Businesses are finally refocusing their attention on the customer, to say the least. But instead of continuing to talk about it, action now needs to be taken. When a brand enjoys exclusive media access, can make or break markets and holds a virtual monopoly on product information, there’s not much hope for the customer who is isolated and uninformed. But things have changed. It may be stating the obvious but once the customer has unlimited access to information, he can — individually or collectively — influence the brand image and start to demand experiences rather than just products and messages, and it is then that we see the balance of power turned well and truly on its head.
Delivering a positive customer experience at a given time is one thing, delivering it consistently to all points of contact (digital or otherwise) is a whole different ballgame. It all comes down to one thing: knowing a customer who, moreover, considers himself a ‘market of one’ to be contacted not because he belongs to a specific segment but because of what is special about him and what sets him apart from others. Unless you believe you can meet someone’s needs without knowing what they want and who they are, customer knowledge should be at the heart of any company’s business. And we should actually be talking of understanding rather than knowledge.
The customer expects the company to use everything it knows about them in order to best serve their needs, and is fully aware of all the information held about them with or without their consent or knowledge. Yet they are often disappointed with the outcome. Sometimes they overestimate the range of possibilities, sometimes they forget that it takes time to reach the Holy Grail of customer knowledge (and even more time to put it to any use) but that’s not the main issue.
To recoin a phrase made famous by a former CEO of HP with reference to the shortcomings of his business when it came to innovation and collective intelligence, brands don’t know what they know. In other words, customer knowledge — when gathered and capitalised on — is confined and isolated in the many points of contact that make up the customer experience. Each point of contact has an owner who becomes the de facto owner of the data and guards it jealously to make the very most of its own actions in its own field. In the end, everyone from marketing to sales to customer service knows something about the customer, but no-one knows who he is.
Do we need to put the pieces of the puzzle back together? Of course we do. Yet, between organisational splits, indicators and targets that are often contradictory, or figures that demand greater competition rather than collaboration, it is only in the client’s interest for the puzzle pieces to be put back together.
Content drives the experience
Although the customer’s purpose is essentially focused on purchasing, his expectations now exceed the sole act of shopping. Tuned in, logged on, the customer has now regained control. He no longer belongs to anyone but will go to whoever gives him a quality experience. What’s worse still is that he decides his own journey and it’s up to the brand to adapt and follow him. In this context, content plays an important role. It must “go beyond the product” and bring the customer back to his very own brand universe. Although this is easy to say, it is undeniably much harder to put into practice. Because content no longer has to be “linear”, projected in a unified — one might say simplistic — way over all channels that make up the complex mosaic of the customer journey. The rhythm, tone, volume and expression of this content, in short almost everything, changes depending on the time, place and format chosen by the customer. This presents a major challenge for businesses, further amplified by the fact that this content is increasingly conversational, open and interactive. But it is also dictated by a detailed data analysis providing a better understanding of the consumer so that the experience offered can be as personalised as possible.
An organisational challenge
When the knowledge-based economy gradually took over from the Taylorist industrial economy, companies learned one thing: inflexibility was replaced by adaptability and there is no adaptability without information sharing or collaboration. The same phenomenon now affects customer relations as we return to a customer knowledge-based economy. Without collaboration or data sharing, the customer journey is over.
Without the ability to consistently manage the experience at every point of contact based on as much knowledge as possible of the customer, marketing strategy is nothing more than a lottery. And the answer does not lie in technology: it is there, it exists, ready for use. The answer lies in the organisational capacity for implementation.
The customer experience is the result of data sharing and collaboration. Whether for pushing the right messages and the best deals on digital media, ensuring a consistent journey offline and online, or equipping the vendor with the right tools faced with a customer who’s super informed and demanding in terms of a lasting relationship.
Releasing and sharing data between applications and between individuals is the bare minimum, but for this to happen it is still necessary that the owners of the contact points do not see their work measured in a way that encourages in-fighting rather than combatting the competition. Besides, it’s an opportunity to make the whole organisation totally customer-oriented.
Does a Chief Digital Officer need to be recruited like in many companies? The CDO may be part of the equation but he is only one part of it. He focuses on the business, but we still need someone to focus on the customer and, ideally, to do so across the board. I strongly believe in having a Chief Experience Officer, which we are starting to see, precisely because of their across-the-board approach. I also back future “journey managers” as the design and management of journeys will become a vital link in a logic of coherence and synergies between points of contact. Again, this “journey manager” will have to juggle between science and art, skillfully playing on a thorough understanding of the data collected but also knowing how to produce content that is tailored to the customers. And ideally to each customer. Of course, this implies that we need to know how to organise ourselves in order to produce large quantities of customised content tailored to a wide variety of channels.
To conclude, customer management can only be cross-disciplinary and unified. This is the price to be paid for making the most of today’s available technology.