Customer Experience is the Differentiator

Posted on by Mark Cooper

O2 faced one of those common business glitches that can ruin a PR pro’s week. The UK-based wireless provider experienced a widespread network crash last year that brought down mobile and broadband service for hundreds of thousands of customers.

The backlash was immediate. Customers blew up Twitter with complaints. It would have been easy for their social team to respond with a couple of lawyer-approved tweets. But O2 issued personal replies, injecting real empathy and humor into the conversation. As a result, O2 actually saw positive sentiment out-trend negative sentiment.

This is an important story not just for community managers or social media specialists, but also for anyone who impacts the customer experience at your business. In other words, everyone.

Satisfying customers has always been important. But the rise of social media and mobile technologies has moved the customer experience from a priority to the priority. And that includes the totality of each customer’s experience: price, packaging, product, and the solicited and unsolicited feedback they offer.

That last item is especially important. Social turned on the spigot, giving consumers unfettered access to your brand and making it easy for them to praise or lambast your people, products and services. It’s a double-edged sword for marketers. We’ve always craved a direct relationship with customers. But the customer’s ability to interact with a brand’s clientele, competitors and employees means the consumer rules the relationship.

So the customer experience becomes the differentiator. No “killer app” or pretty package alone can keep the business. Instead, marketers need to understand every interaction customers have with a brand – from how they use the product to what they say about it – and build a holistic marketing strategy around those insights.

This has three immediate implications for the majority of marketing professionals:

Marketing is responsible for the product. Raise your hand if you work for a company where product development and marketing live on separate islands. You may think such an arrangement insulates you from responsibility for product misfires. Think again.

Wielding smartphones and Twitter accounts, consumers are ready to share an opinion of your product or service – and they don’t often differentiate between the product and marketing teams. In their minds, it’s all the same thing. Marketing may not be responsible for the product, but they’ll be responsible for the clean up when it breaks.

Marketers can’t just wait for the handoff. They need to insert themselves into the product development process by offering insights and feedback from the marketplace.

All customer data is marketing data. The era of Big Data is here, and for many businesses it can be overwhelming. Nowhere in the organization is this felt more acutely than in marketing.

While the data we collect around customer habits, demographics and preferences is invaluable for fine-tuning our communications, it’s often walled off in different systems. CRM data lives in the CRM system. Email marketing analytics stay within the email marketing system. To truly comprehend the customer experience, the data collected from these various touch points needs to come together.

And then there’s social media. No marketing channel solicits richer, more recent data than social. From social marketing, you can see consumer preferences and interests, location and demographics, and how loyal and influential they are. But to make the most of this data, you need to go beyond collection, by using it to power your campaigns across other marketing channels like direct, paid media and email. Turn the insights you get about your customers from social data into better experiences throughout the buy cycle.

Retention is the new reach. Digital marketing didn’t just change consumer habits; it re-emphasized the importance of repeat business. Within the next few years, more marketers will be judged (read: receive their bonus) based on how they drive retention.

Here, social data plays a huge role in perfecting the customer experience. By analyzing all customer data, organizations can identify warning signs and triggers for customer attrition. They can also uncover key upsell opportunities. Social data will be key to these initiatives as empowered customers use social networks to provide their honest, visceral feedback.

It comes down to this: social media and Big Data have given us an unparalleled opportunity to understand our customers, but only if we walk in their shoes. As marketers, our main job is to perfect the customer experience. From now on, that is the differentiator.

Mark Cooper is CMO and co-founder of Offerpop.

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