The answer to regional growth?
Customer insights are integral to regional strategies, but more than a third of UK business leaders admit they need to improve in this area.
When businesses are searching for answers to how they can achieve growth, customer insight is gold dust. By mining customer feedback data, companies can make informed decisions about how they should interact with their market and improve their products or services.
Our latest research shows that partner and customer feedback is a crucial source of insight when UK businesses assess which geographical regions to focus on. And although the business leaders in the study have experienced success here, they admit that they have not perfected using customer insights effectively. More than a third (36 per cent) say they plan to improve their understanding of customer preferences over the next 12 months to ensure that their regional strategy is targeting the right locations in the right ways.
South of England
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Listen to the customer's voice and read their body language
Companies need to understand and process customer feedback in its two main forms. The first is direct feedback, when customers send their opinions straight to an organisation, perhaps through Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, online reviews or tagged social media posts. The second is indirect feedback, which is far more subtle and involves interpreting customers’ behaviour and their underlying emotions. For example, using text analytics on emails or chatbot messages, and voice analytics on customer service phone calls to detect how the customer is feeling by analysing their vocabulary and their tone of voice.
Indirect feedback can be a valuable tool when a company is searching for new opportunities to explore from a regional perspective. The digital behaviour of prospects and customers can reveal avenues to explore around service enhancements for certain regions. For example, website analytics might reveal that a large base of users from Wales are reaching the homepage via a search engine term for a service that is outside the company’s current offering. This insight could be the sign of a gap in the Welsh market which is worth investigating.
But in many cases customers are more candid about telling companies what they think - for example by reviewing their experiences using Google or Trustpilot. Where possible, companies should respond to this direct customer feedback and demonstrate that comments are not only being acknowledged, but are being acted upon.
To get the most out of direct feedback companies should encourage honest discussions and be willing to listen and learn. Actually sitting down with clients and working with them can spark new ideas and provide opportunities to offer additional services for both new and existing markets.
Director, Gordano Support Group
Many of the UK businesses surveyed have learned through feedback and reviews that their customers expect them to contribute to social causes on a local level. Just over 70 per cent say their customers and stakeholders expect them to play a prominent role in their local communities. This is felt especially strongly in the South of England, where 80 per cent of businesses say this.
Findings from feedback data can also guide broader strategy - for instance, where companies can be universal in their outreach across the UK and where regionally targeted methods will be more successful. Analysing this data might reveal, for example, that using local sales or customer support representatives in Northern Ireland rather than reps based abroad or in other regions leads to quicker purchases or a higher number of sales conversions. This would show the company that employing local sales and customer support teams, with local knowledge and dialects that match the customers’, is better for business.
How to get a clearer view of customers
The research respondents do acknowledge they still need to learn more about their target audiences. Thirty-six per cent say that improving their understanding of customer preferences over the next 12 months will help them give all regions of interest enough attention. This rises to 43 per cent for the South of England. Failing to understand customers on a deeper level could mean that regional strategies are out of sync with customer needs, resulting in missed opportunities, misguided products, ineffective marketing and wasted resources.
Robust data management practices lie at the core of achieving a clearer understanding of customers. This means that companies need to dedicate time and resources to addressing common data management difficulties, such as data sources being siloed by channel or business function. If they do this, they can build centralised repositories that tell them how target audiences behave and what they appreciate most.
Data hygiene is key to ensuring that businesses have a reliable picture of their customers. As companies use data insights to inform their strategies, they must evaluate the credibility of data sources, conduct audits on how employees enter data into systems and make sure that customers are in control of their own data. Good data hygiene gives organisations a solid foundation from which to move into more sophisticated methods, such as real-time or predictive analytics. These enable companies to react to changes in customer expectations and even pre-empt shifts so they can proactively build more resilience into their regional strategies.
A deeper awareness of the customer’s viewpoint will mean that UK businesses are best equipped to optimise regional strategies and assess when these strategies can be used universally. Staying on top of ever-changing customer preferences will be key to success in this area.
Co-Heads of Mid Corporate, Barclays Corporate Banking
UK businesses see the value in customer data and are using it to inform regional strategies and boost success in local markets. But keeping on top of changing preferences and the technology that can analyse the customer data is vital to keeping businesses competitive at all levels: regionally, nationally and internationally.
The research was carried out by FT Longitude and Barclays Corporate Banking and comprised a survey of 352 senior UK business leaders, at organisations with an annual turnover between £6mn and £250mn. The study established an equal representation from each of the following UK regions in terms of the location each respondent's business was registered in: Scotland, North of England, Midlands, East of England, Wales, London, South of England and Northern Ireland.
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