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Knowing Your Customer When Face-to-Face Interaction is Obsolete
Blog / Sales Management / Jun 10, 2017 / Posted by Dan Blackarski / 1591 

Knowing Your Customer When Face-to-Face Interaction is Obsolete

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An age-old business maxim is to “know your customer,” and entrepreneurs, executives and sales agents have lived by this wisdom for centuries. Until fairly recently, this goal was accomplished informally, usually by gregarious salespersons with aggressive handshakes who had a knack for remembering their clients’ names and their children’s birthdays.

There is a certain comfort in being recognized and acknowledged. When I go to my favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch on Fridays, the waitress knows me, and she knows without asking that I like a Bombay martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. It’s a small thing, but it makes me feel comfortable, and it’s why I keep coming back. This small and traditional customer service tactic isn’t just unique to the restaurant industry, it’s true across every industry. Frequent business travelers enjoy being recognized by the hotel concierge, and something as simple as a “Welcome back, Mr. B,” makes that stressful business trip just a bit less stressful.

According to a survey from hotel price comparison platform HotelsCombined, 22 percent of all American business travelers reported that they liked to be recognized if they stay in the same hotel on a regular basis. The research also shows that 48 percent of business travelers prefer to stay in the same hotel each time they travel, reinforcing that this level of recognition is key to repeat business in the hospitality industry.

“Business travelers are travelers with strong habits and often turn into repeat customers for a hotel if the traveler has a positive response,” said Chris Rivett, travel expert at HotelsCombined. “Their focus is on business while they’re away from home, but it’s important that the hotel act as a bridge between home and the office. We’re seeing many hotels prioritize the guest experience and we expect to see this trend continue as technology makes it even easier for hotels to offer personalized services.”

That informal approach to acknowledging customers and remembering their faces can only go so far, though, and today’s customer experience professional must turn to big data and analytics to fill in the gaps.

Knowing your customer when face-to-face interaction is obsolete

Do sales personnel really remember every single client by face and name? Do they actually know by heart what each client’s preferences are, what they like to drink, and where their kids go to school? They probably do remember some of those details, but relying on memory alone is inconsistent. As companies grow their ecosystems globally, online transactions replace traditional face-to-face meetings, and customers have far more comparative data than ever, sales-focused companies are leveraging their technology investments to know their customers better than could any salesperson with a firm handshake and an eidetic memory. But when today’s customers order online and are more likely to never need a face-to-face meeting, how do sales organizations achieve that customer knowledge?

The first step is understanding the difference between customer service, and customer experience, and how to accomplish each one. Customer service is simply providing customers with what they want and need, and solving any problems that may come up in the course of doing so. Customer experience, on the other hand, is more emotional, and requires a technological foundation to understand not only each individual customer, but the broader trends of the entire customer base.

Big data changes the “know your customer” imperative

A report from PwC notes that while the need to put technology at the center of the customer experience is driving tech spending in all industries, “more information doesn’t always mean more value.”

The data itself is not the end goal, and having a large data warehouse full of customer information may not necessarily lead anywhere. The true value in big data as it relates to “know your customer” isn’t in the volume of data, but rather, understanding what type of data is being collected or not, and why. The biggest mistake companies make in data-driven customer experience is starting with the data – collecting massive volumes of information from every interaction point, then turning it over to data analysts to make some sense out of it. But when the C-suite mandate is “here is data, tell me something useful,” more often than not, the initiative fails.

Rather than having data drive the customer experience initiative, the customer experience initiative should drive the data, beginning with an educated hypothesis and an analysis of what needs to be understood to prove it.

More customer insights

The maturity of analytics tools has changed the game, allowing us to gain much more precise information on customers. The day of Willy Loman is over. Playing the game with instinct, a good memory and maybe a handful of index cards, even in Arthur Miller’s play didn’t end well. “Know your customer” may still be executed by a human salesperson, but the pipeline of information that allows that to happen can most effectively be filled with customer analytics and big data.

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About Author

Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and PR counsel to several Internet startups, and author of the book “Born in the Cloud Marketing.” He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, marketing, and cloud computing. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba."

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