Twenty years ago, interacting with customers was simple. Most companies used print ads, radio or television spots to communicate their marketing efforts with an occasional "snail-mail" campaign tossed in for good measure. Customers typically interacted through in-person visits or telephone calls. The Internet was still new to most consumers, and truly forward-thinking companies had simple websites and used email campaigns as best they could. Those were the days when customers accepted that their shopping was limited to your store's business hours and your on-hand inventory.
Then the Internet exploded, and virtually all customers gained some type of ability to access the web. Many connected from home or work, while others visited Internet cafes or libraries. With the ability to browse the web at any time of the day or night, customers began to demand new ways to research or buy products at their convenience. The world of the online retailer grew, and even retailers with physical locations added online shopping.
Customers were more or less content — for a few years. The next disruptive technology appeared in the form of mobile devices. Suddenly, customers could use their smartphone or tablets to interact with businesses. They were no longer tied to a computer that had to remain in a fixed location. They could shop from anywhere, and they began to favor companies that made the experience painless, no matter what device was used.
In short, modern customers are "always on." They can interact with you in a variety of ways, often using multiple devices along the journey to purchase a single product. They expect a cross-channel experience that is seamless and consistent. They want you to remember their preferences when they switch from a smartphone to a desktop. Briefly stated, they want to be in control of their purchase journey.
Creating the type of experience that customers want can be challenging. However, if you can give them what they want, you stand to reap substantial benefits. Here are four tips to help you delight your customers by leveraging technology wisely.
- You will need to compile a single profile of each customer that encompasses everything you have learned about the customer regardless of the channel. Customers want an integrated experience that flows seamlessly across channels, and you cannot provide this without a consolidated picture of the customer. Granted, this may be one of the most challenging parts of delighting your customers, but businesses that manage it successfully have found that it gives them a strong foundation for establishing a competitive advantage.
- Your data strategy should involve the entire company. The first step is to identify everyone in your company who has responsibility for any system that touches or generates customer-level information. Next, make sure that all of these people are aligned around the company's goals for building a strong data foundation. Interdepartmental communication and cooperation will be essential. All stakeholders need to share what they know about customers with every other stakeholder.
- You should never launch a strategy without careful prior planning. Start by analyzing your current data environment. Do you have siloes of data that only selected users can access? Are you incorporating third-party data, and if so, is it "clean"? Once you know what you have, you can begin to plot your data needs. Decide what specific goals you want to achieve, such as improving personalization, identifying target customers or enhancing customer retention.
- Plan to adjust your strategy as needed. Focus on KPIs that are data-driven, rather than basing decisions on guesswork or individual campaigns. For example, look at indicators such as the volume of information your company has on customers and how much your knowledge has increased. Monitor your approaches to data collection. You may have to tailor your approach to suit the source, such as having different strategies for collecting data from social media sites and mobile apps. Periodically assess how well your technology matches your needs as innovations can sometimes provide you with more data or better data.
When your customers are "always on," you must be also. You will be judged on each interaction, so you want to make sure that you always put your "best foot forward." It may present some challenges, but providing your customers with the engaging experience they want can offer you new opportunities for increasing revenue through a competitive advantage.