One of the ironies of the digital age is that marketing is no longer a discreet activity. As technologies expand, the number of channels increase, and various methods and methodologies intersect, the complexity of interacting with customers continues to grow.
But, too often, key areas--such as customer service, support, and sales--fly under the radar for marketing executives.
"Today's marketplace is extremely competitive and complex. When CMOs think about how to differentiate their organizations, they tend to overlook areas that fall outside the bounds of traditional marketing," said Joe Lo, technology customer impact leader for the U.S. at consulting firm PwC.
To be certain, business models are undergoing a fundamental shift from a one-off transactional mind-set to one that involves an ongoing customer relationship incorporating post-sales and support, including possible subscription-based products and services. Within this new order of business, "Marketing takes place all the time. If you're not approaching the process in a persistent and ongoing way, you're at risk of losing loyalty and customers. Today, switching to a competitive product or brand is easier than ever," Lo told CMO.com.
Navigating this environment is no simple task. According to an August 2014 report from PwC, “The new digital ecosystem reality: Innovation's next frontier is in customer service,” customers now expect more than "episodic and event-driven" customer service. In addition, they don't want to feel it's their job to initiate and maintain contact with businesses. The upshot? "The dynamics are changing. CMOs must work with others in the enterprise to take advantage of all the potential touch points," Lo said.
This translates into a need for more proactive, integrated, and omnipresent customer-service models. "Organizations must anticipate their customers needs and takes steps to address them," he said.
By now, it should be clear to CMOs that customer relationships are undergoing radical change. For decades, customer interactions took place in a fairly linear and predictable way. Marketing initiatives typically focused on mailings, advertising through print and broadcast, and designing targeted promotions. However, social media, mobility, big data, and other digital tools and technologies have tilted the equation in an increasingly consumer-centric way.
"Customers now have very different expectations. As digital convergence takes place, the business environment is changing dramatically," said Lanny Cohen, global chief technology officer at consulting firm Capgemini, in an interview with CMO.com.
Unfortunately, many companies aren't making the grade--particularly in the customer-service arena. A recent survey conducted by cloud-based contact center provider CorvisaCloud found that customers are fed up and disappointed. Overall, 32 percent of respondents reported that they will hang up the phone after waiting on hold for more than five minutes. Respondents also complained that reps aren’t knowledgeable (37 percent), and many are difficult to understand or don’t speak articulately (49 percent). Today, "We have a very complex ecosystem, and many companies are struggling to adjust," Charles Laughlin, a senior analyst at retail consulting firm BIA/Kelsey, told CMO.com.
But poor customer service is only part of the problem. Businesses also haven't kept up with a changing sales landscape. Many lack the holistic approach that's required to market effectively across channels, deliver messages in a contextual way, and tie together various functions, including sales, support, and service. As Lo and co-author Rachel Berg pointed out in the PwC report: "Many organizations have been investing in ways to improve the customer experience, leveraging emerging technologies to learn more about their customers and prospects, and deliver more personalized experiences to them across digital and physical channels. Much of this innovation, however, has focused on the path to purchase."
Too often, Lo said, organizations stumble when it comes to the critical task of delivering a superior and consistent experience after purchase. For example, customers may find it difficult to move seamlessly among a brand's Web, social, and physical presences to conduct research, browse the Web, configure products, purchase supplemental items, and handle other tasks. Making matters worse, he pointed out, many businesses do not align warranty policies and support functions across various channels. This results in inconsistent interactions that frustrate customers and, over time, erode brand loyalty.
Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, noted that the No. 1 way a company can build loyalty is to respect customers and their time. In fact, her research found that 71 percent of the public stated that their time is the most important consideration for selecting a brand and maintaining a relationship. "Consumers' preferences for customer service channels are changing rapidly. And it’s not just the younger generation of consumers--there’s disruption and change across all ages and demographics," she stated in a blog post.
Moving from an episodic and event-driven environment to one that supports customers more comprehensively is nothing short of challenging. It requires different thinking and entirely different systems and approaches. "Too many businesses, even the most successful companies, market products and services based on features and functionality rather than the customer experience," Lo explained. "Marketing must be tied into every aspect of the business. It must permeate all the different processes and interaction points with customers."
A New Deal
That means revamping and integrating channels, breaking down organization silos, and connecting data in new and different ways.
Some companies--including Apple, Virgin America, and Zappos--have developed a more dynamic business model that interweaves marketing, sales, and support in order to "delight" customers, according to PwC. In many instances, these organizations are able to interact more effectively--and market at the right time and in the right context. However, the success of these firms has also ratcheted up consumer expectations, as well as the stakes for every business across almost every industry. "Consumers increasingly demand a superior experience from every brand--and many base buying decisions and relationships on a company's ability to deliver a more comprehensive experience," Lo said.
Businesses--and CMOs--must avoid getting caught in more linear thinking, including an overdependence on self-service tools, Laughlin added. While automation can generate operating efficiencies and cost savings, it can also redefine and rewire the fundamental way interactions take place. The touch points change, marketing opportunities are different, and the dynamics of the business are altered, he explained. "You cannot proceed with a business-as-usual mind-set or think about marketing and other activities in a disconnected way," Laughlin said.
Moving forward requires a number of steps. One of the most important is the use of predictive analytics to help companies--and marketers--anticipate customer behavior and take proactive steps to remediate problems and even alert marketing and sales teams about potential opportunities. Typically, this means plugging in data from multiple sources--including sales and support databases, social media, Web analytics, and other tools. The most successful companies route data to the right place at the right time, resulting in decision-making that takes place within days or hours, rather than weeks or months, Lo said.
But predictive analytics is only part of the story. The PwC report noted that remote diagnostics, social care, crowdsourcing, and co-creation--which allow customers to define their experiences--are all vital. In addition, many successful companies, and leading-edge CMOs, are turning to the identity-driven Web to obtain a more complete and accurate picture of customers' needs and satisfaction with a brand. This requires a business to combine call records, past purchases, browsing history, and similar transactional or activity-based information with social media identities in order to put a microscope to trends and behavior.
To achieve success and move past disjointed marketing efforts, Lo said that CMOs must work with CIOs and other senior executives to break down silos, build systems that connect real time data, and have the tools and resources to fully understand product use and life cycles. "You cannot look at these systems and services simply as a cost of doing business. You really have to adopt a different mind-set that revolves around opportunities,” he said.
Within this framework, business leaders must not view sales and support as separate components or functions. "You have to think of everything within the context of overall customer experience," Lo added.
That means sitting down with an executive team and understanding the end-to-end view of customer relationships. There's a need for a deeper and broader view of customer sentiment and behavior at every step of the product or service life cycle, Lo said. Among other things, this requires an understanding of how customers shop, how they research products, how they compare prices or negotiate, and how they make a final decision. "It's more than the sum of surveys, focus groups, and basic metrics that look at discreet processes or activities," Lo added. "It's necessary to build a framework that delivers a comprehensive view and helps an organization develop ahighly integrated business that delivers a complete experience."
Accenture Interactive global management director Glen Hartman agreed that CMOs must veer away from "episodic campaign-centric thinking" and introduce "continuous and seamless engagement across a variety of channels, situations, and experiences." In the end, there's a need for fresh thinking, new investments in technology, and a different management structure. Organizations must also tap new data mining and analytics methods, redefine KPIs, and improve the dialogue with customers.
"Today's consumer has very different needs and preferences than in the past,” Hartman told CMO.com. "Organizations, and marketing executives, must move beyond a granular and disconnected view. In the end, it's not about obtaining more data. It's about putting data to work in more actionable and meaningful ways."