Customer expectations are evolving with the increasingly rapid adoption of digital technologies. Hence, customer experience is fast becoming the central element of competitive advantage. Gaurav Chand, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), CenturyLink, talks about the changing role of the CMO, how digital transformation is shaping the relationship between the brand and customer, and the technologies that enable business success in this digital age.
Delivering best-in-class customer experience has never been more critical in this era of the digital business. According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies around the world are already competing on the basis of customer experience. This will intensify over the next two years, when 81 percent of businesses say they expect to be competing mostly or completely through the quality of customer experience.
Enterprises in Asia Pacific also face a similar battle. Digitization has transformed the way enterprises and customers interact with each other. Enterprises now have more digital capabilities to reach out to customers, who on the other hand have rising expectations.
Customer experience is going to evolve rapidly. So how will the game change for enterprises in terms of connecting with customers? What are some of the trends marketers should take note of when it comes to their relationship with the rest of the company and the audiences they want to speak to? Gaurav Chand, Chief Marketing Officer, CenturyLink gives his insights from over 20 years of marketing experience in leading companies like Dell EMC.
When it comes to digital transformation, Asia Pacific is actually ahead of the curve. 451 Research discovered that 57 percent of companies in the region have a rock-solid strategy and are actively digitizing their business processes. This is ahead of North America (45 percent) and Europe (47 percent).
The results also speak for themselves. Singapore is now the smartest city in the world according to the 2018 Smart City Index. The country scored the highest ratings for technological transformation in mobility, health, safety, and productivity. The Digital Evolution Index also ranks Hong Kong as the third most advanced digital economy by demonstrating high levels of digital development while continuing to lead in innovation and new growth. Meanwhile, Thailand is also digitizing aggressively with its Thailand 4.0 initiative. Advanced capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly being used in production and management processes.
There are a few reasons why. I think the most critical one is that enterprises in Asia Pacific do not have to deal with the legacy infrastructure like their North America and Europe counterparts. In these countries where companies are more entrenched, they have to first migrate their data and programs into new systems before they can take it to the next level. Asia Pacific companies are going straight to the heart of digital transformation by building IT systems and networks with the intention to support advanced digital capabilities eventually.
Then, there are external factors like local governments that also play an important role. Leaders in Singapore and Hong Kong are pursuing plans to bring the power digital to citizens and businesses. Early this year, Singapore’s IMDA singled out AI, immersive media, Internet of Things, and cybersecurity as key focus areas of development on the path to a digital economy. Hong Kong has also committed HK$50 billion (approximately US$6.4 billion) to encourage innovation in areas like AI and fintech. So it’s a combination of the right market conditions, the lowering cost of digital technologies, and the forward-thinking leadership of many of the leaders in the region that makes Asia Pacific such a hotbed of digitization in the world.
Digitization has unlocked a new level of choice and convenience that we have not seen before. Take the smartphone for example. From a single device, you can book a taxi, shop online, watch a movie, or make a banking transaction. Before they buy a product, most people do their due diligence on the web — finding out what analysts, influencers, and other people are saying. This means that customers are gaining more control and have more say in how they want to relate to brands.
Digital services will only see more growth. Most recently, Grab’s regional takeover of Uber and Go-Jek’s expansion show the popularity of ride-hailing services and how competitive the market is. Banks like OCBC are also launching digital transformation programs to upskill employees to serve customers. According to industry estimates, Netflix’s Asia Pacific subscribers will grow by four times over the next five years. That’s about 28 million people!
Enterprises have their work cut out for them in terms of delivering customer experiences. Customer expectations have gotten much higher and demand different styles of engagement.
In the American Express 2017 Global Customer Service Barometer, two-thirds of Singaporeans say they will switch to other companies after two or more bad experiences, and the remaining one-third will make the change after just one. Customer satisfaction in Hong Kong has also reached a three-year low. Only a third of customers believe that businesses are putting any effort into providing excellent customer service, a significant decrease from 58 percent in the previous two years.
Social media has also accelerated the pace of customer requests and responsiveness. In 2017, there were approximately 2.5 billion social network users in the world, of which roughly 1.3 billion are from Asia Pacific. Fifty-eight percent of marketers say that using social media to drive traffic to their websites is the most important use of the technique.
While digitization has raised the stakes for enterprises, it has also opened up numerous opportunities for delivering great customer experiences.
The biggest and most important shift I have seen is that digital can empower enterprises to place the right message at the right time to the right customer. Based on the customers’ digital footprint, enterprises can understand exactly where the customer is on their buying journey and deliver the right kind of information or offer that will compel them to act.
Hence, enterprises need to focus on their use of data and the speed at which they can turn their data from insights into action. To stay competitive, enterprises can focus on the three areas:
The example that comes to mind is Tesla. Tesla automobiles are in effect smart devices with tons of sensors that continuously monitor and gather important data on how the car is performing, road conditions, traffic hazards, and much more. So, if there is road work that leads to a detour, or they detect patterns of road hazards, Tesla can learn and respond with an over-the-air software update. Every vehicle in the world gets smarter about how to navigate the road, parallel park, or improve driving performance. Compare this to the traditional model of cars: your car doesn’t improve over time and if you want new features, you have to get a new car. So, Tesla has really applied the principle of “acquire, analyze, act” and the speed at which they are able to do this with their data is something that enterprises must work towards.
What I am seeing as a CMO myself is that our role now also consists of being the agent of change for modernizing the way the company engages with customers and bringing insights from those digital engagements back to the business. Hence, the CMO’s role in the boardroom is becoming increasingly crucial.
The relationship between the CMO and the C-suite is also going to evolve. The CEO is going to depend on the CMO to deliver customer insights and improved customer experiences. More importantly, the relationship between the CIO and CMO will become critical to any company’s success. The CIO understands the technology, while the CMO knows how to use it to reach out to customers, using tools like predictive analytics and propensity modelling. Hence, the two functions must work together in a collaborative fashion to bring out the best customer experience from any enterprise.
We’ve talked a lot about data – how to acquire it, analyze it, and then act upon it. But to do this, you need to transform three key areas of the business:
One crucial piece of technology is a network that can adapt to changing demands rapidly. Today, enterprises need to increase or decrease bandwidth, or provision networks in an instant. As enterprises also take on more digital capabilities, it is critical to have a network that can accommodate modern use cases in which data seamlessly flows between the edge to a distributed network and the cloud where it is made available globally in near real-time.
Speed is the essence of competitive advantage today. Customers want new services fast and IT must follow suit. The traditional model of rolling out applications in months is outdated. IT has to roll out services, empower new ways of working, and capture new opportunities at the speed of the market so they can improve the experience for their customers before the competition. This means embracing the hybrid cloud so public and private clouds can deliver the right applications and data at the right time to help accelerate innovation.
Enterprises are digitizing amid an evolving threat landscape. As they adopt initiatives like mobility, they have to be aware of security gaps that can be exploited. A single failure will ruin customer trust and brand loyalty. Hence, enterprises need to adopt a connected security strategy that can keep up with the dynamic nature of today’s networks and devices. However, no enterprise can match the speed of cyber threat evolution. Hence, they should consider professionally managed security solutions to help them reduce risk while they focus on driving business growth.
Data is the secret behind the digital business. If you want to succeed, focus on how you acquire the data, how you analyze the data, and finally how you act on the data. The speed at which you do so is going to be the competitive advantage in the future. Enterprises must build an open culture towards these three areas and we at CenturyLink are here to help them succeed.