A 14-Step Blueprint for Customer Conversations

  |  January 10, 2011   |  Comments

Tips for building a process and system for efficiently creating repeatable customer conversations.

Advanced marketing automation technology makes it possible to create tailored customer experiences across channels. Yet with multiple transactional events occurring online and offline, the marketer has to identify key life stage opportunities, or risk being overwhelmed by data and thus ineffective.

I was lucky to moderate a panel on this topic at the National Conference for Database Marketing in mid-December. We developed a 14-step "blueprint" for marshalling all the resources - human and technology - in order to build a process and system for efficiently creating repeatable and custom customer conversations.

This is no small task. Years of planning, adoption of new technology, database enhancements, and team training go into it. Most of the hard work is in getting the right people in the room, collaborating and negotiating priorities, and making informed decisions around which data to use and which customer needs to address. One marketer told me recently that having too many people in the room was their biggest barrier, until they finally got the courage to hurt a few people's feelings and forge ahead with a smaller team that could focus and bring value to the rest of the organization. Some internal teams welcome being just a customer of the marketing team - rather than a participant - but many organizations have decentralized marketing functions that make this discipline hard.

"We started out thinking we needed an email service provider (ESP)," said Andrew Bailey, marketing specialist advisor, customer engagement marketing, FedEx, on the NCDM panel. "We quickly recognized that there is a whole discipline here that helps us think and act across marketing and service channels. Four years in, we are happy with where we are."

Data is like the crack-cocaine of digital marketing. It's powerful and intoxicating, but also can quickly overwhelm us. Not having enough of the right data means we make poor business decisions. Having too much data sometimes means we lose focus or become paralyzed. The trick to effective messaging that is at the right time and channel for the customer is to select the right data for the current life stage.

Most marketers make messaging decisions in terms of campaigns. Segments and audience populations are driven from the offer strategy. However, it's possible to take that up a notch, as marketing intelligence and technology can allow customer experience to lead. Some of the most effective marketing is that which starts with the life stage (e.g., download, purchase, customer service request, renewal) and responds to subsequent actions. While multi-touch efforts can be complicated by a multi-channel approach, it's important to customize the experience so that messaging is aligned with the channel.

For FedEx, this could be an e-mail confirmation of a shipping order but an SMS alert when the package arrives. Banks may send monthly statements via e-mail, but give me a choice of receiving an SMS alert if I'm nearing my spending limit. Retailers rely on e-mail marketing to drive online and store traffic, while at the same time using SMS alerts for local events or product availability notices. Travel companies have effectively expanded into mobile and social by identifying the types of messages most welcome - and most actionable - in each channel. On my way to the airport, I often get a text alert inviting me to take advantage of an airline seat upgrade. E-mail that is checked on the mobile device could work as well, but only if the customer self-identifies as a mobile e-mail reader.

To reach these kinds of custom marketing opportunities, Bailey talked on the panel about how important it is to have the human collaboration across the organization. Technology alone doesn't create great marketing. It also takes an attitude of adoption and a commitment to customer experience, coupled with access to the right kinds of data and easy-to-use systems.

"Test and learn, test and learn - we start out with a pilot phase for proof of concept," Bailey says of the approach at FedEx. "For example, it used to take us eight weeks to get an email out, but now we can message worldwide in 24 hours. We achieved this through a series of iterative steps. Our new level of responsiveness changes the game for our business units, and elevates the internal discussion to a whole new level of data-driven decision making," he says.

Take a look at the blueprint and tell us how your approach is similar or different. If you are in the process of bringing your own organization along, hopefully you will find good guidance and encouragement in the list.


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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.

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