Improving the customer experience today — why agencies need to adapt.
A report by PWC last year revealed that the UK research market had grown by 62% and is now valued at £4.8 billion.
Customer satisfaction levels are now a major differentiator, so it is not a surprise that business investment into customer insight is increasing. A recent Gartner survey found the ‘collection and analysis of customer feedback’ to have been one of the biggest focuses of customer experience projects over the last few years.
However, it has become clear that existing methods are not enough to get an accurate understanding of the state of the customer experience. A recent Marketing Week article by University of Cambridge researcher Mohamed Zaki found that when it came to commonly used surveys asking customers to give a rating out of 10:
‘up to 42% of the supposedly satisfied customers who have given a rating between seven and 10 are unhappy with one or more aspects of the company’s products or services, and may already be considering changing their allegiance to the competition.’
The market research industry, as with the majority of others, has seen disruptive change. If agencies are to keep up with the expectations and needs of brands in today’s highly competitive market, there needs to be a dramatic change in mindset — towards deeper, richer and continuous behavioural insights as well as guidance on how to use such data.
After 15 years in the industry, I’ve recently compiled my thoughts on the future of this billion dollar market.
Customer journeys are no longer linear — tracking must keep up
In the past, we spoke of customer journeys as ‘linear paths’ and tried to optimise ‘conversion funnels’. Today, we have a far deeper understanding of the complex ecosystems of influence at play. Experiences throughout the customer journey can last from minutes to years and differ by customer segment. They are becoming increasingly digitised and omnichannel — and ultimately, harder to track and impact.
It is also now evident that today’s customers expect more from their experiences, and there’s a need to understand how to meet their requirements functionally and emotionally in order to create meaningful connections. Research must help you understand emotional motivators as influencers of behaviours.
The value of emotion is increasingly gathering attention, with studies showing that creating a deeper emotional connection can lead to a customer being 52% more valuable on average than those who are just ‘satisfied’.
Brands are starting to take their budgets elsewhere
Two areas in particular are likely to receive increasing investment:
- Understanding the complexity of digital customer journeys and how they can be influenced to satisfy business objectives and metrics
- Linking insights to customer data in order to understand the key customer outcomes that influence their experience
Large scale single metric tracking programmes that measure NPS and C-Sat are increasingly coming under pressure unless they can be more obviously linked to customer behaviours. And there’s a need for agencies to develop partnerships with software providers who are creating efficiencies in insight, system build, time and cost, as well as the ability to track the online customer journey.
Increasing sophistication in CRM software has also resulted in clients benefiting from being able to link their insight to customer data with relative ease. This results in added pressure on market research agencies in terms of validation of spend and making a meaningful difference.
Automation: human roles in market research are changing
With automation systems increasingly able to handle tasks traditionally carried out by market research teams, the dynamics have changed for both agencies and clients.
In the past, a lot of the focus, spend and effort went into the design of huge insight tracking programmes. Large teams would be deployed to create bespoke systems, script surveys, produce dashboards, link survey data to questionnaires and so on.
Today we are seeing a noticeable rise in the existence and take up of new types of customer insight automation systems, including those utilising AI such as IBM’s Watson, social listening tools such as Sysomos and multiple emotion tracking advancements.
Market research automation companies such as ZappieStore position themselves as — ‘Agency quality insight at machine speed’ — offering clients a one-stop-shop platform to handle it all. Removing the burden for both agencies and clients.
Clients are starting to find the time to focus on customer experience management – and explore how they can impact and change their business as a result of the new tracking mechanisms.
There’s now less time and money required to create the basis for positive change for both the customer and the business. And this puts market research agencies under the spotlight to be able to prove a result on investment. The emphasis will increasingly be on proving their impact on the customer experience and bottom line. This will no doubt be the defining factor between those agencies that survive and those that thrive in the future of market research.
For the larger, less digitally agile agencies, this is going to be a big challenge.
Big data is becoming more accessible for all
As already mentioned, clients are now increasingly able to purchase tools which allow them to carry out surveys via their own CRM platforms and link them to behavioural measures. This is helping them get closer to the ultimate position of behavioural understanding and a clear view of: ‘if a customer thinks x, they do y’. They are beginning to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of changes that are made to the customer experience.
‘Big data’ is becoming demystified and we are understanding how they can use their customer data and business insight to reach an outcome that not only improves customer experience, but also achieves business objectives.
Our focus at Pomegranate
Around five years ago, the founding team at Pomegranate chose to take the agency in a new direction — and began focusing on progressive methods of obtaining deeper behavioural insights.
Observing the change in the industry, we’ve set ourselves up with an advantage in being able to offer a one-stop shop — our methods enable us to track emotional metrics at each point in the customer journey (which differ greatly by customer segment and industry), make more informed changes across the digital landscape off the back of this insight, and then clearly monitor the impact on an ongoing basis.
We also have the ability to execute on recommended plans for change around user experience design, which gives our clients a massive advantage. As we are a specialist UX agency, rather than needing to pass on recommendations to a third party, we can make the changes to the digital experience ourselves and then monitor that change through the tracking measurement we’ve put in place.
So what should brands be looking for today?
If you are already undertaking customer tracking…
- Is what you have in place providing you with the ability to monitor the impact of changes in the customer experience?
- Are you taking advantage of software developments to ensure you are spending your money efficiently?
- Are you establishing the right metrics upfront, and making sure what you are getting out of the investment provides you with the tools to improve your customer experience and bottom line?
If you haven’t started tracking customer experience…
I hope you found this article helpful.
The market research industry needs to adapt to change — and fast. Better yet, they need to be one step ahead of the curve in order to survive long term. New systems are taking over the work they’ve built their entire industry around. A major challenge will be adjusting the cultural mindset and refocusing training and recruitment efforts towards consultancy services.
Some agencies are already there, but not all will make it.
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