Engaging your customer

  • Business
  • Saturday, 18 Aug 2012

I DIDN'T intend to sit through the cycling road race which was one of the first events at the London Olympics. When I turned on the TV, the race had started but following the 250km would just take too long. Maybe, I will watch “for a while” and come back later to see the finish.

I saw the big pack in motion interspersed with close-up shots of the cyclists. Then the motorbikes whizzed by with cameramen riding pillion to capture the best angles.

Then there were the people cheering the cyclists on. As the cyclists headed out of the city, I get enthralled by the country roads and aerial shots of lovely farmlands.

Then the race got exciting as a cyclist broke away from the pack, pedalling like crazy up and down the hill, and negotiating sharp bends.

Before I knew it, I had been glued to the TV for an hour. It didn't seem that long and it was pretty enjoyable, so I watched a while longer. Then it was another two hours. I decided to watch till the end, where I was treated to the joy and tears of the winner, the celebrations and the disappointments.

It was not easy to turn the TV off as even the post-event interviews and medal presentation ceremony were captivating.

Like cycling, archery is also another sport I am not personally involved in.

Yet I spent hours watching what turned out to be such a nail-biting event.

There were shots of the archers, the beautiful venue, close-ups of the archer's face, arrows flying in slow motion towards the target during the replays, helpers pulling out the arrows, information on wind direction and the scores.

How can it be so addictive? Why was I watching the sports that I did not really know much about, or could identify with?

And all came together when I saw a programme on how Sports Illustrated worked to capture those iconic timeless images.

They prepared hours before the event. They checked out the stadium for the best camera spots. For example, they had nine cameramen just to cover the 100m men's race!

They were looking to capture that iconic shot that would convey “peak action, tears and cheers, power and intensity”.

The iconic picture must invoke that special emotional response from us.

The way sports is brought into our living room makes it addictive. We see more than those at the venue. Even if we do not have a feel for the sport, the commentators would fill us in. Before long, just by watching, we feel we know the game and what the players should be doing right. And the commentators are able to convey the atmosphere to us by the way they describe things.

Being at the venue is nice but different. When my son and I were at the Malaysian badminton open in Bukit Jalil, the atmosphere was electric. The noise level of the crowd was adrenalin-driving. It was great in many ways, but we missed the commentators. We missed the replays of the crucial points, the slow motion of the shuttle over the net or baseline, the close-up shots of faces and, of course, the air-conditioned comfort of our lounge.

We only saw from one angle where we were seated. When I asked my son if he wanted to go to another match, he said he would rather watch at home!

Sports on TV has become so watchable because the customer experience is so engaging. The organisers and the broadcasters know what the customers want and they deliver it.

Engaging the customer is one of the key challenges of businesses today. The customer has a short attention span, many choices and practically no loyalty.

So what can an organisation do to emotionally engage the customer?

It has to go beyond a campaign for a new product, more added features, loyalty cards, points or discounts. It is about creating the emotional attachment so that the customer repeatedly comes back or stays with the organisation.

One of my former colleague's job (in the hospitality industry) is to define and enforce the customer experience in his organisation. That requires his team to initially develop deep insights on the customer profile and what his customer buyer values are. That, in itself, is highly specialised work which requires significant data gathering and analysis.

It also means ensuring the service levels, facilities, environment, staff and processes reinforce the customer experience. He has to integrate the different departments and people to consistently deliver that customer experience to keep his customers happy. It is a lot of hard work and attention to detail that the customer do not see or know about.

Another is working on a project to apply concepts from on-line games in their customer relationship management. It is called “Loyalty Gamification”. Like the on-line games, they incorporate features such as competition, different levels of achievement and rewards. The aim is to increase interaction with the customers through the company's website and social media sites; and emotionally engage the customer even when they are not using the company's services. Through the interaction, the company also looks to obtain more understanding of the customer profile and behaviour.

That is the lengths companies have to go to today to better understand what the different customer wants. Just like how the people who bring sports to our living room understand our behaviours and know what would engage us!

Joan Hoi confesses to exceeding her TV-watching limits during the Olympics but she now also better understands why her son can spend hours playing games on-line.

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