Digital Does Not Equal Customer Experience

In the rush to tap the wealth of data and new tools for conversation, there is an overwhelming focus on digital marketing, digital channels, and the holy grail of social media to communicate with clients.  And while keeping up with these undoubtedly critical new channels and formats is a must for marketers, an over-focus on digital engagement is missing a large element of the customer experience picture, and failing to connect with many of the most important customers.

This struck home to me earlier this month, when I was talking with a group of executives in a range of industries.  The discussion was around the impact of digital on customer engagement, and one of the executives commented, “ ‘Digital’ is not synonymous with ‘customer’.  We are looking to create a seamless customer experience, not a digital experience.  Describing customer actions as digital misses a big piece of the experience.”

This disconnect that marketers have was underscored at a social media conference I attended last week, where hundreds of enthusiastic social media experts talked at length about the virtues of Facebook versus Twitter in reaching customers and repeatedly linked the ownership of social channels with ownership of the company’s customers.

In our work with executives we find that this digitally slanted view is far from their own view of how they engage with their B2B vendors and suppliers, particularly their most strategic valued relationships.  Executives are very focused on outcomes and a clear path to value as a measurement of engagement with others.  They care about peer advice and interaction, and look for engagement opportunities that provide those things.  They prefer in-person interaction and rewarding conversation, in safe and non-competitive environments.  They want to uncover high value information that helps them to take action, and provide feedback to people who are at the level in the enterprise such that they are able to create change.  This type of customer engagement happens in one-on-one meetings, at client advisory councils and boards, in executive forums and in peer conversations, and is not regularly experienced on social media, a mobile phone app or via a public website.

For marketers, this should not be viewed as a problem of social illiteracy on the part of their customers, but rather an indicator of the need to heed the all-important mantra—which interestingly I heard a number of times at the social media conference—to “reach customers where they are, not where you want them to be.”  To make sure you are not losing sight of your full customer experience landscape, consider the following as you think through your digital strategies.

  • Spend time mapping “where customers want to be” to engage with you.  Instead of counting Facebook likes and web page visits, start with the most valuable customers and see where they really engage throughout your organization.  Consider in-person as well as digital channels, formal and information interactions, and touches with functions across the company.  Dig into the relationship information in your company databases and in the heads of the client facing teams to understand preferences as well as past behavior.  And take time to ask customers how they want to interact and what changes they might like to see.  A more fully developed map of how different clients want to converse, purchase and interact will drive a more effective and informed channel engagement strategy than one focused solely on digital.
  • Consider the value of customers as you plan for investment in engagement channels and approaches.  At the social media conference I heard a lot of talk about the need to convince senior management to invest ever more in digital marketing and social engagement.  But given the fact that only a portion of customers will engage meaningfully in those channels, make sure you understand how much value those customers bring (revenue, margin, access to new markets), versus others who want to engage in more personal or different ways.  Overlaying an engagement map with an idea of where the highest value clients sit will help you target digital marketing with more impact.  This will also help you assess how the rest of your engagement channel investment supports the business, which is ultimately more satisfying for marketers if they hit the right mix that drives the most value.
  • Remember that digital is powerful and revolutionary but is only the means, not the end.  Ultimately your customers engage with you because you solve their problem, help them make more money, and help them achieve their agenda or improve their lot.  Not because your Facebook page is active or you can analyze every step they make online.  And if they find it simple, valuable and insightful to engage with you in whatever channel they find preferable it will be much easier to convince customers of just how well you can help them.  New shiny toys like the latest in social media, the newest mobile apps and the mushrooming predictive analytics can make you hugely successful if you use them to understand your customers.  Just make sure you are not losing sight of their place in the real customer conversation.

So by all means get digital and stay digital—but don’t forget that digital is not all, when it comes to customer experience.

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