The EU Referendum, Competition & Customer Engagement

Tomorrow every Brit with the right to vote can pledge their support in favour of the campaign to Remain in the EU, or in favour of ‘Brexit’ and the campaign to leave.  The competitive nature of both camps has intensified in the run up to the vote, with each side trying to convince voters of the benefits of their respective positions, and of course the short-fallings of the other’s arguments.

This is not a political commentary and neither promotes one stance nor the other – that is entirely personal to each voter.  The subject is relevant to us all though; living, working, producing and consuming in the UK and the EU, and countries around the world that trade in both markets.

Whether Britain remains or leaves will no doubt present opportunities and challenges over the coming years, with successes and inevitable failures over time.  A safe assumption though, is from a commercial perspective, competition in consumer goods and services (both at the high and lower ends) will only intensify. Businesses now operate in a marketplace that is increasingly globalised and competitive. The ubiquity of the web has changed the nature of commerce, and technology has put control into the hands of the customers who have much greater choice.  Competition is ever present.

There has also been fair criticism of both sides that there’s been much rhetoric with confusing, inconsistent and often irrelevant conversations surrounding the debate. Brands can often be guilty of the same thing. To succeed in Britain, Europe and around the Globe brands need to remain competitive. And key to gaining competitive advantage is customer engagement. The winning brands are those that cut out the noise and provide relevant and appropriate conversations with their customers, those that remain competitive will be those that ultimately build trusted relationships with customers.

As consumers our expectations have changed; and markedly increased.  We no longer accept a one-size fits-all approach.  We do not expect to have to repeat ourselves (when communicating or submitting information to a brand).  And we do not find it satisfactory to have inconsistent experiences as we move from one channel to another. In short, we’re more easily disappointed, quicker to judge, less willing to forgive and can shout louder than ever when something goes wrong. Brands need to close the gap between customer expectations and what they deliver.

In order to truly engage customers and close this gap, brands need to be mindful of several inextricably linked activities:

  • Customers must be provided with consistent and seamless experiences across whichever channels they choose to interact with a brand. And as they traverse from one channel to another, the experience must evolve such that the customer’s journey progresses and repetition is avoided.
  • Personalisation is key. Gone are the days where generic communications are deemed acceptable.  All interactions should be personal and contextually relevant and provide the appropriate value to the customer at every step.
  • Finally, timing is everything. Understanding when to communicate or not, and about what, will make the difference between engaging a customer, maintaining engagement or disengaging them completely.  In order to understand, brands have to listen to their customers, understand them and have the appropriate conversation with that customer – this is fundamental and something less competitive brands neglect.

This essentially requires brands to accept the notion that the customer now manages their own journey, rather than having it dictated to them.  “It’s their journey, not yours.”

Engaged customers are undoubtedly beneficial to brands. They are more loyal, represent a greater lifetime value, and most importantly have a greater propensity to advocate a brand.

So following the EU Referendum tomorrow – whether the UK remains in, or votes to leave – brands wishing to gain competitive advantage should ensure they have, and crucially prosecute, a comprehensive customer engagement strategy.