2016: The Year of Customer Experience

Rather than wax poetic on how the industry is changing – and how we all have to change with it – here are a few things to keep in the back of your mind as the new year gets into full swing.

If you’re anything like me, you grabbed your coffee, strolled into the office, and sat at your desk on Monday after New Year’s feeling somewhat perplexed by the sudden realization that another year is already upon us.

So, before letting too much time pass, I figured I’d have a think about what the year ahead has in store for the world of marketing. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, we will be forced to innovate (and keep up) at a faster pace than ever before.

We need to set our sights not only on creating the best possible experience for our customers, but also, and more importantly, on helping to make their lives better through the products or services we offer. To accomplish this, we must be the eyes and ears of our customers — all the time.

However, although a heightened focus on customer experience will be critical in the year ahead, I feel there’s a much bigger shift afoot: the true convergence of marketing, data, technology, service, and experience.

What I’ve realized more and more recently — and I think the industry is finally catching on wholeheartedly — is that no customer interaction, marketing or otherwise, should ever be done in a silo. Everything is interconnected. We have to think and operate just like our target customers (trans)act. And it will be the marketers who truly embrace this philosophy that succeed, now and well into the future.

Rather than wax poetic on how the industry is changing – and how we all have to change with it – here are a few things to keep in the back of your mind as the new year gets into full swing:

Next Generation of Change is Coming

Every sitting CMO should be scared. The next generation of marketing leaders, especially those who have grown up in the digital world, is making its way to the top. Traditional ways of thinking, acting, strategizing, and executing are likely getting kicked to the curb. These zealous up-and-comers not only embrace change, but they actively seek it. So be forewarned that the status quo will soon be change itself. To stay relevant, today’s CMO’s must understand digital, inside and out.

“Old” Does Not Mean “Wrong”

We are all attracted to the newest and shiniest objects presented to us. However, new and shiny does not necessarily mean better. It just means new and shiny. So we have to be thoughtful about how we blend together the “new and shiny” with tried-and-true marketing practices, especially knowing that big change is coming. And knowing just how much the new guard loves change, we should not ditch best practices, especially those that have proven themselves successful time and time again, in the spirit of embracing change. We have to be much more pragmatic about what works vs. what doesn’t.

The Impending Death of Social

Let’s be honest, social isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, the way in which we use it to engage our customers will inevitably change. Long gone are the days when marketers used to talk about social as a siloed buzzword. In fact, the prevalence of social media has made it so omnipresent in all of our daily lives that it’s now very much just an ingredient in an overarching, multi-touch point marketing campaign strategy. The challenge now for us is to weave it in. It’s not a start point or end point; it’s simply part of the puzzle.

Service and Marketing Collide

Within your organization have you seen customer service being moved under marketing? If you nodded yes, then you’re ahead of the curve. Industry-wide there’s a massive shift that’s breaking down the walls between customer service and marketing. Why? Because, in many cases, customer service is the most important (marketing) touch point for brands today, serving as a critical element for driving brand loyalty and boosting overall customer satisfaction.

A single experience with customer service can be a “make or break” moment for brands – one that can either win a customer for life or lose one in an instant. That’s why many businesses have seen the benefit in thinking about customer service as yet another marketing channel for engaging, surprising, and delighting customers on a more personal level.

Customer Experience is Paramount

If you hadn’t caught on already, there’s a trend happening here that is all about focusing on the customer – what the customer wants, needs, and ultimately expects from our brands. So in a similar vein to the colliding of marketing and customer service organizations, we are starting to see more and more CEO’s getting on the customer experience bandwagon, rallying the troops internally to put a focused spotlight on the customer across the entire organization.

What this signals to me is that customer experience is no longer a marketing concept or idea (nor should it be). Brands that think deeply about the customer at every internal touch point, I believe, will be much more successful at earning their loyalty at every external touch point they engage with. Customer experience is no longer just about CRM, technology, or the like. Rather, it’s about creating relationships with customers – and organizing business operations around creating, nurturing, and growing those relationships over time.

Shift from Transactional to Behavioral

I love data. You love data. We all love data. Now, let’s actually do something with that data – besides understanding the transactional habits of our customers. If a major focus of the year(s) ahead is on customer experience, then it’s incumbent upon us to flex our data muscles to understand not only what our customers do (or purchase), but also what behaviors they exhibit that lead them to make those transactions.

Essentially, the troves of data we have at our fingertips – likely to expand once we really dig into insights gathered from social media – will allow us to get a more rounded perspective of our customers as well as how they engage with our brands.

As Lithium’s CMO and general manager of Lithium Social Web, Katy Keim is responsible for all strategic marketing activities for the company including branding, positioning, communications, go-to-market strategy and customer acquisition programs. Follow her on Twitter: @KatyKeim.