Not long ago, Hong Kong businesses were in full agreement that the keys to success were a good quality product, a low price, and excellent customer service. Suddenly it seems that these rules have changed – today, success is reliant on providing the best ‘customer experience’.
An article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Truth About Customer Experience”, has a lot to say on the matter, defining this nebulous ‘experience’ as the customers’ end-to-end journey with a company; something that is not measured just by key touchpoints or moments of interaction, but rather through the cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints and interactions that result in the feeling of a real relationship – or in some cases, the lack of a relationship.
While these new ‘rules of success’ may concern some companies, Hong Kong businesses are extremely well-placed to help improve their customers’ experience – and the overall customer relationship – thanks to their focus on the customer and the power of technology.
Technology can deepen relationships…
There is no question that technology has a big part to play in the customer relationship. The continued explosive growth in social media and the ability to collect real-time interactive feedback is spurring the growth of channels which allow companies to build meaningful relationships with individual customers, rather than just focus on discrete collective touchpoints.
At the same time, exciting new developments in connectivity and augmented and virtual reality are opening new doors for businesses and consumers.
Take Google’s augmented reality platform, Tango, as an example. Tango uses a mobile device and 3D ‘computer vision’ to identify, map, and interact with the environment. It allows users to, for example, hold up their phones in front of a dinosaur exhibit at a museum and watch the dinosaur come to life, or look at paintings in an art gallery in a new and enhanced way.
Tango works in ‘reverse’ too, enhancing the experience for virtual shoppers, allowing them to explore products in a virtual store on their smartphones or tablets and look at 3D virtual models of products, rotating them, getting in-depth specifications and ordering – all at the touch of a button.
Goxip, a recent Hong Kong start-up, is the newest thing in virtual commerce. Described as a ‘shoppable Instagram’, Goxip combines social media with new technology and taps into the burning consumer desire to stay hip.
The app first aggregates celebrity and community content from across different social media channels and blogs. Then, shoppers use their proprietary image recognition technology to detect, compare, shop for, and purchase the various fashion items in any picture they come across, choosing from over two million items from 15,000 brands offered by over 400 merchants.
Goxip’s new service model won them the top start-up award at the international RISE conference.
…but there is no substitute for reality
Many businesses are tempted to rely solely on technology to advance customer relationships, and indeed internal relationships too. Face-to-face meetings can be conducted by Skype, marketing promotions can be conducted on WhatsApp and WeChat.
As useful and affordable as these two-way communication channels are, they are just not the same as ‘being there’. Just as watching a concert on TV is not the same as being there live, being in the middle of a jubilant crowd, feeling the music vibrating through your seat.
Being present in a physical place, be it an exhibition, gallery, shop, model home, or wherever, creates opportunities for people to interact with their surroundings and share experiences with the people surrounding them, influencing everyone’s moods, behaviours, and attitudes.
Trade shows are a particularly strong example of where reality is irreplaceable – exhibiting at trade shows allows a company to promote their products and services and connect their brand with real people. To do this, the human touch is essential – greeting potential customers with a confident handshake, engaging them, and maximising message retention on the spot.
This is particularly important for B2B interaction: there is nothing like professional mingling to help you keep up with the latest news and market trends.
As with most things in life, the key is balance. When technology is effectively blended into the physical world, you get the best of both worlds and create the best relationships with your customers.
By capturing their attention and immersing them in varied and unique experiences, you will create memories and, crucially, deepen connections in this era where relationships are king.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Lawrence Chia is the Chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong-listed Pico Far East Holdings (Pico Group) (SEHK: 752).