Creating + fostering (engaging relationships) = healthy brand

By Glen Manchester

For many years marketers have focused their energies on pushing customers to a destination, in many cases a website, call centre or high-street store. But in this age of the customer, the emphasis has evolved and is more focused on the journey than the destination. It isn’t just about what journey you want to take the customers on, it is about meeting them en route and being adaptable along the way; rather now it’s about engaging with the customer when they want, where they want and how they want.

The landscape is now a continual stream of two way dialogue between consumer and brand; the key to this relationship is the speed and relevance of response in tandem with ensuring your channels are joined up – if you stand still amongst the deluge of tweets, Facebook posts and blogs your brand will sink, and sink fast!

The future of companies building relationships relies heavily on their ability to offer effective communications with consumers across a variety of channels at any one time. However, building an engaging relationship by delivering the right information at the right time, to the relevant device, whilst at the same time incorporating customer profile information – all of whom have different expectations and needs – is challenging and represents one of the biggest tests for companies today.

The key to the whole successful business equation is the pivotal position, and changing self-awareness of the customer. We live in the age of the consumer, meaning, the customer is very much in the driver’s seat – gone are the days where customers would accept the status quo. There’s now a need to balance what you need to sell, more with what customers are actually looking for.

Options are virtually unlimited in the digital world and today’s customers have no problem switching their allegiances. It is generation X and Y that is continuing to take the customer experience agenda to a whole new level. They are the digital society; they use every channel available to them to connect with friends, colleagues and favourite brands on Facebook and Twitter via smartphones.

It is difficult to reach an audience that has little tolerance for mass-market messages or push advertising, unless you can make it fast, easy, relevant and of a language they can understand. This group tends to trust their peers’ recommendations, thus personal recommendations and keeping groups happy becomes increasingly important to brands.

Identifying a shift in the customer-brand landscape is all well and good, but actually being able to adapt to it, and address the new landscape to meet the requirements of internal marketing, as well as those of the customer is far easier said than done. Of central importance is the ability to join up all the different touch points during the customer journey, along with the ability to personalise communications if they are to succeed.

With more and more consumers going digital, success will be determined by the ability to engage customers more consistently and relevantly across digital touch points and multiple channels.

Understanding and managing the customer journey across multiple touch points is now absolutely imperative. Today’s customer wants personalised, contextual and relevant information at every stage whether they are talking to someone on the phone, or interacting via the web or an app. This will require companies to know their customer’s preferences, behaviour and interactions like never before.

Customers do not want to read content that was designed for a website and resized onto a mobile phone. Not only should they not have to read it, in most cases, they won’t even attempt to. They shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than a best-in-class experience at any point of their journey. Suffering broken conversations over time or channels, being pestered by irrelevant communications or having to repeat themselves can be terminal for a brand.

Nothing can tarnish a reputation quicker than sending irrelevant information to the customer who has a Twitter community of over a million followers and an industry reputation. Customers today have the platforms for sharing opinions like never before and the digital savvy customer isn’t afraid of online naming and shaming. One negative post that goes viral can have dire consequences for a brands value, and lead to wide scale customer defection.

Businesses are built on relationships, and now more than ever, these relationships matter. Companies are certainly coming round to the idea of customer dialogue, which is positive, but in order to build superior customer relationships, they need to be able to conduct effective two-way conversations with their customers.

Building customer relationships goes beyond the letter in the post, email, Facebook and Twitter channels though: it’s about the whole customer journey; it’s about maintaining a consistent, intelligent conversation across all touch points while marrying opportunity, engagement and servicing; it’s about realising the full potential of integrating back-end and front-end systems; and most importantly it’s about delivering real-time, relevant content for every conversation to ensure that particular person feels like the most important customer you’ll ever have.

Companies are treading a finer line than ever before with their target markets and customer experience is often now the only source of competitive brand advantage to drive customer loyalty, enhance brand reputation and drive revenue growth. These areas represent huge challenges for organisations, but with every challenge there is also opportunity, and for those companies that can evolve to their new landscape, the benefits will be huge.

About the author

Glen Manchester, CEO and founder of Thunderhead.com

www.thunderhead.com

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