Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

To know them is to serve them: why the future of customer experience is collaboration

by Matthew Finn, Head of Demand Services – EMEA, Astound Commerce

Whether the UK is headed for a full recession or something more nuanced is a moot point given that Covid is still causing headwinds and there are almost certainly more to come. Trading in this environment will continue to be a challenge and demands new thinking about how brands and retailers engage with their customers.

However, this environment does represent an opportunity for them to accelerate the plans that many had two years ago to improve their customers’ experience as one of the most effective routes to competing in a now very crowded market. Those businesses that were well set up to weather Covid are primed for recession because they invested in building relationships to stay top of mind with their customers.

Fortunately, the silver lining of the Covid cloud is that it made it easier for retailers to get more clarity around CX. First of all, the concept of belonging has evolved; customers want not just to feel they are a part of their favourite brands but to actually be more involved. Post-covid consumers are looking for relevance in their engagements with brands.  Personalisation is a component of this but customer engagement has more to do with tribalism around a brand, its tone of voice and uniqueness that stay with people and some products lend themselves more to this.  A combination of branding, tone of voice and data personalisation (delivered via the right channel at the right moment and serving the right product) is what will stand out; consumers want relevant experiences that they have built themselves and enabled rather than had them imposed by the brand.

Retailers must realise that the brand is no longer in control – it’s the customer that is calling the shots and this is only set to increase further so retailers must base their product, market, and channel strategy around this.

Personalisation however must not be intrusive.  Marketers often fail to see things from the audience’s point of view, hence retargeting which follows them around the internet and which can become tiresome. Retailers need to understand and respect customers’ concerns.  To do this they must be clear and honest with customers about what their data will be used for, how and why. Consumers should also be given options to change permission at all points, in order to grow trust. And trust is built over time, so it is no good chasing customers for their email address right at the start; better to build trust and add information over time.

The future of commerce is therefore conversational rather than transactional, which was a key talking point at Lifecycle 22, an event looking at the future of customer service, and hosted by Ometria. Right now, while consumers will always say they want more choice, they are time poor and cannot process all the communications they are being bombarded with. What they really want is their favourite brands to offer more relevant communications, so Marketing needs to act as a filter and aggregator to facilitate access, choice and speed of discovery.

Marketing will also have to be responsive at every point in the customer journey; customers want differing degrees of choice in different parts of the journey so retailers will need to find ways to understand them to serve the right experience at the right time.

This starts with data and retailers working with legacy systems will need to find a way to harmonise data and variables to create a single customer view. Businesses are getting richer with data but often the CEO or MD does not know how to utilise this.  Even with a 360 view of the customer, it is important to focus on the customer to work out the engagement strategy before implementation.

One solution is the customer data and marketing platform (CDMP) which consolidates information from multiple sources, from customer service to merchandising. CDMP data is real time, so brands can develop communications much more quickly and react as quickly depending on how customers engage. Backed by artificial intelligence-powered customer insight and automation, a CDMP creates relevance and drives personalisation at speed and scale to push up engagement rates, customer retention and lifetime value.