More than Checking a Box: Injecting Real Transparency into Customer Experience

Posted on by Patrick Salyer

Even with best of intentions, fragmented data can cause personalized marketing programs to seriously strain—or even end—customer relationships.

customer experience While many of us marketers talk about our intentions, including the desire for greater transparency in data practices, it’s now time to go beyond talking the talk, and start walking the walk.

This starts with the very first touch, no matter how light, and continues throughout the entire buyer journey as we strive to win customers and keep them for life. In essence, we need to be upfront and speak in plain language to customers about our intentions, while delivering genuine value to them in exchange for their data.


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First, let’s start by understanding some of the more rudimentary issues that plague many companies. There’s a “good intentions meets requirements” mindset we often see manifest itself into a practice of “marketing as a checkbox.” Conceptually, it reads something like this:

✓ Eye-catching website
✓ SEO
✓ Email marketing
✓ Social media
✓ Disruptive language
✓ Clever booth at annual trade show
✓ New product photos “leaked”
✓ Experiential marketing presence at top sporting event
✓ Customer trust

For better or for worse, this is the plague of modern marketing. Managers spend enormous amounts of time and money to show how they are checking-off deliverables on their to-do list to convey productivity. But in doing so, they don’t always understand how well it’s working. In some cases, it happens by trying to overcome lack of data simply by hoping that execution will save the day. When marketers create depictions of “complexity” in order to show transparency, they break the customer experience, and we see this a lot.

Beyond Talking the Talk
Companies often go to great lengths not only to look smart and customer-savvy on the inside, but also to talk about how transparent they are on the outside. In part, to engage in a form of virtue signaling–thinking that by merely letting people know that they talk about how they care about a particular issue, that it should automatically translate into a more substantive customer experience.

Examples of this are everywhere. We’ve all seen these types of statements: “We value your business”; “Your trust is our number one priority”; “See our booth at (insert favorite conference name here)”; “Learn about our commitment to sustainability”; “Remember our 180-day return policy”; “Protecting baby snails in the Chilean rainforest”; and so on – ad infinitum. Sounds nice. But, over time, most of us recognize it as junk, and the effect wears off.

Maintain Trust or Risk Losing it Forever
More recently, organizations are pushing to update privacy policies, terms of service, and a new “Accept Cookies” button as companies begin to play “CYA” (cover your ass) with GDPR. And with it, a tell-tale sign that many marketers are not being compelled by the regulation to deliver a better customer experience, but instead simply having their hands forced by public pressure and regulation to comply (and hopefully rescue them from the hell that they’re in.)

Good intentions aside, “trust” isn’t just a value proposition statement. As SAP CEO Bill McDermott explained at this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW conference, “Trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets.” When a customer loses trust in a brand, it’s very hard to get it back. Also consider that while consumers increasingly are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience, marketers run the risk of crossing the “creepy” line, as many feel that if that experience was created with data that they didn’t knowingly or directly share with a brand, the experience became too invasive.

In short, the days of thinking about customer experience as just another checkbox, like so many other aspects of marketing, are now coming to an end. So how do you build confidence faster? Start by delivering a customer experience with permission and customer control at the center of each touchpoint.

Transparency as a Way of Life
Reaching the promised land of customer trust and loyalty starts not from a single transaction or a snappy slogan, but from a desire to build customers for life through a series of value-driven exchanges that align with their interests. Over time, this process will ultimately give you more latitude with customers as they provide you with more information about themselves and clearly realize the benefits of doing so.

By making transparency your mantra, you communicate a commitment to your customers and the customer experience that all the platitudes in the world cannot. This is how brand advocates are born, and how your business can win the future.
Patrick Salyer is general manager of SAP Customer Data Cloud.

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