The year 2016 has been an exciting one for marketers. Technology continues to infiltrate the industry to offer new and more efficient ways of getting in front of customers. Social sharing platforms like Instagram have implemented click-to-purchase buttons, Alexa and Cortana became a household names, and Snapchat Spectacles are the talk of the town — so far proving more successful than Google Glass. Marketing is vibrant and impressive, and we all work toward those golden moments when a customer realizes that a brand truly knows and understands them. Some brands are excelling at integrating new technologies to engage and create relationships with their customers.
It’s all too apparent to many of us how crowded our lives have become. With an always-on customer mentality, we receive constant marketing messages across a number of channels and devices. Even personal communications span email, Skype, WhatsApp and iMessage — it’s common to be looking at your phone wondering where to find that message about dinner plans later that evening.
So, as a brand, how do you remain relevant and ensure you are creating meaningful, lasting relationships with existing and potential customers? How do you ensure your relationships are as personal as possible in the digital era? And as if that’s not enough to think about, how do you prioritize what to focus on in 2017 to ensure your business is ahead of the game?
Well, here are our priorities for 2017:
Back to basics — place the customer at the center and build from there
There have been many barriers to putting the customer at the center: economic and political uncertainty, a focus on price and product, ensuring the CFO and the board are happy, culture, siloed technology and departments and what the competition is doing — the list and excuses go on and on. But on all of these points, we have one perspective: think long-term, and don’t just focus on the immediate.
So how can the short-term view be overcome in 2017 to achieve true customer-centricity? It starts with listening and working together across your organization to rebuild a customer-focused hub. Make the commitments and organizational changes necessary to place the customer at the center of your enterprise, and understand that the customer manages their own journey. Adopt a true outside-in perspective spanning all organizational silos and touch points, think ahead in terms of innovation, and focus on long-term customer engagement and value.
Reviving Customer Relationship Management
The concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) first entered the marketing world in the late 90s. It originally set out to improve customer relationships, incorporating technology to actively understand and utilize insight to improve business relationships for the customer. The key word is “improve.”
In 2016, what we have is not true CRM, but rather a system of records. It stores, logs and compiles information in data form. And while the systems have improved relationships and allowed marketers to export vast amounts of data, they don’t go far enough. The challenge facing businesses is increasing with more devices, more channels and more touch points than ever before — and many of the insights gathered from online and offline customer interactions are not shared or joined up within the organization.
To connect with its original mission, CRM must make all insights and information actionable. By this, we mean visualizations of journeys that are accessible to anyone in your business and that provide insight of the end-to-end journey, which encompasses omni-channel (Figure 1.).
As the digital world has become more sophisticated, our CRM strategies must keep up. They must go even further than the current “system of record” we have in place and strive to be useful by integrating technology to understand customer behavior and intent, build richer profiles that incorporate real-time journey insight and suggest next best conversations that are relevant and personalized, whether that’s online, in branch or through the contact center.
Combining advanced technology and improved data management will allow marketers to listen to and understand their audience throughout the entire life cycle of the customer journey, and over the next 12 months, savvy marketers will go back to basics to explore a new model of CRM.
Data compliance in the spotlight: preferences, privacy and possession
Increasing sensitivity toward issues such as data privacy — along with emerging legislation to protect both brand and consumer from the pitfalls of improper data management — means that businesses are having to completely rethink their priorities. In 2017, the top three items on the data management agenda will be customer preferences, data privacy and data ownership.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which is set to come into force across Europe in 2018 and will affect any US business trading with EU companies — may initially seem daunting to brands as they fear the additional workload incurred, as well as the hefty financial penalties for non-compliance. However, despite the initial backlash and inevitable confusion over the legislation, in the long term, the GDPR could be the single best thing to happen to marketing departments as they seize the opportunity to review their current technology stacks, clean their databases and focus on driving dialogue with their customers moving from campaigns to conversations.
In a world where consumers are skeptical of a company’s motives for collecting data, and where marketers are constantly looking to retain their competitive edge, compliance with the GDPR will allow brands to demonstrate their due diligence as customers realize they really are striving to build better relationships without compromising any of their personal data. By using the next 12 months to prepare for the forthcoming GDPR, US companies should see positive outcomes in terms of marketing performance, customer loyalty and brand engagement. Being on the front foot with your data will set you apart and ensure you can continue to build even better, longer-lasting relationships with customers.
Intelligent technologies will be recognized as an opportunity to build better relationships, at scale
It’s very easy to get distracted by AI, machine learning, natural language processing and augmented reality. We only have to look at the kids (and adults) roaming the streets playing Pokémon Go and the imagination starts to tick. Unfortunately, in 2016, we’ve seen fails on this front, too. How often do you see ads for products you’ve already purchased? This attempt at predictive marketing is a prime example of getting it quite wrong and wasting dollars.
In 2017, we will get better at using intelligent technologies to understand and serve and to work with customers to meet or excel their needs in order to build longer-term engagement. The key is to integrate insights from across the business and look at the entire customer journey before implementing these intelligent technologies. They have the power to transform a marketer’s ability to get closer to the customer if used in the right situations and take into account context, relevancy and timing.
These are exciting times for marketers. We see a pronounced shift from coercion to collaboration, we realize the customer is the boss, and customer-centricity works its way back up to the top of the agenda for 2017.
For more trends in customer engagement for 2017, follow the customer engagement blog.