Are You Ready for 2012 to be the Year of Customer Experience?

Amidst the myriad of predictions and forecasts for marketing in 2012, I was struck by a new blog post by Forrester’s William Band (@waband) entitled The Top Thirteen Customer Management Trends for 2012His predictions are right on for companies looking to stay competitive.  His post led me to question what marketers are doing to make sure they take advantage of the opportunity?

I suggest you read William’s post for the full list, but here are my thoughts on a few of the most critical predictions he makes, and as a marketer I believe these are important to help move companies forward.

Customer experience management will move from ideas to action.

I would hope that companies don’t wait any longer to define and implement clear and actionable strategies to holistically manage the customer experience.  The need to keep up the pressure on business growth and competitiveness should help showcase the need for implementation to the laggards out there.

Companies will move to break free from organizational silos to embrace the customer experience ecosystem.

Although one of the most challenging shifts to make, companies are already making moves to consider the influence of both employees and external partners on customer interactions.  Our experience is that once you establish a strategy and culture that is focused on the customer experience, the organizational silos naturally shift because the organizing principle is the customer not the internal process.

As they break free of the silos, organizations will focus on the need to realign, improve and manage the wide range of processes that touch customers.

Processes are not the sexy part of customer experience management, but they are core to moving successfully from idea to action.  The imperative to improve the customer experience and eliminate the inefficiencies, disconnects and weaknesses in the customer experience chain – reinforced by high profile airings of customer service complaints and feedback on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels – will drive more companies to care about their customer processes and touchpoints and move to take action.  And the increased focus on the end-to-end customer experience as an actionable program will make it easier to target priority improvements.

Customer experience management will emerge as a systematic management discipline.

There is clearly increasing acceptance of the idea that customer experience management can be thought of as a discipline — a set of sound, repeatable practices.  The emergence of associations like the Customer Experience Professionals Association, a global non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of customer experience management practices, and customer experience management as a profession, underscores this evolution.

 Getting to action in 2012

So where to begin, as we embark on this customer experience journey for 2012?  Customer experience management is by nature a holistic effort, involving marketing, sales, delivery, information technology, finance, product development, external partners – everyone in the chain of how you touch your customer.  Gaining competitive advantage by shifting your business to truly organize around the customer is a challenging effort, requiring systems, processes, programs and true culture change across many silos; but it also represents an exciting opportunity for marketers to take the lead.  Marketing has the opportunity to seize ownership of client experience management for the enterprise, and has the process focus, the data, the programs, and the insights needed to be successful.  Even if your company is not ready to change the way they do business overnight, you can take the lead by ensuring that your marketing efforts are truly “customer experience marketing”.  You can then pull others along as these efforts succeed.  Here are a few thoughts on places to focus.

  • Integrate your customer programs and touchpoints into a single customer experience program

Most marketers invest a considerable amount of time and money on the customer experience, including a range of activities: creating interesting client events; compiling content to help address client needs and changes; creating thought leadership for clients to leverage; soliciting input or testimonials; gathering intelligence on satisfaction, needs for new services, key challenges; conducting client conversations in social media channels; convening groups of clients to help advance strategies or products and so on.  Fewer integrate these activities into a cohesive program that leverages learnings from one component to the other, feeds back insights into a centralized repository and creates a higher level platform for customers to engage more seamlessly – and with more value – with your company.

Those marketers who invest the time to create the connections and build processes behind them to systematize both the inputs and the outputs of client experience activities will gain a quantum advantage in benefits and impact from the activities themselves.  They will also have more ammunition to go to others in the company to take control of the broader elements of customer experience management.

  • Make your customer experience programs actionable

In his blog post, William underscores the importance of action in moving from aspiration to results.  Marketers are often frustrated with the lack of follow up or results that come from the various customer experience activities they employ.  As you move to integrate your activities into a program, it will be easier to extract where the learnings and the value are, and translate these into actions – whether for the sales teams, the account teams, for service delivery, or for your next round of programs and activities.  By shining a light on the need for action from customer experience activities, and serving as the bridge to make that action happen, marketers can gain momentum from the rest of the enterprise.

  • Ensure your marketing budget investment priorities mirror the importance of listening to, collaborating with, and integrating the input of customers in your business

The large majority of marketing budgets go towards new lead generation; this is despite the fact that the majority of revenue tends to come from existing customers, and acquiring new revenue from existing customers – particularly happy customers – is much more cost effective.  Examine each of your investment buckets and ask yourself – how much does this drive understanding of and improvement in the customer experience?  How can I realign my programs to more effectively enhance that focus?

  • Use marketing’s expertise in process, planning and execution to move the needle

If there is one area where marketers really excel, it is in how to build and implement successful processes and move plans from idea to on-the-ground execution.  Those outside of marketing seldom realize how much of the success of a marketing campaign, a good client event, a new set of impactful sales conversation materials is down to systematic application of a proven set of actions, and measurement of results.  Creative thinking of course plays a role, but it’s largely about repeatable process and follow-through.  Marketers have an excellent opportunity to leverage their expertise, and use that along with their access to customer insights and input to move the needle on the company’s experience management dial.

So what do you think?  What else would you add to the list for advancing your role in customer experience marketing in 2012?

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