Columnist Mike Sands predicts that 2017 will be the year customer experience becomes a No. 1 priority for marketers and offers three tips to help your brand stay a step ahead.
2016 was a whirlwind year for marketers. The battle for consumer share-of-wallet intensified as Amazon continued to capture spend, reporting a record-setting Prime Day and its most successful holiday season to date. Innovations like artificial intelligence and virtual reality made their way from science fiction into the real world, opening new doors for customer engagement. And the technology that advertisers and marketers use to do their jobs evolved, with players like Verizon entering the space as consolidation continued.
As I reflect on last year’s trends, I see the industry hurtling toward a clear resolve for 2017: This will be the year that customer experience rises to the top of marketers’ priority lists.
Customer experience is overtaking product and price as a brand’s key differentiator. People want rewarding experiences that deliver on their needs, exactly at the right moment.
In fact, US companies lose $41 billion every year due to bad customer experiences. On the flip side, highly engaged consumers spend 300 percent more with brands than their less engaged counterparts do.
This is why successful companies — like the aforementioned Amazon — are expanding their retention and loyalty strategies beyond traditional programs to deliver emotional value.
Amazon has mastered the use of customer data for personalization at every touch point. It uses a customer’s browsing history, past purchases, and even the music she listens to and movies she watches, to learn how to make her life better. As a result, it consistently outperforms other retailers at every stage in the consumer’s path to purchase — from consideration all the way to delivery.
While Amazon is a customer experience innovator, other marketers are realizing the importance of delivering stellar engagements that turn one-time buyers into brand loyalists. In fact, nine in 10 business leaders say that an improved customer experience is critical to their brand’s ongoing success. And nearly 60 percent of US marketers (PDF) plan to expand their focus on customer retention and loyalty in the year ahead.
So how can marketers thrive in 2017, a year that will be all about the customer experience? Here are three tips to consider.
1. Forge a customer-first mindset
Marketing organizations are often designed around channels or stages of the customer journey. But consumers don’t think about brand interactions in terms of devices or campaigns. All that really matters to them is that their needs are met and their goals are achieved.
Succeeding in the year of customer experience requires a new mindset that puts the customer first. Marketers who win in 2017 will think beyond campaigns to create customer-centric programs that align marketing, product and service. They will also lead a data-driven culture change across the entire organization that puts the customer at the heart of business decisions.
2. Leverage customer data to build an identity asset
In the year of customer experiences, brands must be able to find and relate to customers with immediate, consistent and contextually relevant interactions. To do this, marketers need an identity resolution strategy that leverages first-party data to recognize and engage with customers.
Simply put, identity is the connecting point between all consumer interactions, online and off, past and present. Identity means much more than just knowing a customer’s name. It means knowing what a customer wants and needs and where she is in her buyer journey. It means realizing the opportunities to improve the relationship by solving her problems, anticipating her needs or purely delighting her.
Brands that thrive in the year of customer experience will organize around identity, building an always-on asset that serves as the central nervous system for all customer dialogue.
3. Look to the future
In the year of customer experience, success doesn’t mean just thinking about the experiences of today, but also the experiences of tomorrow.
The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, virtual reality — these rising technologies give marketers new opportunities to engage with customers and improve brand experiences. Timed product re-orders or upgrades, recommendation engines and intelligent shopping assistants are just a few examples.
Emerging technologies will both create and be improved by customer data. This means that an identity asset must be able to process and connect the massive new data streams created by innovations. Marketers should be proactive in defining a data and customer engagement strategy for these new tools.
Brands that don’t engage customers in the right way, at the right moment, in the right context, will quickly be replaced by competitors who can. Will your brand be a winner in 2017?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.