Comdata discusses how global brands can optimize customer management and value creation in fast-changing times.
Most consumers these days have more interaction with global brands than they used to. It could be through their use of e-commerce, social media, virtual communications, or the way they buy entertainment.
It could be because their preferred energy or telecoms provider, bank or airline has grown or been taken over. Or it could be because they now buy consumer electronics or appliances from a global brand where once they bought from a regional player. The same pattern is happening across the world.
In some cases, consumers’ increasing interaction with these global brands is enthusiastic; in others, it may be reluctant.
“Either way, it’s bringing about significant changes in customer management – changes that have been accelerated by Covid-19,” says Ronen Melnik, Chief Strategy and Global Clients Officer.
“Both brands and customer management BPO providers need to understand these.”
Customer Management and Global Businesses: Changing Needs
Given the proliferation of global brands and companies, it’s unwise to generalize too broadly about their customer management needs, challenges and approaches.
For example, there’s wide variation between segments such as high-growth technology companies and longer-established, mainstream brands in sectors like finance, aviation, automotive or energy.
Equally, between businesses where decision-making is highly centralized and businesses that delegate to decision centres closer to the end-customer.
Even so, all global brands face some common, overarching challenges when it comes to customer management, primarily how to:
- Continue to expand their global footprint
- Provide consistent and seamless customer experiences that reinforce their brand image and customer engagement
- Control / optimize their costs across all their business processes, from sales to customer care to credit collection
- Balance the global vs the local
“These challenges are, to an extent, timeless – they applied in the 1980s and the 2000s, just as in the 2020s. However, the solutions and approaches needed to address them are far from timeless, and must evolve continuously,” warns Ronen Melnik.
Customer Management Needs of Global Brands
- Smart mix of nearshoring / offshoring/multilingual and multicultural hubs
- Single governance and point of contact
- Seamless collaboration / coordination between lead point of contact and local operations
- Continuous improvement support and processes
- Optimization of costs and transparency on pricing models
- Risk management and compliance
- Delivery of consistent customer experiences of the brand, regardless of location, but with adaptation to local cultures and specificities
- Coverage of the whole spectrum of evolving business process needs, including sales, customer care, technical assistance, and credit collection, and solutions and services to support them
- Connectivity and integration of technological platforms
The Pandemic Effect: Global and Local
“In customer management, global businesses have always had to make trade-offs between being global and local, balancing economics of scale and operational efficiency against the benefits of proximity (linguistic and cultural) to local customers. Covid-19 has added complexity to the decision-making here,” explains Ronen Melnik.
Survey after survey has shown that consumer behaviours and attitudes have changed in 2020 and 2021, often in apparently contradictory ways. They became more digitally confident, but also felt more vulnerable.
They embraced entirely new ways of living and working, but took shelter in known, trusted brands. Virtual, frontier-less technology made geography and place irrelevant, but many consumers became more local or nationalistic in their loyalties.
These changes have reinvigorated the long-running questions around balancing the local vs the global in customer management and interaction. Some of the old ‘rules’ were upended, but others were reinforced and intensified.
Two examples from Ronen Melnik illustrate this effectively.
1. Consumer convergence and divergence: Though Covid-19 has seen global consumer convergence in areas such as technology, it caused divergence in others.
For instance, in 2020 and 2021, individual countries have often been at different stages of lockdown – with some entering while others are exiting; some having travel bans while others do not; and different countries and sectors are experiencing different degrees of economic disruption.
Brands that do not reflect these different customer needs and states of mind in their customer interactions can jeopardize their customer relationships and long-term value creation.
2. Nationalism: Covid-19 fuelled patriotism or nationalism among some consumers and policymakers. Concerns about jobs or revenues being offshored when domestic unemployment was rising have in turn affected some businesses’ decisions about operational footprint and delivery of customer management.
Value Creation Comes From Understanding
In short, every global company – whether high-growth, mid-growth or established – needs to review, in the light of Covid-19, its approach to customer management and value creation.
To do this, they need customer management BPO providers who understand what’s happening locally as well as regionally.
There are different levels to consider here:
Understanding existing cultural differences. This goes beyond multilingual approaches to cultural understanding – not at the level of national stereotypes, but specifically around customer management BPO.
For example, average conversation handling times in some countries will be twice as long as in others, while the tolerance for automated voice response technology varies across countries and regions. Successful customer interaction and value creation strategies must reflect this.
Understanding change. It’s not enough to understand the status quo alone: brands and BPO providers also need to monitor and engage with new or evolving local/regional trends. These could be Covid-related or they could relate to other issues such as attitudes to technology and automation.
The pace of change in heterogeneous regions like Europe and LatAm is not uniform, and brands and BPO providers with remote centralized decision-making may miss new differences or misjudge their responses.
How to Ride the Waves of Change
In business, technology and consumer behaviour, the pace of change was accelerating well before the Covid-19 pandemic. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encapsulated this very elegantly, way back in 2018: “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”
Most global brands know this well; what they need is partners to help them deal with it. So, in customer management, how do brands find these right partners?
In our own work with global brands in EMEA and LatAm, Comdata Group has identified four game-changing elements in customer management, all of them more important than ever in 2021:
Operational excellence – BPO providers with Global Operating Standards can guarantee global consistency in performance, meeting brands’ needs for internationally consistent, high-quality customer experiences.
Agility – A culture of problem-solving and quick decision-making helps brands address challenges at pace and deliver smart solutions. The local vs global issues that escalated during Covid-19, and the need to switch rapidly to work@home delivery models, are two examples of this, but there are many more.
People centricity – In every interaction with customers, customer management agents need to understand and reflect the brand’s identity and values. That means investing in the agents – caring for them, upskilling them, empowering them, backing them with technology they know how to use, and building loyalty.
Employee engagement and skills translate directly into customer satisfaction.
Going further – Whether it’s coming up with innovative ideas, rapidly scaling up, delivering end-to-end programmes at speed or supporting digital transformation, global brands need partners who are ready to go the extra mile.
This is partly a question of culture and mindset, partly a result of having the right springboard of people, processes and technology.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau finished off his 2018 speech about the pace of change and the need to change by saying: “Progress of any kind takes hard work.” He was right, of course, but he could also have added that progress of any kind takes great partners.
As global corporates take on the customer management challenges of the 2020s, that’s exactly what they need.