How to Leverage Technology to Improve Customer Loyalty

KANA's Kate Leggett uses her own story of trying to buy a smart phone to illustrate how important the right use of technology can be in gaining a long-term, loyal customer. And as she points out, there's more to it than appearing on a Google search.

My 13-year-old daughter tells me that I am an aging technology neophyte. Yet, the fact that I purchased my first smart phone and upgraded our family calling plan without talking to a human being demonstrates how far we have come in changing our behavior through superior technology.

I don't think that I am any different than the typical baby boomer. I have a cell phone and a basic calling plan. I only use the Web as a tool to help me map out travel routes, do basic vacation research and help me find lowest prices for merchandise. I have no interest in mobile e-mail. However, I realized that without it, I would never be able to contact my daughter who spends her life on chat and SMS and who refuses to answer the phone as a call takes too much of her time.

I may be a technology novice, but I am quite a savvy shopper. When I realized I needed a smart phone, I diligently identified my requirements -- voice service to call my husband, e-mail and SMS to communicate with my daughter, a camera as a bonus add-on, and a price tag of under $400. With this list in hand, I went to the Web to see what I could find.

A Google search overwhelmed me with too many results, so I narrowed my search to phones offered from the service providers located within 10 miles of my house.

One site stood out in my search. It asked me to enter some basic information up front -- like my phone requirements, the number of people on my calling plan, the types of calls I was expected to make -- enough information to unsettle me a bit. But, by giving up a little of myself, I got a lot back. Not only did I get a clear listing of phones suitable for my needs, ordered by price, and with embedded consumer ratings, but the site also recommended the best plan for me, with an analysis of why it was the best plan.

The site also included links to a searchable discussion board where additional product information and peer reviews were posted. I read through all the material available, asked a couple of questions which were immediately answered, and quickly came to a decision as to what phone would be best for me.

I purchased the phone and the calling plan via their Web site, and when I turned on the phone for the first time, I was greeted with a personalized welcome message, and a one line survey that asked me how my experience was. "Great", I SMS'ed back, and realized that I had just sent my very first text message.

Every time I logged into the service provider's site, I was always greeted by name, and was presented with a consolidated view of my information -- my family's billing plan, my payments, my questions and open support tickets. My last searches were remembered, and any service which the site recommended always seemed pertinent to my situation.

I felt that the site went beyond simple service. For example, I had signed up for automatic payments, which meant that the site notified me by e-mail every time a payment was debited from my account. Yet, I was also notified each time my daughter was within 10 minutes of exceeding her monthly plan, which helped me monitor her phone usage, and confiscate her phone when she chatted for too long instead of doing her homework.

After several months, I received an e-mail which included a recommendation for a cheaper rate plan for me based on my consolidated usage history. And, after a year, when the rate for e-mail notification was raised, I didn't even consider discontinuing this service as e-mail notification had made my life easier. I even started telling a friend or two about the wonderful experience I was having with this service provider.

Companies with a Web presence really need to pay attention to this customer experience. Today, industries such as telecommunications are becoming commoditized. Customers have little brand loyalty, and shop by price, typically on the Web.