If this past year has highlighted anything, it’s the importance of maintaining our most precious personal connections. With our routines and social calendars interminably uprooted, and social distancing quite literally keeping our friends at arm’s length, we’ve had no choice but to adapt. Maybe we scheduled a weekly video call to catch up, started a new group text or turned our old board game night into online movie night.

Whatever it took, we’ve found a way to stay connected — because friendships don’t maintain themselves. Without continually reestablishing our presence and interest in each other’s lives, we drift apart. We understand less and less about each other’s experiences, and weakened understanding means weakened trust. 

What’s true for our friends is just as true for our customers. 

We kicked off a mini-series on contact center “must haves” last week with a discussion of how to evolve from process-focused omnichannel toward a more customer-centric channelless approach. This week is all about how we can springboard from that approach to build deeper, longer-lasting connections with our customers, thus increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) and boosting the business’ bottom line.

So ask yourself: Is your contact center finding ways to understand your customer’s needs? Are you staying present and connected in their life, not too much, but just enough to make sure they know that you’ll be there for them when they need you? Or are you one bad phone call or text away from drifting apart?

The core of personalized customer connections

What makes for a great and lasting customer relationship are the same things that make for a great and lasting friendship: openness, empathy and understanding, trust and dependability. You invest in each other. You learn what they’ve been through, who they really are and what they really want.

I know that may sound mushy to some of my fellow hard-nosed, data-driven CX comrades out there, so let me put it another way. We all know how improving customer loyalty and driving down churn can impact the bottom line. But there are not only transactional dynamics at play, there are emotional ones. In practice, extending CLV requires developing a real human connection and understanding — a kind of brand friendship.

But don’t just take it from me — take it from customers themselves:

Statistics from consumers about how they like to interact with brands

Customers crave a personalized experience, plain and simple. They want to do business with brands they feel understand and genuinely care about their needs.

They don’t want brands to be clingy or to impose where they’re not welcome. But they do want to know that if they have a problem, the brands they support will support them back. And not support them like a helpful stranger, but like a compassionate friend — remembering their history, understanding their preferences and giving them the right advice at the right time.

Closer connections through smarter technology

So how do we deliver that personalized experience? How do we actually understand our customers in a scalable way, so we can build and reinforce these deeper, more human connections across thousands or millions of interactions? 

Take a data-centric mindset

Understanding starts with listening. Becoming customer-centric starts with becoming data-centric. Put the technologies and processes in place to capture as much data as you can, across every channel and customer touchpoint. And don’t just sit on that data — use it. Build and categorize profiles of your customers. What are their needs? What do they want? What are their fears? What are their preferences for when they contact you? What kind of relationship do you really have with them? Are you recent acquaintances or BFFs?

Operate in real time

Don’t be that friend who takes forever to text back even when something’s urgent. One thing nearly all customers care about unfailingly is speed to resolution. The sooner you address the customer’s issue, the happier they’ll be.

Learn from machine learning

Listening is great, but not if you never learn. In today’s world of modern CX, machine learning is a critical part of how we learn to understand customers’ preferences and needs. Just like a good friend will give advice to avoid past mistakes or remember your favorite treats to give you the perfect gift, machine learning can help contact centers identify problems before they happen or present opportunities to cater to customer preferences that enhance the overall interaction.

Build on a trusted platform 

If you want to make sure you’re always going to be there for your customer, you need to know the tools you rely on are always going to be there for you. Make sure you’re investing in scalable, resilient cloud contact center technologies that can seamlessly ingest the necessary data and provide a holistic view of the customer.

The 4 key takeaways

If you want to become a “best friend for life” for your customers, provide a connected customer experience and nail those all-important CLV metrics, here are four key tactics to prioritize:

  1. Rapid response — We all know how important response time is for short-term customer satisfaction metrics. But although it’s harder to quantify, the long-term benefits can be just as significant. Responding promptly tells the customer, “Our company is dependable. Our company cares.” 
  2. Personalized experience — Nobody wants to feel like they’re just a line-item in some spreadsheet. Take advantage of the data you have to provide customers an experience that feels more like a friendship. Recommend products or services they might actually appreciate. Show that you remember their history, know who they are and respond to what they want.
  3. Proactive reconnection — When you haven’t spoken with a friend for multiple weeks or months at a time, it means something when they take the time to reach out. So don’t drift apart from your customer. Look at the frequency and seasonality of their purchases and technical issues. How and when should you reach out to rekindle that connection?
  4. Automatic execution— No company has the resources to personally check in on every single customer the way we’d like our friends to check in on us — at least not manually. Use the technologies and data at your disposal to automatically provide that reassurance. Tap automatic dialers and SMS check-ins to make sure customers know you’re there, and you’ve got their back. 

For more insights on the topic, watch the full LinkedIn live stream episode, “The Connection Inspection: Where Your Agents and Technology Become Your Customer’s Best Friend.”

And for discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.