When you ask people about their life-changing, 'a-ha' moments, you've probably noticed that they're almost always emotion-based. The joy of finding out they will become a parent, the reflection after an argument when criticism sinks in, the surprise at having assumptions challenged - I could go on, but you see what I mean: in each case it's emotion that makes a difference both in the moment and in your memory.
I don't think that it's any different when we interact with brands. You just have to look on Twitter to see the streams of frustration from unhappy customers, and on the flip side, tweets from brands that make customers feel their concerns were listened to.
But it goes further than this. Many successful brands, like Aston Martin or TOMS, to name just two, have forged deep emotional connections with their customers who feel a strong affinity to their brand and see it as part of their identity.
What has this got to do with technology? Turns out that shopping in the UK is now mostly done online; in fact, Salesforce's new UK Customer Experience report shows that nearly half of UK adults buy online at least every two or three weeks and only 5% never buy anything online.
That's an amazing change in just the last 10 years.
Part of this is driven by the increased penetration and use of smartphones throughout all segments of the population. 11% of shoppers - and more than a quarter of 25-34 year olds - call out mobile as their preferred way to shop, and research backs this up. The last Quarterly Commerce Cloud Shopping Index indicates that mobile traffic now accounts for 64% of all online shopping traffic in the UK - representing a rise of 21% in just twelve months.
These statistics highlight a new issue for brands seeking to spark a positive emotional connection with their customers. Formerly, this connection was made in-person by bank tellers, sales assistants and other service reps who knew their customers inside out, built strong relationships with them and were able to deliver that personal touch that made these customers feel like VIPs.
And for many local, independent British businesses this is still very much the case. The UK Customer Experience report reveals that these independent outlets top the customer service tables, largely because they offer this type of personal service. In fact, 84% of Britons rate the personal touch of independent shops as above average to very good.
However, this poses a problem for online businesses without a natural outlet to give that personal touch. How can these businesses create a deep emotional connection with each individual customer? And how can they do it at scale?
I believe the answer lies in the marriage of data and technology.
Organisations of all types can always better understand their customers and use this insight to anticipate their needs and wants, thus improving the overall experience. To do this, though, businesses need to gather data from every single touchpoint a customer uses, whether that's email, social, phone or in-person and use that information to create relevant communications. Many organisations already do this automatically through their CRM systems.
Going one step further, once all the data has been gathered, brands can create a single, 360-degree view of their customer. This is something that fewer organisations do, perhaps because it requires a shift away from siloed, legacy systems they currently use. These systems make it difficult to capture and share insights in a fast and effective way. But, by sharing information in the cloud, companies can move to a single system of engagement that can help teams across marketing, sales and service to gain a complete view of the customer and begin to truly understand them.
More than one in three consumers say an inconsistent experience across mobile, online and in-store has put them off buying from a particular brand and a further third are put off by offers that aren't relevant to them. It's vital that businesses obtain the single customer view as it holds the key to delivering the consistent, personal and relevant experience that consumers seek.
In addition, AI-powered predictive intelligence tools are fast becoming critical for identifying and delivering insights that will enable businesses to accurately predict what consumers will need, and want, in the future. These sophisticated algorithms can make decisions and recommendations based on implicit and explicit behaviour. With every customer interaction, the algorithms get smarter - self-learning if you like. This means that brands can automate the understanding of what customers want, enabling them to offer a highly personal experience, quickly and at scale.
Essentially this is about personal, timely communication, based on deep customer knowledge, such as a special offer made on a customer's birthday that relates to the products they've recently been browsing online. This level of personalisation, almost before the shopper even knows they want it, has been proven to delight consumers, because it makes us feel 'special.' And this connection drives brand loyalty.
More than half of UK consumers say online customer service has improved in the past five years and only 8% of consumers feel it's worse. Technology has already played a big role and now has an opportunity to help move the UK's businesses to the next level: creating emotional connections as permanent online as in person.