During a recent conversation with a leading industry analyst, I found myself momentarily speechless. She had just declared that 2013 would be "the year of preference management," a watershed moment when the customer experience conversation would pivot toward engaging consumers based on their desired method of communication. I believe she's exactly right, and it wasn't the statement that surprised me, but rather the source—a member of the marketing and customer experience intelligentsia had just stolen my line.
But is it really true?
Evidence is mounting that the time has arrived for preference management. A recent Oracle survey of more than 1,300 senior executives found that 97 percent agree that customer experience is critical to success, and 93 percent have made it one of their top three priorities for the next two years.
Yet fewer than 40 percent of those surveyed have customer experience initiatives in progress, and just 20 percent that do would describe their initiatives as sophisticated. Respondents pointed to siloed systems and fragmented customer data as primary obstacles to advanced customer experience initiatives. When organizations can't effectively share or collectively interpret full-spectrum customer data, they can't implement customer experience programming with confidence.
The solution? Preference management, the active collection, maintenance, and distribution of unique consumer characteristics, likes, and dislikes. Make no mistake: The executives in the Oracle survey are all in possession of plenty of customer data. In fact, they are probably drowning in it. The challenge lies in the maintenance and distribution of that data across divisions, partners, and initiatives. This is further complicated by legacy systems and software that must access and use preference data. Enterprise preference management must span all departments, business units, brands, and third-party vendors in order to truly impact customer experience.
A key to driving authentic customer engagement is letting customers share ownership of the conversation based on their interests and preferences. This is not a new idea, but to achieve it, brands must consolidate the collection, management, and reporting of consumer preferences into a central system. The system must integrate with marketing databases, CRM systems, and third-party vendors in order to empower organizations with preference data that can be used to improve campaign results, increase sales revenue, and improve customer loyalty, with the added bonus of satisfying ever-increasing privacy requirements.
Ultimately, I know 2013 will be the year of preference management. I know it because of consumers, not brands. I'd like to say that brands have led consumers toward new forms of engagement in recent years, but the reverse is true. Empowered by platforms and tools that allow them to research, shop, subscribe—and opt out in ways we never imagined just a few short years ago—consumers are demanding that we listen, learn, and treat them with respect.
So why not make 2013 the year we do just that?
Scott Frey is president and CEO of PossibleNOW, a provider of customer experience and preference management solutions.