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4 Keys To Organizing Brand Interactions


4 Keys To Organizing Effective Brand Interactions  

As brands juggle more and more channels to try and interact meaningfully with customers, is omnichannel achieving what it needs to?

The principle driving more choice in interactions is straight-forward. Savvy digital consumers want/expect greater access to brands in every way. But does building out channels to engage with consumers actually work? Or does it just bewilder a complex environment even further?

Two pieces of research by McKinsey point to the learning that more channels are needed to a point, but also that co-ordination between interaction points is critical to success.

The first piece of McKinsey research looks at interactions pre-sale. When a regional bank mapped its customer journeys, they found that 80% of prospective loan customers started at the website, but from there they sought answers in a range of ways. About 20% stayed online, another 20% called, 15% went to a branch, and the remainder abandoned. Of those that stayed with the process, more than 20% of those who went to a branch took out a loan, underpinning the point that for all the talk about digital convenience, human-to-human interactions are still highly effective. Of those who stayed online, less than 1% took out a loan. In fact, almost 80% opted out rather than fill in a form. Of those that called the contact center, only 2% even requested an offer and just 0.1% ended up with a loan.

The bank quickly recognized that the ways they had historically organized their interactions had led to customers pursuing a channel of interaction without the rest of the bank knowing that they had done so. To close this gap, the bank looked to match customer interactions with interactions between channels within the bank. That meant simplifying forms, revising policies to allow different channels to take the lead and forging new links between online and contact centers to allow personal follow-up when customers left forms unfinished.

Once these gaps were closed, successful fulfillment on inquiries increased considerably.

In the other study, which focused on interactions post-sale, McKinsey looked at the channels consumers value in the health sector. The results revealed that while access to interactive options absolutely matters, more access is not always better. In fact, the research showed that interactions out-ranked brand as a consideration factor, and that consumers were willing to pay more, and at a margin that exceeded cost to supply, to gain more access to more options. But there were limits.

Consumers wanted to be able to speak with a ‘real’ person at a service center rather than receiving back an anonymous response online. Specifically, they wanted to be able to interact through a combination of phone and mail as well as digital channels such as online, apps or video, and that combination was much more valuable to them than digital service alone. However, when more services were added, the inclination to pay more flatlined, suggesting that customers only recognized added value to a point and not beyond that.

Four key take-aways for those looking at how they organize their interactions to deliver more effective customer experiences:

1. Access is not conversion – it’s easy to get caught up in throwing a wider net when in fact, as the bank example shows, that may only lead to a higher cost-per-serve overall. I suspect that’s because while digital interactions are easy, they are not necessarily as ‘sticky’ as when people invest the time to seek out face-to-face help. Investment bias would suggest that the more people invest, the more likely they are to stay. And therefore, counter-intuitively in this age of convenience, one option that brands should look at is how they can offer interactions that require greater consumer ‘investment’ in exchange for greater experiential returns for the shopper and higher margins for the brand.

2. At a time when everyone is struggling to find ways to stand out, value-adding interactions offer opportunities to elevate brand interest – the McKinsey research shows a clear distinction between the helpful and timely interactions that customers now just expect to be delivered to them vs those that they see as value-added and worth paying more for. It’s important that brands distinguish between these different levels of interaction, keep the choice set limited and be clear about what interactions customers will pay more for, and why. In other words, match channel options with clear value propositions.

3. Convenience is convenienceMarketers may see new technology such as chatbots as a significant opportunity to inject automated personalization into their interactions. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for example use a chatbot to text a full range of flight details. But while such software has a high convenience factor and meets consumers’ needs for quick digital interactions, chatbots are still automated tools and have some way to go before they could be considered a replacement for the human-to-human value-adding interactions identified above.

4. While most brands will want to keep their channel initiatives within their own ecosystem, the option to partner between brands may be one worth exploring. When my colleague Chris Wren looked at the take-over of Whole Foods by Amazon, he noted that both parties stood to gain from what their different backgrounds would bring to the ability for customers to interact. “What’s most interesting about all of this is the convergence of traditional brands and digital brands along an axis that is focused on utility, not merely expansion or acquisition. In order to be more strongly competitive in the growing food delivery segment, Amazon needed that crucial supply-chain piece that Whole Foods provides. And in order to stay competitive, Whole Foods needed technology infrastructure that could take the brand deeper into the digital space.” Other brands may also find they have much to gain from pursuing greater interaction together.

As expectations continue to rise, brands will naturally be tempted to respond by trying to do more. But more is not necessarily the answer and within the interactions that they do choose, there are clear baselines and ceilings. Baselines are the absolute minimum interaction points that customers expect – often digital, often free. Ceilings are where interactions hit critical mass. You can add more if you want to, but doing so may just incur cost rather than securing greater engagement.

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