Customer experience: A balancing act between emotional and functional

While data is a big part of understanding a customer today, marketers must remember that when you torture a data, it can be twisted and turned into the narrative you want it to tell you. Hence the importance of face-to-face conversations are very much alive and marketers should be wary of over reliance on data.

Today connecting with a customer is about a balancing game of being emotional and functional along with the right mix of data and real on-ground conversations. All of these are needed to really figure out the underlying pain points customer face, explained Howie Lau, CMO of StarHub who was speaking at the Customer Experience Conference 2016.

"Data will tell you what you want it to tell you. Customers will tell you what they want to tell you. It is your job as a marketer to figure out what the real issue is," Lau (pictured) said.

Customers today are well informed, well versed and very much vocal. While most marketers would like to believe that they have the power to influence what the customers know and see, this is hardly ever the case, added Lau. As such, especially in the telco business, connecting with their emotional side really matters, explained Lau.

"If you are not addressing the emotional side of things and are purely functional, it may not be sufficient," Lau said. But there is no hard and fast rule for how much emotional and functional elements need to be in your messaging. You simply need to take a look at both lenses when talking to consumers.

“When someone goes to a bank to get a loan, the functional aspect might be the loan itself, but the emotional aspect is that he is looking to build a house for his family and make a life. It is the bank’s duty to make him feel safe and understood,” Lau said.

Seconding him was Cameron Richards, founder and CEO of CPR Vision. He questioned how organsiations could create an exceptional customer experience without actually knowing what their consumers want or speaking directly to them.

He added that today 90% of brands charter a CRM strategy based on what they think their customers want rather than listening to them.

“No matter how robotic, technologically advanced or sophisticated we become, no robot can replace the human element when it comes to true customer engagement. Don’t be statistic,” he warned, adding that the key to the best relationships centre around asking the right questions.

Richards also said that to establish strong relationships brands should ask customers to be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. This will only help to later establish common ground and understand the behaviour, emotional triggers and drivers of consuners. In his experience, he added,  86% of customers would pay more for a better customer experience.

"Empower your customers, and they become more emotive and supportive of your brand,” he added.

Don’t be overly reliant on new technology

In the past, tech used to be a vertical and was seen as a tool for productivity. Today it is an embedded consultant across all industries. According to Lau, the average Singaporean has 3.3 connected devices and 25% of them have five or more such devices.

However, Lau noted it is easy to go overboard with all the shiny new digital play-things in the tech world today. He outlined three crucial questions any company must ask before embracing and adopting new technology:

  1. Is it relevant for customer in an outside in approach?
  2. Does it help in my business and drive purpose?
  3. Is it complimentary for my brand? Does it work with my brand DNA?

“Find tech that lets you marry what customers are looking for and benefit to business and complimentary to brand. If you want to lead you have got to try new things but you also need to know where to draw the line,” he said.

He added that while tech is growing at an exponential rate, the importance of face-to-face conversation and observation should not be undermined.  Giving an example of his past experience, he said while away on assignment to grow business in Vietnam, he realised the power of observation.

His sales companions in Vietnam could easily identify customers looking to buy the product from those simply fishing for the best deals. This was simply based on the satchels the customers were carrying.

“The dong came in small denominations so those carrying the satchel were ready for purchase with their bag full of money. The conversation the sales folks had to have was simply to convince them to convert and purchase,”  Lau said. Meanwhile, the ones without satchels were given a sheet to explain the functional aspects of the products.

Most recently, he also met with several retailer partners in Singapore for lunch.

“Through simple conversation I learnt that front part of Little India generally has more Indians and back part has more Bangladeshis. We learnt that our advertising and messaging hence had to be slightly different,” Lau said. At the end of the day, said Lau, to really find out what customers are looking for is all about purely about talking, observing and listening.

"We know that 50% of all our advertising spend is wasted, we just don’t know which part. So literally, my advice is to go out there and try and embrace the culture of trying and failing quickly," he added.

(Read also: Premiumise to differentiate your brand experience)