Revealing the latest thinking behind inbound marketing, Morag Cuddeford-Jones examines how best to maximise customer contact to promote satisfaction and business returns.
It’s rare these days to think of banks and their customers having some kind of symbiotic relationship but on those heart-stopping days when a letter from the bank lands on the doormat saying “We’d like you to call” - it can often be an opportunity for both.
Banks such as Halifax have succeeded in turning these points of customer contact into an ideal opportunity at which to enhance customer relations and, ideally, increase share. While a letter about a customer’s overdraft doesn’t seem the most auspicious way to begin an inbound marketing conversation, the solution - potentially replacing unforeseen overdraft charges with a more stable and lower interest loan - can bring about improved customer satisfaction and business return.
However, instances of grabbing the customer while they’re on the phone are getting rarer, not least because there are far fewer instances where the customer actually needs to call the company. More often than not, consumers research and review products online and interact with customer services online and hopefully have their issues dealt with before they need a live conversation. In fact, even when customers are standing in a store, they could well be online.
As many as 42 per cent of those who use their mobiles when in a shop do so to track down better deals elsewhere, according to research by Tradedoubler. But rather than being a threat to custom, the use of smartphones is giving rise to more inbound marketing opportunities to maintain relationships with customers as well as deliver marketing in innovative ways.
One example is Guatemalan cult shoe store Meat Pack, known for its discounted products sold to a highly fashion-aware customer base. It worked with Saatchi & Saatchi on a campaign to ‘hijack’ customers from competitors. The brand already had contact with around 60,000 people through its Facebook page and app, however it was looking for a way to launch a promotion for its hard-core fans.
Using GPS, the store’s app was able to recognise when its customers went into a rival shoe brand outlet. This triggered a time and location-sensitive discount to tempt the customer out of the rival store to one of Meat Pack’s shops.
Crucially, the app punishes the store’s potential customer - or ‘sneakerhead’ - if they spend too long deciding whether to swap their allegiance. Once delivered, the time-sensitive offer begins at a discount of 99 per cent and counts down 1 percentage point for every second the customer takes to get to a Meat Pack outlet. The quicker the customer is ‘hijacked’, the bigger their discount. The app successfully hijacked 600 customers from other stores in one week, according to the brand.
Content management is also a key weapon in the digital inbound marketer’s arsenal. By populating a website with keywords relevant to the customer’s specific needs, rather than a list of product attributes, marketers ensure that their site achieves high Google rankings across a wide range of search terms.
Equally, monitoring how consumers respond to a brand’s website can significantly alter how that brand engages in further dialogue with those customers. Baby and childcare retailer Mothercare has started to establish relationships with potential customers in advance of the moment when its products might be needed (see case study).
When the company began using dynamic frequently asked questions rather than an editorial page that provided information on topics the retailer considered interesting, it made a surprising discovery.
“The most asked question on our dynamic FAQs page was ‘When is the best time to conceive?’,” says Sharon Millard, director of customer service. “This was stunning because it is a question that has never been asked over the phone at our call centres and it gave us an insight that customers wanted answers to questions that we had no idea they wanted to ask.”
The question of when to conceive spurred Mothercare into producing an app that launched last month allowing prospective customers to manage impending parenthood right from the earliest stages with a pregnancy tracker, pairing this with more in-depth advice on the company’s website.
Improvements in online tracking technology can deliver surprising customer insights that in turn open up new marketing avenues. For other brands, however, the role of digital in inbound direct marketing is to create a self-service experience that purposefully minimises any contact with the company. This delivers obvious cost savings to the brand but can also make the customer’s shopping experience much easier.
John Roberts, chief executive of Appliances Online, explains: “We believe in giving customers all the information they need through a website that is easy to navigate as well as having rich content through tools such as video product reviews and feature animation explanations.
“The only reason customers still go to a store is because they don’t know any better. Once they realise they can educate themselves quicker and more cost effectively online they can spend that time in a more valuable way.”
Appliances Online’s key learning is that the biggest ‘pain points’ for customers buying white goods is appreciating how a large appliance will fit into their home and understanding its features in comparison to other models.
The company makes extensive use of video on its website, filming a demonstration of each item in its own bespoke kitchen set in a studio. This also removes the ‘hard sell’ element of shopping in an electrical retail outlet, which consumers routinely highlight as the most off-putting element of shopping for white goods at stores.
Roberts insists that the experience in the Appliances Online store is such that “inbound marketing is very limited. We don’t upsell. The proposition does so much talking of its own that customers spread the word for us.”
While banks such as the Halifax often take the opportunity to upsell to customers when they contact the bank on a related issue, few of those we spoke to believed that inbound marketing was an opportunity to drive more direct revenue from that customer. The inbound opportunity is viewed much more in terms of building longer-term relationships with customers, even if the initial purchase may seem infrequent or one-off, such as in the case of Appliances Online.
For many, the essence of inbound marketing is in the overall experience and company attitudes to the customer. Motability Operations, a not-for-profit vehicle leasing organisation, recognises that inbound marketing is as much about customer experience as it is being ‘on-message’, explains head of marketing Delia Ray.
“We have a busy call centre with up to 3,000 calls a day. Automated interactive voice response might help, but feedback led us to scrap it. Customers don’t like being met by a recorded announcement. Instead we trained frontline service teams to handle a huge variety of calls.
“Marketing and customer services have a really close relationship and as a result, excellent customer experience has turned a three-year car lease into a 10 to 15 year relationship for 92 per cent of our customers.” (See viewpoint.)
Meanwhile, online hotel brand LateRooms is working to see what its potential customers are doing online, so it can serve them - and sell - more effectively.
“Ultimately, we are trying to turn customers into loyal advocates who don’t even think about competitors,” says global brand director Andrew Pumphrey. “It’s about finding exactly what they want.”
To this end, Pumphrey has embarked on a personalisation of both the company’s web and in-person service. Online, the website has been re-engineered to remember individual search preferences: “If you searched for Birmingham yesterday, your next visit will reflect that in the site content,” he says. From search results that remember location preferences to emergency alerts when room supply in a preferred location runs low, the key is responsiveness, says Pumphrey.
The company’s contact centres in Manchester and Bangkok (for AsiaRooms) are open 24 hours a day. Pumphrey has added to Manchester’s workload by introducing a social concierge service. The customer posts a message with budget parameters, preferred location and services and LateRooms aims to get back to them with suggested accommodation within an hour.
He admits that this is a fairly labour-intensive procedure and while it might make the small number of customers currently using it very happy, he appreciates that a sudden swing towards using the concierge might stretch his brand promise. “It’s open to everyone but people have different needs. Many go online because they don’t want to talk to a person. We train our people to deliver a responsive service and if the entire customer base decided to use it overnight, we would struggle but it’s working well for our customers.”
Central to innovating inbound marketing is staying on top of emerging technologies and consumer behaviours, whether it is integrating social media through blogs or Facebook interaction or developing functions into customer service that work across all platforms from in person to apps.
However, the technology is the conduit and marketers agree that the success of inbound marketing is down to pinpointing its purpose and focusing on delivering what the customer wants, not just what you have to sell. Pumphrey says: “We don’t need flash apps for the sake of it. If they have value and deliver an experience that is useful, then technology will be interesting in the future but our main focus is on making customers’ lives easier.”
“For us, it’s more about creating a virtuous circle by using what we learn from customer feedback and making the business stronger,” says Sharon Millard, head of customer services.
Ten years ago, Mothercare had a standard ecommerce website. Customer content and particularly the FAQ pages were predicated not necessarily on what the customer wanted to know but what the business could think of to say.
However, as consumers’ behaviour online changed to a mostly self-service model, customers were requesting a more dynamic experience online. They would search sites as they used Google, and the web’s increasing responsiveness meant they expected to ‘talk’ to the site as they would talk to the contact centre.
To this end, Mothercare has put in place the Transversal knowledge management system that both delivers results to consumers as well as empower call centre operatives to answer a range of questions about the brand and issues associated with parenthood in general.
“It’s almost like going through a filing cabinet. Accessing the information becomes a dialogue and the system is able to serve back all the relevant content. We only have to publish information once and the system knows whether it is an agent or a customer accessing that content and supplies it in the relevant way,” Millard explains.
Transversal also helps Mothercare turn potential dramas into relationship building opportunities: “During the heavy snow we
had last winter, the delivery network was blocked. Our call centres were working at capacity and the website was taking 30,000 more hits than usual with customers trying to find out package statuses. However, the system could be scaled-up to cope and, linked to our Facebook page, provided ongoing information to keep customers happy.”
Head of marketing
It is only possible to deliver the best experience if marketing and customer services work together. Our customer service insight was to realise that, when customers contact you, they don’t want to be met by a recorded voice.
The customer needs to know that a real person is trained to take full responsibility for the handling of their call and that this will be supported by a knowledge management system.
It cannot be overemphasised how important it is to understand customers’ behaviour and motivation to deliver the correct response. In Motability Operations, the typical customer lifecycle is three years.
Calls to us spike when a customer is acquired, at the year anniversary around issues such as servicing and insurance and towards the end of the lease for the first-time customer. Marketing has to work with customer services to pre-empt those pinch points. Customer services can then orient
its teams to ensure it manages call volumes and expectations.
To manage inbound interactions effectively as a business you need to understand what customers contact you about. We have recently reduced call reason codes from 250 to 27. With 250 different reasons for a call it was impossible to draw meaning from the statistics and with such a diverse range it didn’t seem worthwhile to frontline staff to input the data. With only 27 reasons the team has the chance to track calls accurately and see them through to resolution. The data is much stronger.
Online will be key to managing the inbound customer relationship through self service and by following traffic to make sure people are served in the way that they want to be. It’s something we are working on now to understand the customer journey. But in the end it’s not just what we have done, it is the joined up nature of what we’re doing between marketing and customer services that is delivering the experience.