed by their initial experience, with research showing that more than one-third of users in Asia Pacific quit an app after just one use,” Dabbah adds.
He also urges businesses to focus on building user habits. “No matter how exciting a user’s first experience with an app is, the novelty will wear off eventually. [This is why businesses] need to help users create new habits around the app until they no longer need a reminder to use it and keep coming back on their own,” he says.
In line with that, he advises businesses to “keep refreshing the users’ perception of their app as a must-have in their daily lives”. This can be done by asking for customer feedback, continually adding new features and enhancing the user interface, and personalising every customer interaction.
Becoming customer-obsessed requires putting the customer at the centre while ensuring alignment with the brand’s purpose, as well as transforming operations and continuous innovation to win the hearts and wallets of customers. While this is no easy feat, Singaporean businesses that can do so will be poised to remain relevant in a future filled with uncertainties.