Customer Relationships in a Digital Era
Brands have always relied on customer satisfaction to succeed. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the relationship those brands have with their customers. With the ubiquity of the Internet and mobile devices, and the rise of social, that relationship has become much more personal. Consumers now expect the same treatment from brands that they used to only get from a neighborhood store. They expect you to remember who they are, tailor their experience, and give them expert advice and recommendations. They expect to run into their friends at your (virtual) store and be social.
So how did we get here? I see it as the result of three fundamental changes.
From Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast to a Conversation
Traditionally, marketing campaigns were a series of broadcasted messages for people to discover and learn about products. Brands controlled the timing and sequence of messages. They could determine whom they were speaking to. Any digital marketer today will wistfully tell you that all that has changed.
Today, customers are active participants; they are responding to the messages and helping to shape them. We all have our favorite Internet memes. If yesteryear was the “broadcast era,” then with the rise of the consumer Internet, this is now the “conversational era.” Customers have a way now of engaging, questioning, and finding a lot of information for themselves. A product is bound to have several conversations taking place about it. This will happen whether a brand wishes to get involved or not. Digital marketers are not informing their customers, they are in a conversation with them.
From a Marketing Funnel to a Customer Journey
Customers no longer follow a linear process in purchasing products and services that were designed for them. The marketing funnel with its distinct stages of awareness, consideration, and conversion is more often than not academic. Today a customer’s path or “journey” is more interactive and self-defined. That journey is heavily influenced by others through user-generated content, such as customer reviews, shares on social networks, blogs, YouTube fan videos, and tutorials. What other customers say is much more influential than what the brand says.
From Measuring Conversion Rate to Focusing on Customer Lifetime Value
As a brand’s communication with customers changes, how it measures success must also change. We’ve gone from a transactional one-time view of success—conversion—to an ongoing focus on customer lifetime value. This long-term view makes business sense because it takes into account the cost of acquiring and maintaining the customer (e.g., support calls) and the additional value a happy customer can bring in terms of direct revenue, as well as in terms of indirect revenue by amplifying the brand message with friends and family and influencing the spend of others.
A Brave New Digital World
A brand is as successful as its customers. We, marketers and customers, are all aligned. Although the control of the marketing broadcast, the predictability of the marketing funnel, and the clear-cut measurement of that initial sale are appealing, most marketers, myself included, welcome the focus on the customer experience that digital marketing makes possible.
Today, the change to a conversation has led to real customer insight into their experience with our products and early warning on any potential issues. The change to a customer journey has led to value creation beyond the product to the experience of using it. The change to focus on customer lifetime value has allowed us to attribute business value to former intangibles such as customer satisfaction. And that is a good thing. As a customer, I couldn’t agree more.
This post was previously published on the Adobe Digital Marketing blog on March 3, 2014.