As marketers, we hear it all the time (perhaps too much): "Customers are more empowered than ever," or the ever-popular "Customers are in control of the relationship." But do businesses truly embrace these overused marketing mantras? Do they really think about what it means to a brand?
Expectations are changing rapidly, overturning once-settled notions about where and what customers buy and even how they pay for their purchases. With these new expectations, the models we use to attract and retain customers must adapt.
Marketing used to be a narrowly focused function. Marketers developed the corporate identity—a logo, marketing collateral, and Web site—so consumers could connect with their brands. They conducted research to understand pain points and developed messaging that would motivate behavior. But as evolving technology inspires new ways of transacting, it's necessary for businesses to become more customer-centric across many functions within their organization, and marketers must lead the way.
The plethora of information available via social networks and online platforms has overturned the established order, giving customers the ability to choose the time and place of transactions and communication. While these new tools empower customers, they also provide marketers with more opportunities to connect and build brands.
To fully capitalize on these opportunities, marketers should take a fresh look at their customer interactions and make sure they are using every touch point to deliver value, build relationships, and burnish their brand image. In this way, they can build a truly customer-centric business. Cross-functional communication is key as more departments than ever play a role in building and retaining a base of loyal customers.
Using All Interactions as a Marketing Opportunity
More than six years ago, I began working in a marketing role for a company involved in the billing process. I was surprised to learn about the importance a bill can play in helping businesses better connect with their customers. Given the importance of Web communication, social media, and promotions, how does a bill become such a significant touch point?
It's simple: How people receive and pay their bills leaves a lasting impression. Is your bill easy to read and understand? Do you make it easy for people to pay you? Do you use your bill to communicate personalized messages? The answers to these questions demonstrate how a relatively obscure, back-office function can be a vital component in a marketing and communication strategy. It's important to recognize that every customer transaction is an opportunity to connect, and that technology has given customers greater control over transactions.
Here's another example of a new interaction point that spans an organization: A common question within a company is "Who owns the use of social media?" The obvious answer is marketing, but that is only partially right. While marketing may be the control center, all departments should contribute.
At my company, the marketing team trains other departments on how they can engage with social media to drive customer relationships. This means everyone. For example, our QA team can talk about what we mean by bill quality, and customer service can tell success stories. When all departments contribute, the message gets through to more customers.
Building Bridges to Your Customers
The way customers interact with businesses has forever changed, and there are many ways for marketers to build bridges and improve brand perceptions. Marketers can identify opportunities by evaluating transactions from the customers' perspective and devising new ways to meet customer needs, recognizing that other departments will play a role.
By taking a fresh look at transactions that occur across every department and evaluating every communication platform, marketers can find fresh new ways to get their message out and build productive relationships and communication channels. This requires a new way of thinking about marketing—one that takes into account greater levels of customer control and the recognition that brand perceptions involve every interaction.
Yes, technology is putting customers in the driver's seat, but it is also providing marketers with incredible new outreach opportunities. Those who recognize customer needs and develop new ways to meet them across all facets of operations will find success in a rapidly changing business environment.
Mitch Rose is vice president of marketing at Billtrust.