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Customer Experience - Worthy Goal or Marketing Utopia?

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed December 3, 2014

Digital marketing executives revealed their 2015 priorities in Boston
Providing a wholistic customer experience remains a huge problem for marketers
Is CX a marketing utopia or a realistic approach to digital marketing?
An on-site podcast gives insight on better approaches to data-driven UX

Red squeegee for glass
At the Argyle Executive Forum's digital marketing leadership event in Boston yesterday, a couple hundred marketing executives gathered to grapple with the impact of digital and share field lessons (see the day's agenda here).

I'll post a deeper review soon, but before I hit the open road, I want to hone in the problem of customer experience - specifically, providing a customer experience worthy of the phrase, and doing it at scale.

Happily, the panel discussions were buzzword-light (I didn't hear a single person utter "omnichannel"), but the dilemma remains. As social data proliferates and mobile takes over, giving customers a coherent - nevermind delightful - experience across platforms is getting harder, not easier.

Customer experience has a cool moniker (CX), but more often than not, the actual experience of being a so-called "preferred" customer leaves a lot to be desired. Yet every enterprise software vendor is now a self-proclaimed CX market leader, with CX software that will magically turn your customers into brand advocates - just add consultants.

As a tonic to my skepticism, I taped an on-the-fly podcast with Howard Beader, VP of Product Marketing for SDL, who specialize in - yup - customer experience. But first: Argyle periodically updated attendees with the results of an on-site poll, "What's the highest priority for your marketing team in 2015?" Here's a quick shot of the late-afternoon iteration:


In case the slide isn't clear, the gist is that "Better leverage your data to understand your customer" won by a decisive margin, with branding investments faring the worst, underscoring the pressure marketers are under to demonstrate results rather than "brand impressions."  The breakdown as of this 2:30pm photo:

  • Better leverage data: 64 percent
  • Optimize the cross-channel customer experience: 19 percent
  • Content marketing: 19 percent
  • Demonstrating the value of marketing to the executive team: 14 percent
  • Branding investments: 3 percent

The poll results were supplemented by hand polls throughout the day, some of which gave the impression that marketing's relationship with IT leaves a lot to be desired. But if the goal is to use data to improve the customer experience across channels and departments, is that a viable state of affairs?

I put a variation of that question to Beader during our podcast. I wanted to know if the sexy marketing cloud had rendered IT irrelevant. Beader:

Marketing and IT need to work hand-in-hand today. Just because the solutions are moving into the cloud, doesn't mean IT is eliminated from the proposition. There is still the need to integrate, potentially, your CXM cloud solution with the CRM cloud solution. How do you tie your marketing automation solution and your website to sales flows, as one example? That still has to happen and that's got to involve IT. What we've seen work well is when IT is very much still a key player in the overall decision...On the other hand, IT has recognized that for them to be successful, they need to support the business. I'm seeing them step up to do so.

When I asked Beader why it's so difficult for companies to get CX right, he pointed out that industry leaders (e.g. Apple and Amazon) have set a high CX standard we now expect across the board, and across industries. Beader says that companies run the risk of falling into a complexity trap and/or a whizz-bang technology spending pit, as they try to compete with best-in-class experiences. He cited the example of retailers competing with Amazon:

It's taken [Amazon] a while to get there. They've got the customer history, your purchase history. They're capturing all that data. They've got the tools in place behind them. Now you've got the "ABC new online retailer" that is trying to compete. In order for them to do that, they need to put in place some of those same basic tools so that their experience is comparable to what the best has. In order to do that, they need to be able to acquire the right technology solutions to do so. Most organizations today are looking at what's hot, what's being hyped the most out there, and jumping at that. Many of them are running into year-long implementations to try and get it right.

Given that state of affairs, is customer experience just a marketing fantasy, a utopian spending trap? Beader says no, but in his view, CX is something you build towards with smaller wins. I asked him what he advises customers to do:

What we've seen is that organizations need to start with the problem. They need to identify what that initial first step needs to be to get some success and get a site live very, very quickly. Maybe they're starting with the website, maybe they're starting with a campaign solution. But if it's going to be a year-long implementation, it loses some of that momentum along the way. You need to have some of those small successes to build on to really increase the organization's mindset and really get everybody on board

What's more, Beader genuinely believes that the next generation of data-driven CX solutions can help to solve this problem, by moving from listening tools to creating better/smarter experiences that anticipate customer needs:

There are new edge analytic solutions now becoming available on the market that aren't just listening to what's happening in the social space; they're really able to start to look at the complete picture across the customer journey, and understand what the challenges and pain points are, so that you are given a very specific target to address immediately. As an example, if they identify through the customer journey analytics that customer support is a red flag for your organization, you can create a customer loyalty program or campaign and try and fix that issue very quickly, and see a quick return on your investment and a quick success.

Final thoughts

The counterpoint is that these new approaches invoke more problems including data privacy and the impersonal nature of automated, algorithmic responses, however personal those responses might be. Then there is the tendency for personalization to turn creepy when companies are able to intervene in real-time, with more info on your mobile whereabouts than you might want them to have.

Alas, we ended the podcast there. But for anyone who is sick of companies forgetting your data as you navigate the tentacles of their outsourced call centers, it's a conversation worth having.

Here's the embedded version of the podcast if you want to play it here. You can also download the mp3 file, or pick it up on my jonerp iTunes feed as soon as Apple grabs it.

End note: For anyone who is grappling with customer experience issues and definitions, I strongly recommend Paul Greenberg's five part Social CRM rethought series on diginomica.

Image credit: Red squeegee for glass © -

Disclosure:  Argyle Executive Forums provided me with free press access to this event. Diginomica covered my own travel and expenses to attend.  I don't have a financial relationship with SDL at the time of this writing, nor does diginomica (nor have they been a client in the past). I did my best to honor Argyle's content neutrality policy in this piece by not recommending specific products or solutions.


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