Customers are at the heart of every company, no matter the industry or product/service sold. Digital has only magnified the importance of providing an optimal experience, whether online, via mobile, in-store, or any other way customers can engage.
Marketers understand that--and now they're looking for ways to differentiate that experience from what their competitors provide. Eleven marketing pros (starting with insight from this author) share how they're doing so, all with the goal of significantly improving the quality of the customer experience.
Ernan Roman, president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, emphasizes consumer expectations:
The starting point for developing your customer experience strategies should be to understand how consumers define "customer experiences." In working with our clients, such as MassMutual, Norton AntiVirus, and NBC Universal, we have found six essential customer-experience elements to help shape your strategies:
- Improve the customer experience across every point of contact with your organization.
- The customer experience applies to all elements of the media mix and all departments in your organization.
- High-quality experiences must be maintained throughout the relationship and not just when you are selling or renewing.
- Customer experiences must be driven by individual preferences regarding message, timing, frequency, and media mix.
- Preferences must drive high-quality personalization of communications and experiences.
- Privacy of preference information is essential.
Also, per findings from our Voice of Customer (VoC) Relationship Research, customers and prospects consistently stated that they were willing to provide trusted brands with deeper levels of information in exchange for more personalized information and experiences. It’s what we call the Reciprocity of Value Equation, and it applies to B2B and B2C customers.
Kris Gates, VP of customer experience marketing at MassMutual Retirement Services Division, praises preference-driven personalization:
Delivering a tailored experience, built and managed by individual customer preferences, will differentiate you from the pack. As marketers and digital engagement continue to evolve, this will quickly become a baseline expectation from your customers. This expectation is no different from expecting an intuitive Web site or quality service from your representatives.
We have been testing preference-based communications, expecting it would outperform standard “spray and pray” marketing. What we didn’t anticipate was the extent to which it would outperform traditional marketing. In one of our tests, we added an opt-in feature to our latest SmartView YouTube educational series. The offer was a proactive reminder of when new episodes of the retirement education videos were available for viewing. Results from the opt-in preference-based population versus the control group: 94 percent higher open rate, 1,000 percent higher video view rate, zero unsubscribes, and 100 percent deliverability.
Welington Fonseca, vice president of marketing at Gilt, aims to cut through the clutter:
Gilt utilizes preference-based personalization to ensure a unique customer experience (agnostic of location) and smooth transition between devices and channels. [Gilt also uses it to] cut through the clutter and position its communications as nonpromotional.
In-depth preferences drive high levels of personalization. Some of the self-profiled preferences we capture include brand preference, device preferences, notification requests (e.g., targeted mobile push notifications), shopping behavior (browsing, purchasing), collaborative filtering (look-alike customers), and geolocation. These are used to determine the most relevant merchandising/offers to be presented to Gilt customers and the order in which those offers appear in their communications, including their personalized Web site. Preference-based personalization across our multichannel mix drives engagement by increasing order conversion rates and decreasing unsubscribe rates significantly.
Gilt’s Surprise & Delight program is deployed to its best customers via a carefully structured communications plan (phone, email) and delivered by highly trained customer service representatives. Customer-service representatives have access to customers’ preferences and are empowered to use a variety of offers, including discounts (free shipping), free merchandising, flowers, car service, etc. Concierge customers are significantly less likely to churn than average customers.
Douglas Stein, president of HMS National, warns not to fall for the red herring:
Recognize that there are many unknowns in how your customers define the optimal customer experience. Don’t jump solely to the obvious solution; instead, be committed to identifying the unknowns. It is often in this more rigorous exploration that you can bypass the red herring and unlock additional value.
Remember, too, that rigorous exploration doesn’t always mean more data. Often, it means being more strategic or customer-focused. At HMS National, we set out to increase retention by improving our renewal initiatives. After re-engineering every point of contact, renewal rates increased by 50 percent.
Peter Bingaman, vice president of marketing at MSC Industrial Supply, says there’s no such thing as B2B marketing:
You don’t sell and market to a business. You sell and market to people. Always look at what you are doing through the lens of your customer. Those who are able show their customers how well they understand them as individuals will always win.
There is no such thing as "impossible" in marketing today, and it takes some courage to prove it. Technology advances are giving us everything we need to figure out how to make anything happen. Marketing platforms, data, mobile, the cloud, the Internet of things--at this point, it’s just about tapping into the right skills and finding the right combination of technologies to make the impossible possible.
Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee, identifies six customer touch points:
Truly understanding and mapping out customer journeys is an important step for organizations seeking to create new customer engagement strategies. Know where each of the critical touch points exists and the desired outcomes associated with each.
While there are variances across industry segments, there are universally about six key touch points--Web, mobile, contact center, in-store, social media, and customer relationships--that organizations need to understand and get right when it comes to customer experience. If applied consistently, pinpointing areas for improvement and figuring out what to change can enrich customer experience and create the outcomes you want--everything from loyalty to conversions.
Scott Frey, president of PossibleNow, advises a one-stop portal for preferences:
Install an enterprise preference center. Go beyond preference centers for individual channels, such as email, and create an easy-to-use portal where customers can create individual profiles and select topics of interest, preferred delivery channels and pace of communications. Preference centers provide the ability for customers to maintain their preferences as their interests change over time. Connect the preference center to all customer touch points.
Once you have a preference center in place, propagate it to every interaction point between brand and customer, such as mobile, social media, in-store, and contact center. Each touch point represents an important opportunity to listen to customers. Be sure to adapt each preference center to match the channel. For example, a mobile preference center should be streamlined for a very fast interaction.
Elias Roman, co-founder and CEO of Songza, keeps customer service at the front line of marketing:
Establish a passionate culture regarding customer service. Your online and telephone customer service reps should view themselves as the front line of your company's marketing efforts. We believe in rapid response and strive for a nearly instant response on Twitter and a 24-hour turnaround via email. We always respond as if we are engaging a high-value client that is upset, and appreciate that they took the time to voice a concern instead of just abandoning our music site. We believe the saying that if your customers annoy your customer service reps, then you have bad customer service.
Here’s a fun exercise to try on Twitter: Compete for retweets. The challenge is to respond with a tweet that is so useful, funny, or surprising that the customer feels compelled to retweet it. The prize is not just delighting a customer, but getting exposed to their followers with an implied stamp of approval from their friend.
Sandi Finn, president of TotalProtect, on knowing what to measure:
Everyone wants to know if the new strategy is working. But some traditional metrics simply don't take into account that today's consumer behavior is impacted by the full relationship you have established. For example, like many call centers, we used to focus on talk time per call. But once we learned more about what our customers valued, we realized the limits of that metric. We shifted our focus to first-call resolution and establishing a relationship. Even though the average time on a call increased in the short term, we have since been able to reduce our total service costs per call by over 12 percent. Better yet, customer satisfaction scores have improved by 20 percent over the same time period.
The lesson: Measure single data points as needed, but focus on which metrics demonstrate your overall progress on your customer engagement journey.
Don Hsieh, director of commercial and industrial marketing at Tyco Integrated Security, points to compelling content:
Position your company at the forefront of thought leadership by building deep subject matter expertise in an important and evolving industry issue. Create content that is so compelling that you can amplify your message through partners and associations who will promote your content as a benefit for their customers and members.
The result of combining these two strategies in a recent campaign resulted in a 10x increase in webinar registrations for a thought leadership webinar series.
Connie Bensen, global digital marketing, social media, and community executive at Dell, says the power of content marketing resides with sales:
Search is the new home page. Marketers need to make sure that search engines find their content. The secret is to talk to sales and map the customer life cycle and understand the language of your customers. Then you can create content for each stage of the customer journey using keywords that they'll be searching for. Make sure to place early stage content out in the social channels to encourage sharing and new customer acquisition.