Rant & Rave: how to maximise multichannel customer engagement
It is one thing to think you’ve spotted the missing link in customer engagement, and quite another to convince some of the world’s most recognised brands that their preoccupation with and investment in analytics isn’t necessarily telling them the whole story about what their customers really think.
But that’s what Nigel Shanahan, founder and chairman of Rant & Rave has done since the penny dropped for him during a fateful sales trip in 2009. Since then, armed with their innovative customer engagement platform, he and his team have succeeded in capturing the imagination of half the FTSE, helping them to bridge the gap between delivering proactive customer communications and harnessing the power of real-time feedback.
The company’s original platform focused on push customer communications – multi-channel messages about products and services purchased, or the status of ‘click and collect’ deliveries, for example. Today, the communication circle has been completed by technology which allows businesses to capture, interpret and present customer reaction to their experience in real time.
Rant & Rave now works with more than 190 businesses and last year delivered 210 million interactions via SMS, MMS, email, voice, and web messages. Its customer base includes Vodafone, EasyJet, Debenhams, Sky and nPower, as well as numerous public sector organisations.
Shanahan’s moment of truth came during a dispiriting experience at a motorway café. The coffee was dreadful, the table was dirty and as his frustration mounted, he began to wonder why it wasn’t possible to convey his thoughts about the dismal service to the senior management of this well-known chain – rather than having to complete a survey (if one existed) and waiting until question 20 to make a point that was unlikely to register where it counted.
“I thought, if my feelings as a customer are to count for anything, they need to be captured in the moment,” Shanahan recalls. “I phoned my wife and said I had an idea, which fitted with everything we’d been doing since founding the business in 2001. If we could find a way to capture customer reaction in a timely and crystal-clear way, it would have a perfect synergy with our proactive messaging platform.”
Shanahan’s idea was based on the premise that the most valuable information about a customer’s experience is captured in the richness of the any-other-comments box at the end of a survey, rather than in the way they’ve ticked a generic set of boxes. And that information is only valuable if you can take the most important sentence verbatim, unpick the sentiment, analyse it and deliver a quick, intelligent response.
“It took us about 18 months to bring the platform to a sufficiently impressive level to show people,” says Shanahan. “We wanted to demonstrate that by enabling the client to have a sentiment-driven dialogue with the customer, capturing feedback as close to the experience as possible, we could cut through survey fatigue and get the story from the customer to the brand in real time.”
Shanahan admits that the challenge was tough. To begin with, even an existing customer base of well-known brands needed convincing that his vision of complete, transparent communication had something different to offer. Most companies were already deeply invested in surveys and analytic tools and didn’t have the budget to entertain a new approach.
“What makes us different to most sentiment engines, which tend to deal with averages in survey returns, is our ability to unpick the multiple elements of the customer’s response in their own words,” he says.
“If you capture the dialogue in the moment, you can immediately drill into the detail. I think I got it from the start – why would I answer a load of irrelevant questions when I could just tell you then and there why I wasn’t happy, in my own words?” says Shanahan.
“But I did get frustrated. We had a refreshing and exciting proposition, and a great way to capture feedback. We would have positive, evangelical meetings – then the let-down: they already had a long-term commitment to a survey provider, or they might consider a pilot project in a year or so.
“Now, things have really changed. Everyone is aware of the value of the empowered customer, and I think we’re in much more of a sweet spot than we were three years ago. It’s taken quite a while and there are still doubters and nay-sayers. But the fact remains that CRM systems alone won’t tell you how a particular customer felt during the last five times they’ve interacted with your business – and wouldn’t it be great to know that, so you can make changes where they’ll make the most difference?”
As a platform, Rant & Rave is focused on the front-line of engagement between the customer and the employee – whether they are in a bar or restaurant, for example, or communicating via a call centre. Shanahan says it creates a sense of excitement around being able to deliver a proactive response to a customer comment. He offers Ovo Energy as an example of how a business is using Rant & Rave to drive engagement.
“They have a terrific, excitable call centre workforce, with real energy, so they have gamified the feedback, creating their own vernacular around the topics that are important to the customer,” he says.
“They even recognise the ‘Raver of the week’. Our outcomes are found among motivated employees, in the call centre wallboards, and the teams and league tables competing to provide the best customer experience. A customer might find a call centre agent excellent but want to criticise a system or process. Rant & Rave allows the agent’s achievement to be recognised while the problem business process is addressed. It’s a customer-focused approach rather than one based on dry analytics.”
The gathering strength of this proposition can be measured in the company’s growth. It now employs nearly 70 staff – mostly at its Coventry headquarters but also an increasing number of remote employees around the country. Shanahan says Rant & Rave has been profitable since it was established, and monthly software subscriptions are growing by 50 percent year-on-year.
The company is expanding internationally. It is currently rolling the platform out across Linde Group in 22 countries around the world, and it is working with Homeserve in the US – a relationship which, says Shanahan, is already opening up prospects across the Atlantic. It has also integrated its technology with Salesforce, creating an app which will bring rich sentiment right into context with other customer information – opening up a host of possibilities for the subscriber’s business.
“We live and breathe customer engagement, which we think begins with the first communication and comes full circle with their feedback,” he says. “If you can capture sentiment after any interaction by asking for feedback, you can begin to build a pre-emptive communication strategy which drives down the cost of service, stops unnecessary calls and improves the customer experience – and even identify a sentiment-driven sales opportunity.”
That rotten cup of coffee certainly turned out to have dregs of gold.
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.