Companies that do an excellent job of staying close to their customers take the extra effort to ask them what they want and what they think. Those that do not, on the other hand, fail because there is no market need for the product they are launching.
This is according to Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, who was in Singapore in June for Innovfest Unbound and spoke to The Drum about the challenges facing companies, particularly when it comes to building long-lasting brand loyalty and why having just having a good product or service is no longer enough these days.
She says it is easy for companies to use or acquire the latest technology in the market to make smarter decisions across the entire customer journey and optimise engagement at scale with data and insights. However, she observes that they have forgotten how to interact with their customers. “They just did not ask their customers. They think it is really cool, they like it because it’s a shiny thing and because they are technologists talking about the latest things in the technology industry,” she adds.
The reality is, argues Bova, all companies are tech companies now because everybody is using technology in some way, so it is a pity when companies do not actually understand who their customer is, what they want today, and what they want in the future. “You don't have to be Marc Benioff or Steve Jobs, you just need to be ahead of them enough to welcome them when they show up,” she quips.
Sharing how Salesforce keeps its customers close to the company, Bova explains she is part of a team that manages analyst relations. It also includes being the voice of the customer work, competitive intelligence, market intelligence, pricing and evangelism.
“All of that is customer facing, which we turn around and bring back into the company and it has a lot to do with citizen developers. It's not just about people developing in and around our platform but it's also about our customers helping us understand what we should be thinking about in the future for the next version of technology that we deploy."
She adds that Salesforce cares a lot about how its customers uses its technology and what they think about every facet of it, from what it is called, branded, built and how it is positioned.
“Everything is driven around customer success and that is not common practice,” she continues. “Some people say 'we want to develop this pen and we're just going launch the pen' and then the market says, 'we didn't want the pen'.”
“Whereas, other brands make the mistake of saying we want to be everything to everybody and then they are kind of not very much to anyone.”
What customers expect from brands in Asia Pacific
According to Bova, brands are facing a big challenge in APAC because this is the first time, from a business standpoint, that there are five generations of workers.
For example, the millennial generation expects real-time, always-on, very responsive, personalisation from brands, which means if they sent out a service request on a Saturday, they expect a response immediately. If they don't get it, then their expectation has not been met and they move on to another brand.
However, for later generations, they would not expect anyone to be in service or customer service on the weekend and would instead make requests during work hours.
“The challenge is subtly different by geography, by age, by vertical and by industry. But if I were to net it down to what is consistent, if you will, I think more and more people are now bringing their consumer expectations into their business life,” explains Bova. “For example, in my consumer life I have 24/7 everything's on, everyone's digital, but in my business life I bring that expectation, yet businesses aren't yet fully up to speed with that.”
Bova also notes that businesses in APAC were almost born digital, regardless of generation, because of companies like Tencent and Alibaba.
“There are so many examples of brands that are saying this is the kind of experience we want to deliver and if you're not the kind of customer who is interested in that kind of experience, it is okay if you do not do business with us, because we are going after a very specific kind of buyer,” she explains, noting that other brands make the mistake of saying they want to be ‘everything’ to everybody, but become very insignificant in the end.
Keeping the right balance
So how do brands leverage technology and improve their customer experiences, while not losing their interaction with their customers?
Bova says the key is to remember that technology is just an enabler because it is not going to fix the company's philosophy, nor their people or their process side of the business. This means that if companies do not marry technology with changing people and their process, it will result in customers having poor experiences.
“Even if you have Salesforce as part of your technology, but you have not changed the way your customer service reps work, your sales reps work, the way you use marketing, it means you are doing things the same way, which may be more efficiently, but does not then result in a better experience,” she explains.
Another mistake people make is they think that technology is going to fix the inherent problems that they have internally, but it actually exposes them instead of fixing them, observes Bova.
“That is why I think in this region particularly, because many companies started digital, did not have to go through digital transformation, which means that they are much better equipped to make incremental pivots as they deploy new technology to get better and better," she says.
"In more mature markets you have companies that already understand their processes so well and they have been using the six sigma technique, where they have been sort of operationalising and optimising their infrastructure for so long, trying to drive out costs etcetera."
That means while these companies are now able to say they can pivot more quickly, they also must understand where, why and how they want to pivot. “Once again it gets lost in translation - I don't even care if you deploy Salesforce right,” explains Bova.
“I meet with lots of customers that say we deployed Salesforce and I go okay well, let's talk about what did you do alongside that deployment on the people’s side in the process side. Then they look at me like, “well isn't the technology supposed to fix that?””