ZigZag Technologies: Stay in touch with customer trends - Richard French, United Kingdom
One of the biggest issues facing brands today is the need to improve the way customers connect with the product journey. Consumer tolerance of bad engagement has fallen dramatically as the scope of options available to them has grown.
A recent study in the Journal of Behaviour and Information Technology found that people often evaluate the merits of a website within seconds of visiting it, formulating judgements that can permanently influence their impression of a company.
"If you can't engage effectively with an audience, whatever the channel, they will go somewhere else," says Richard French, MD of ZigZag Technologies. "Today's customers expect the best from their journey and have less patience for brands whose websites, call centres or processes make life harder. This is something which is beginning to put a bit of fear into companies that have been slow to identify the momentum of change."
Those brands that do recognise the importance of good customer engagement have not always been successful in implementing it. According to French, all too often traditional technology platforms have failed to positively alter the consumer journey simply because the way that organisations are internally organised is flawed.
"There's a will and an ambition but structurally and technologically people are struggling," he says. "Our message is don't worry. It isn't realistic for organisations to create a journey that is seamless for the customer. The key is to forget about delivering entire solutions through a single CRM platform. Working within the limitations of the platform is usually inefficient for the business and rarely beneficial for the customer. You end up doing most things slightly badly rather than all things very well."
Instead of focusing on 'comprehensive' engagement platforms, ZigZag's builds solutions dynamic enough to cope with the way technology and consumer needs are changing. What customers want in a year's time will invariably differ from what they want now and software products must be attuned to those transformations.
Perhaps the best example of that change is the way in which people share and contribute information through social media. Lots of customers want to move from a passive social environment towards a more open, bi-lateral dialogue with brands and fellow consumers. For French, the ability to keep customers in control of that process on their own terms is vital.
"Getting the balance right is difficult," he says. "A brand needs to be there when required to engage the customer on social media platforms but without excessive intrusion and interference. It's a subtle process, but immensely important."
The way people use their time is also changing with the advent of smartphones, tablets and other devices. In space once reserved for introspection, commuters now check online bank accounts, flick through eBay and order food for their dinner. Brands that embrace these changes with relevant versions of their existing products will inevitably thrive. Simply having a mobile-friendly site is, and will not, be enough.
The sheer pace and scope of change and the number of situations where issues of engagement apply make companies like ZigZag all the more important for businesses today. ZigZag was launched last year as a digital tools specialist and has been behind a variety of software products since. As part of the Karma Communications group, ZigZag's background in advertising and communications means it is particularly sensitive to the theoretical and practical issues involved in the field of customer engagement.
"Coming from that area, we're very focused on what's going to motivate and engage consumers," French says. "Understanding customer behaviour and needs is one of the main things we do. It is a key reason why our products are so effective and why a client would come to a business like ours. We like to champion the customer-centric perspective and get things done in a dynamic and flexible way. Our business model allows us to be innovative and dynamic, continually responding to changes in customer behaviours and evolving our products accordingly."
Since ZigZag's launch, the company has developed a variety of different customer engagement products including Connect, Hub, Zoom and Live. The applications differ in terms of their functionality and purpose, but French still finds common ground in their characteristics.
"All our products link or enhance steps in the customer journey," he says declaratively. "We've worked out exactly how to do things simply and we get them implemented so that they actually happen. The smart technology we use has three different aspects; it's easy to use both for the brand selling the product and the end consumer; it's simple to integrate internally in a client's business; and is absolutely measurable. All of our products can demonstrate an immediate return on investment, contributing towards sales objectives, customer services, cost efficiency and other key brand metrics."
Connect is arguably ZigZag's most successful product to date having received an honour at the prestigious Direct Marketing Awards. The call centre messaging system was developed to help brands better follow up inbound contact with customers via call centres. For example, in the past BT operators had no way of managing the post-call sales process. What Connect does is allow the agent to record details about the conversation and create a personalised email on the back of it. Once the customer is ready to buy the product, they can click on the email's link and go directly into the online order journey rather than start again by telephone.
By making it easy for customers to go online, Connect reduces unnecessary calls to the call centres and creates a far more positive experience for the customer.
"In this situation customers are not simply left to their own devices," French says. "The whole procedure is therefore changed in order to allow the brand to properly manage the cycle. BT recorded a 400% improvement in customer satisfaction between those customers who received an email via Connect and those that did not. And we have also achieved a conversion rate 250% above target and reduced average call handling times, achieving an ROI of 55:1. Connect improves the quality of the customer experience, enhances the reputation of the brand and increases overall sales."
Another ZigZag product, Hub, is designed to improve customer engagement for branch-based businesses like estate agents, car dealerships and restaurants, which have locally targeted markets. Like Connect, it supplies one-to-one tailored emails, printed documents and text messages to provide customers with the additional information they may not find in a brochure. This enables companies to take far greater control over a sales opportunity which it has not yet secured.
Zoom is a slightly different application but with a broadly similar purpose. The software provides clients with an enhanced product display capability, which is particularly useful for brands that struggle to manage the way their goods are displayed on the websites of third-party retailers. What Zoom offers is a way for those brands to retain control over the customer experience and introduce additional content like video and reviews.
"From the brand's point of view, Zoom lets you showcase your product in a much more enhanced and engaged way," French says. "The customer gets a richer visual experience that improves not only the perception of the brand, but also the volume of sales made. And best of all, it's nice and easy to implement for the retailer."
ZigZag's immediate plans are for improvement and expansion, helped no doubt by recent private equity investment.
"We're looking to expand our operations into other markets in Europe and Asia," French says. "We're so excited by the response that we've had to the products so far. It's really just a matter of how quickly we can get out there and expand."