No More “Game of Telephone”: 7 key steps to designing a Centralized Communication Platform
The retail sector has experienced dramatic change in recent years. With the growth of online access, mobile platforms, and the widespread use of “apps”, customers are making smarter decisions and forcing retailers to deliver a superior value proposition and customer experience.
Retailers today face an environment like never before, due to three key factors:
- Customers are more powerful than ever due to the abundance of information and choice at their fingertips
- Competition is fierce as retailers see non-traditional competitors appear on their “turf” (product manufacturers, ecommerce players, and former distribution partners that once served the retailer rather than competing with them)
- The production economics of the industry are changing due to an abundance of choices, commodity price fluctuations, and highly advanced planning, manufacturing, and distribution systems.
Channel Agnostic Strategy: Delivering a Flexible Customer Experience
These factors have forced retailers to take a hard look at their operating models – most importantly, at the processes they have in place and determining if they are nimble enough to meet consumers at their preferred channel; be it the brick and mortar store, catalog, online, via a mobile device, on the telephone, or some combination thereof.
Retailers need to create compelling customer experiences to in order to differentiate and position themselves in the customer’s eyes, not only as a purveyor of products, but also as a superior service agent. One of the most significant components of this “customer experience” equation is an effective communications strategy (inbound, outbound, and transactional) with customers. Making communications consistent, targeted, and seamless across channels helps to ensure that retailers are looking at the world through their customers’ eyes, not their own. Communication is central to a differentiated customer experience.
Designing a Centralized Communication Platform
Given the importance of a centralized communication strategy, how can a retailer work across the internal organization, engage the right stakeholders, and design, implement, and sustain a holistic customer communications strategy? In our experience working with retailers on designing these types of strategies, we have discovered seven key steps to success:
- Assess the operating model and understand current pain points that customers are experiencing with their communications.
- Identify, analyze, and prioritize channels by which the customer can touch the retailer’s business, and the channels by which the retailer reaches the customer.
- Document the business processes associated with customer communication – both from the customer’s eyes (execution), as well as the internal operations and technology needed to support successful communication (enablement).
- When documenting the business process, be sure to focus not on the different types of communications (contracts, receipts, marketing campaigns, etc), but on the high-level activities that need to occur in a communication process. Then, break down those activities, and tie types (the “what”) of communication to the granular tasks (the “how”) of communication.
- Identify owners in the organization who will be held accountable for the success of the communication platform. These owners must have the authority and influence to make decisions across the retailer’s selling channels.
- Identify specific, quantifiable metrics that can define successful communication with customers, and then tie those metrics both to the business process and to the performance expectations of stakeholders. Ensure that the metrics are agreed upon before rolling them out, and that reasonable targets can be set and monitored.
- Make sure that the overarching strategy and execution process that you choose are aligned and focused on the recipient of the communication (your customer) and not designed with ease of operation as the primary goal.
A seamless customer experience across channels – enabled by targeted, personalized, and consistent communication – is an investment that retailers must make in their business. While it may not have the short term ROI , it will be necessary for survival as retail economics are becoming increasingly challenging.
Governance and Sustainability
Once the communications process is designed and deployed, the business value will only be realized if the process allows for communication flexibility and agility; that is, (not the way communication is done as a process) changing based on customer preferences and engagement. As such, a governing body needs to be set up, with actionable data and performance metrics to drive accountability. This will ensure that the communication process is adhered to, while staying abreast of new customer communication and engagement channels.
Looking Ahead – The ever-changing customer
Customer communication preferences are ever-changing, and the lifecycles of channels are becoming increasingly shorter. While direct mail and catalog communication was the lifeblood of retailers for many decades, the transition from email to social media has been exponentially shorter. As such, it is important to have processes that focus on the key elements of the customer engagement lifecycle, rather than the delivery mechanisms for communication.
Retailers have an ever-changing and increasingly competitive landscape to play in, and fighting for their share of a customer’s wallet, engagement, and loyalty (and ultimately share of their information ecosystem) is becoming a daunting task. Fortunately, with good process design and governance, and a customer-centric focus, retailers can create and deliver an enhanced and sustainable customer experience, and communicate in a way that resonates with each customer.