Three things marketers must do to keep CX real

Marketers can be powerful advocates for the customer experience. But as contributor Brent Sleeper explains, we’ve got to give a little to get a little. Here are three ways to ground the ideal of CX in reality.

Marketers sometimes get a bad rap for not understanding the basics of the products we sell. You know, the idea that marketing is the easy A of Silicon Valley. If you’re a tech marketer, I’m sure you’ve encountered it at least once over the course of your career. While I won’t get into the stereotypes that let that notion linger, I think it’s safe to say there’s a bit of a “marketers are from Venus, engineers are from Mars” thing going on.

That’s a shame. Not just because it relies on a caricature of what marketing is all about, but also because of the consequences it can have on the actual products we sell — and our customers’ experiences using them. Any disconnect between the people who build products and the people who market them inevitably results in less successful products with less satisfied users. And that’s not a place any of us want to be.

But don’t misread me. I’m not here to mope that marketers are misunderstood and underappreciated. Like any relationship, successful product/marketing collaboration is a two-way street. And there’s a critical, high-leverage area that we marketers need to step up and do a much better job at: connecting our marketing efforts to the actual experience our customers have using our products and services.

That customer experience (or CX, to use the buzzy shorthand) isn’t just an abstract notion that lives in business school articles and consultants’ strategy documents. It’s the real, down-to-earth thing our customers do with our software every day. But too many of us, whether product marketers or product builders, forget (or perhaps have never experienced) what using our own offerings feels like.

I’m not much of one for brogrammer-speak, but if there’s one expression I want you to think about right now, it’s this: As a marketer, it’s high time you ate your own dog food. To make that menu palatable, I’ll offer you three concrete ways you can start doing that — and keeping your CX grounded in your customers’ reality.

Experience your product as a customer would

All right, marketers: It’s high time you found out what happens when people stop being polite – and start getting real. Because if anything warrants the reputation we seem to have among our more technical colleagues, it’s that shockingly few of us actually have taken the time to use the products we’re trying to sell. That’s got to change.

I’m telling you right now — go sign up for your own service. From scratch. Delete your cookies and bookmarks. Create a new account. Walk through every onboarding step thrown in front of you. Try to accomplish the tasks you’re asking your customers to do. I bet it’s not as easy as you thought.

There’s a good reason for that. As marketers, we suffer from a large amount of cognitive blindness when it comes to our own products. Our minds fill in what we expect to be there, rather than seeing what a customer actually experiences.

It reminds me of something I experienced several years ago, when I spent a lot of time writing taglines, product collateral and so on. In all those pieces, I used a common call to action — and guess what? For months, the documents I produced featured the wrong phone number. Not because I didn’t know better, but because I literally stopped comprehending the text that I was using over and over.

In fact, I only noticed the typo when I happened to read my material in reverse order; that forced me to see each word for what it was, rather than glancing at the whole thing as a unit and seeing what I expected.

It’s easy to get inured to something that we take for granted. So stop assuming you understand your product, just because you market it every day.

The only way to get an honest glimpse of the customer experience is to do it without the crutch of bookmarks, saved form values or previously established accounts. To really see what your customers see, you’ve got to experience it with fresh eyes — to read it backward, as it were.

(And by the way, reading documents backward is a great way to proofread.)

Get on the front lines to learn the truth about your CX

You just walked a mile in your customer’s shoes. Guess who else sees the down-and-dirty of how your product actually works? The fine folks who staff your front line customer support. Whether it’s by phone, email, or novel channels like Slack, no one — and I mean no one — knows what’s working and what’s not in the customer experience like the support team.

Consider this: Product managers and engineers built it. We marketers and our friends over in sales sold it. But who actually interacts with all its tics and warts (and occasional delights) every day? You know who. I often write that my support and services colleagues are “the hardest-working team in the email business.” It’s a slogan I see proven every time I look out to their desks the next row over.

That’s why one of the most powerful things a company can do to nurture an understanding of the customer experience is to encourage every employee to hear it firsthand, on the front lines. That’s something my company does, and it’s been a real boon for building awareness of the overall customer experience. Seeing the specifics of how our product actually works is an object lesson in how CX decisions play out in real-world use.

Or consider another approach: One company I admire that serves a technical market asks every employee to spend a week learning to code an app. That’s a tangible way of building empathy for their developer customers’ needs and to foster understanding of the product they offer.

If you’re a marketer serious who’s about CX, you’ve got to get out of the ivory tower. Spending time on the help line, solving problems for your customers, is the surest way to develop an understanding of the real challenges your customers face.

Remember that CX is a natural role for marketers

Think about why you chose this career. Perhaps you were great at persuading people to take a particular course of action. Maybe you had a talent for the creative, expressive side of the business. Or it could be the natural empathy you have for your customers’ challenges. I know a dash of each of those qualities played a role in why I eventually came to be a marketer.

Well, guess what? All three of those attributes also are key to being successful with CX. Persuasion? A great customer experience makes desired outcomes feel effortless. Creativity? Words, visual design and UX (user experience) work together to add up to a customer experience greater than the sum of its parts. Empathy? That’s CX boiled down to its essential core.

There’s no question that marketers are well-positioned to champion a better customer experience. CX remains an aspiration as much as it’s a discipline in many organizations, so now’s the time for marketers to advocate for the responsibility and make it a reality.

Just to be clear, this isn’t just some kumbaya fantasy. A better customer experience also means better results on the kinds of metrics your CMO is being charged to drive today: conversions, customer engagement and growth. That’ll help even the most numbers-driven among us understand that improving CX has a direct impact on results.

Economists like to talk about “aligning incentives” in organizational and marketplace behavior. Let’s be a little more direct. Making a bottom-line connection between CX and dollars is crucial for our success — and a hard-nosed way of keeping CX real.



[Article on MarTech Today.]

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