The industry analyst, The Gartner Group, recently published a research paper suggesting that 89% of the companies surveyed are now competing with their unique brand of “customer experience” as a key differentiator.
In the recent past, managing the customer experience used to be the interface between companies and customers via specific channels. The company would define how and when a customer could get in touch with a company by publishing a 1-800 phone number or an email address. The company was in total control and each event hidden in anonymity. However, with the proliferation of the iPhone and other mobile devices and channels, an unusual customer experience can be shared almost instantaneously with the rest of the world. A current example is the wonderful customer experience of a United Airlines passenger who was pulled out of his seat and dragged off the plane because the airline had oversold the flight and decided that a paying passenger had to be removed from a flight to make room for a company employee. Of course, that was an extreme example, but the fact remains that technology has provided channels that are no longer controlled by the companies.
Company marketing by its very nature is self-serving, and numerous surveys show that consumers have more trust in individual reviews than in company propagated information and marketing. But companies have fought back by creating a new department called “reputation management” that focuses on trying to manage the free-wheeling, unedited opinions and experiences of customers; when they related comments and experiences are positive in nature, companies cherish and promote them. But when they are negative, well, United lost almost $3 billion market value the day after the now famous “disembarking” episode hit the online channels and spread to the mainstream media. Moreover, a company that does not respond in public to its online community is considered to be ignoring its customers.
Stephen Loynd, Global Program Director of Customer Contact for Frost & Sullivan said, “In today’s rapidly changing world, companies need to adapt to the rise of new channels. We’ve done research that looks at the rise and decline of channels taking place today and over the last couple of years. What we see is that while e-mail and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) are on the decline, channels such as chat, mobile apps, social media, video, and self-service web portals are all on the rise. Clearly, companies need to be thinking about how they’re going to adapt to this new world and what partners can help them with the journey.”
Today, developing a consistent, exceptional customer experience has become the single most important task for executive managers, with a higher priority than other traditional areas of focus, such as reducing costs or increasing revenue (although they are still important). This growing open and more intimate communication process between companies and customers is forcing companies to develop organizational changes that combine all departments that interact with customer touch-points to be combined into a “Customer Relationship Management Team” to allow a coordinated effort to cultivate and defend the company image and brand.
Digital marketing statistics demonstrate that almost 67% of e-commerce buyers do their due diligence on social media using their smart phones and about the same percentage make the actual online purchase using a desktop. Therefore, successful sales funnel now requires a funnel that includes intensive social media attention to impart and develop and nurture the company brand. The good thing about social media as well as e-commerce is the ability to collect metrics as well as competitor analysis.
All in all, mobile technology and social media have become game changers when it comes to company marketing and brand management. Now, companies can rapidly build a customer relationship with a blend of added value communications and marketing strategies. With the growth of Big Data and the Internet of Things, direct digital marketing, channel strategies, and reputation management are all of the growing importance for small and large companies alike.