Friday, April 5, 2013

Is Social Media Key to Customer Experience?

 Is customer experience the overriding strategic marketing concept in the age of social media? It’s a chaotic marketing environment made up of customers with all kinds of needs and usage habits, multiple screens, myriad channels of communication, and exploding content, both marketer-generated and user-generated. The concept of customer experience links all of these together into a unified system that results in a satisfied customer, so I argue that it should provide ultimate guidance for marketers.

What is a definition of customer experience that marketers can use as a guide? There are a lot of formal definitions, but I like what GM VP Alicia Boler-Davis said last year. She explained that GM has expanded its definition:

to include what happens before, during, and after the sale – instead of just what happens in the dealership.
“We’re no longer thinking about a vehicle sale as a transaction or a singular event. . . We’re thinking about it as part of a relationship between the customer, the dealer, and GM.
“Put another way, the customer experience begins long before our products make it to the dealer showroom.  It begins with our very decision to build a vehicle… and involves every customer touch point after that.  It involves the entire enterprise.”

Ok, that’s not a new concept; relationship marketers have been preaching it for years. But it is incredibly challenging in the face of today’s myriad—and growing--number of customer touchpoints. Social media marketers know well that the content in many of the social touchpoints is controlled by customers, not by marketers, and that complicates the situation.

The PWC graphic illustrates just how hard it is. Their Digital IQ survey revealed that 66% of US online adults use social media; 59% of respondent companies have provided mobile tools for their employees, but only 37% (30% of top performers) make use of external social media communities. Businesses are far behind their customers in the use of social media, which isn’t exactly news!

Here’s a Forrester graph that makes the role of social media clear—and more than a little scary! Above the dotted line in this customer experience journey map the Forrester team shows many customer touchpoints—you can think about what they are for your business. Some touchpoints make the customer happy, others do not. Already the customer experience is not “seamlessly satisfying”—the marketer’s ultimate goal. The unhappy customer doesn’t leave it here, as so often happens these days. She tweets out her frustration.

Below the dotted line we see that the only internal process visible to this customer is social media! And one can intuit that the social media team does not have the skills, or even more likely, the organizational power to tweet back in a manner that satisfies the customer’s complaint. The customer’s problem has not been resolved by the channel she chose to use—social media.

What does it take to develop a customer experience strategy that results in seamless satisfaction? A Forrester blog post lists six necessary elements:

Strategy. Forrester says:

The strategy discipline is your game plan. It's a set of practices for crafting a customer experience strategy, aligning it with the company's overall strategy and brand attributes, and then sharing that strategy with employees to guide decision-making and prioritization across the organization.  . .The customer experience strategy defines the intended experience.

Customer Understanding. Need we say more? Understanding the customer is the marketer’s basic job description. To what extent are your customers using social and mobile media? How is this affecting their search behavior, their shopping behavior and their purchasing?

Design. Whether it’s a wonderful product or whether it’s a website that not only looks pretty but works well, good design is important in an age that seems increasingly visual. Think again about the statement from GM, above.

Measurement. Don’t all digital marketers preach the importance of measurement? I still like the old quality management phrase, “what gets measured gets managed.”

Governance. Business policies must focus on customer satisfaction and lead to the internal policies that create it. Creating good customer experience is a job for all employees at all times!

Culture. Good governance leads to a culture of openness and transparency that creates an environment in which customer centricity can flourish. That just happens to be the same type of culture that encourages successful use of social media.

So I repeat my initial argument: customer experience strategy should be the cornerstone of marketing strategy. These 6 elements, however, make it clear that the organization as a whole is the player in customer experience with social media able to play a key customer-facing role. So marketing needs support from the top levels of management if it is to execute a meaningful customer experience strategy.

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