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In the past couple of decades, customers and citizens leveraging advances in technology have rewritten the rules on engagement and set the terms for when, where and how they expect to be served by businesses and governments. The access to information on mobile devices combined with social media has empowered individuals and businesses to learn about a product or service from multiple providers, review customer ratings and complete a large part of their buying process before they ever directly engage with the provider. However, it is my assertion that despite all the insights that place the customer firmly in the driver’s seat, the last mile where the customer engages with the provider still has a disproportionate impact on the final decision and customer experience. I will explore this hypothesis in this blog.

Human Touch

A colleague recently shared with me his experience shopping for Nespresso coffee samples at a retail store in London. The highlight of the experience was the care and passion shown by the store employee who proactively looked up my colleague’s profile in order to understand past coffee choices and then suggested a specific set of coffee categories that would appeal to my colleague. The key in this engagement is an educated store employee who delivered the personalized touch at the last mile of customer engagement and offered a tailored experience. Successful customer engagements are delivered by empowered associates who believe in the product or service and are personally engaged to delight the customer.

Empowering Employees: Big Data vs. Right Data

Businesses and governments are being overwhelmed with information often shared publicly by their customers and constituents. This in turn has spawned an entire industry around Big Data applications. The role of the data scientist within organizations has been significantly elevated in the strategic planning process.  Strategists at leading organizations are now able to model multiple business scenarios working with the data sciences team to evaluate how to best execute on the strategy.

However, throwing more and more data viz. “Big Data” at models to understand the state of the market and customer needs rarely leads to better insights. At a recent customer conference on Customer Centricity hosted by Wharton, SAP and TCS, executives from American Express Credit Cards US division stressed the need to focus on stable models and the “Right Data” to model scenarios when designing credit card campaigns. The executives emphasized the investments not only on their mobile and online channels but also on training their front line service associates to ensure they were fully empowered to serve customers that were following up on the campaigns.

At the same conference, a senior executive from Cigna shared how Cigna was leveraging the lessons learned from APJ in selling insurance services direct to consumers and bringing the insights back to the US to educate their sales managers. The goal at Cigna is to get to the “Right Data” in designing products and services for the US market when directly engaging consumers who are often insured through their employer. Cigna is being proactive in reaching out to consumers in light of the healthcare exchanges that are making it possible for more and more consumers to explore healthcare insurance options across multiple providers. Both American Express and Cigna are investing to identify the “Right Data” and to shape the last mile in order to better serve their customers.

Lessons Learned

Technology will play an important role in empowering associates and enabling them to shape the last mile of customer engagement. One example is the City of Boston where city employees leveraging technology are engaging directly with constituents to better understand their needs and delivering relevant services based on their feedback. Similarly, Standard Banking is bringing banking to the under-banked across South Africa with the new Standard Bank Smartphone
and investing in employees to better serve their customers. In both these cases, technology is playing a major role in empowering constituents and customers and is helping to actively shape the last mile of the customer engagement process.

Empowered associates leveraging technology will play a major role to ensure customers’ needs are met proactively and therefore will have a disproportionate impact on the final decision and customer experience. I look forward to hearing from you on your experiences on this topic.

To learn more visit Customer Engagement enabled by SAP.