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By Mark Johnson, CEO and CMO, Loyalty360
There is need to bring more clarity and focus to the idea of customer loyalty. The challenges that brands face today are growing in complexity, and most marketers are desperately struggling to keep up with changing consumer behaviors and rapidly emerging technologies. The ubiquitous adoption of mobile devices, an increasingly fractured digital media landscape, and new levels of consumer purchasing power brought on by vast socially connected networks, have all forever transformed the customer experience.
This new marketing reality requires a customer experience that somehow unifies all brand interactions, across all channels, and in real time. To engage a new generation of digital savvy and mobile-ready customers with speed, accuracy, and a high level of personalization, brands need to truly get to know their customers. They need to listen to what customers want and what they need. Effectively, brands need to intimately understand what they find meaningful.
But this listening in an active manor and trying to truly understand customers, continues to be a top challenge for brands. They may “hear” what a customer is saying, but to put into place the processes and procedures that allows for a true dialogue - not just a monologue - is something that still presents a major problem.
This transition has been rocky because it marks a shift from traditional marketing modes. Marketing used to be about a product, or service, or idea, or a pitch. Brands would CPM it to death, and endlessly push a product out until it became a generic staple like Kleenex, for example.
However, it is becoming painfully obvious that this is no longer a viable strategy precisely because there is so much disruption out there.
There have been more customer experience and customer loyalty companies formed in the last five years than at any other time. And just in this particular marketing focus, there are also about 1,800+ technologies that all purport to solve these challenges. This is where a lot of the confusion comes from.
Brands used to need email, direct marketing, social media, analytics, call center, IVR, a point-of-sale system and maybe the kitchen sink, but now everyone is prescriptively selling brands a variety of cobbled technology suites. The goals of these disparate systems is to get “sold” in and hopefully socialized, integrated, and accepted enough internally that they remain “viable” even if questions of ROI, efficacy, and performance linger.
I was at two separate conferences a few weeks ago, which were both talking about new “best-of-breed” technologies and various customer engagement solutions platforms.
Customer loyalty should be built at all phases, and it stems from the experiences that drive enduring and measurable behaviors
Because of all the old, new, and “reborn” acronyms (like CRM for example) continually rise in prominence, and because industry buzzword constantly evolves through what industry “experts” believe brands should focus on, everything changes from moment-to-moment. There is no consistency, and it all becomes very mystifying. Depending on whom you talk to, customer experience and customer engagement could be diametrically opposed, or they could be exactly the same thing.
The technology is there to help manage these processes, but it too quickly becomes very overwhelming. Brands literally have hundreds and hundreds of technology providers to choose from, and every vendor wants brands to integrate their new system. Maybe they use one for text analytics, and use another for loyalty technology, and something else entirely for backend analytics. And, in the end, most of them don’t even work very well together, which only creates more confusion.
This problem is also confounded by the challenge of data. To truly get to those deep understandings and genuine customer insights that can build unique and personalized relationships, brands must leverage data that is contextually tied to the individual, which helps create alignment and simplicity.
The technology to run a loyalty program has been around for a while. The operational data stores, the interfaces, the point of sale systems have been in place, but loyalty now is really focused on the behavioral attribution of a customer. Understanding their interests, being able to market to them with relevant offers and relevant channels, and at the just right time goes back to the idea of providing the digitally connected, “always on” omni-channel customer experience.
But now there’s so much more data than ever before, and it is being endlessly generated at an astounding rate. There’s structured data, unstructured data, social data, and so on. There is never a challenge of having too little data. The challenge is what do with it and how to use it to drive simplicity, relevance and increased buy-in from one’s audience.
In this regard, brands are really struggling to get at a bigger picture of customer loyalty, which should not just be about the program or the points or the thresholds. Creating customer loyalty is really about creating that unique and simplified relationship with individual customers. This requires moving away from the operational data stores and the silos, and moving toward a holistic view of the customer.
This also very much applies to companies in the B2B and B2C arenas, because they are both looking to understand their clients and customers better. The idea is to ultimately gain those crucial insights, and to align the goals of the company with the goals of the consumer, to create customer experiences that are not only relevant and meaningful, but also genuine and authentic.
To survive and thrive going forward, brands need to really focus on creating this simplicity, and to understand where they are as an organization, both internally and from an external customer support perspective.
Having this kind of customer-centric approach socialized internally is an important step, and it kind of goes back to the idea of the Golden Rule. If this culture of customer centricity is accepted throughout the organizational culture, a brand can more effectively and consistently give consumers the experiences that most matter to them.
In its simplest terms, customer loyalty is about the emotional connections a brand nurtures over time, and it is acontinuing process. Customer loyalty should be built at all phases, and it stems from the experiences that drive enduring and measurable behaviors.
Even as it evolves, customer loyalty should always be considered and consistently present throughout the entire journey of both the brand and the consumer.