While time may be an age-old construct designed by man to bring order to the past, present, and future of our chaotic world, real-time marketing (RTM) and customer service embrace the here and now. Life continues to speed forward, yet technological advancements allow both consumers and companies to stop the clock as they interact in the moment. But, as expectations evolve alongside the tools that support relationship growth, businesses must actively establish an internal strategy that empowers employees across the enterprise.
Though real-time marketing and service aren't new concepts, many organizations lack the defined roles necessary to maintain balance and meet demand.
"Consumers now hold a much stronger brand perception compared to pre-RTM technology deployments," says Scott Houchin, managing principal of eClerx. "The ability to reach thousands or millions of similar-minded individuals with a click or tap sets a new bar for consumer expectation management. An organization's ability to respond to these customer touchpoints via the most appropriate response method-regardless if it's a tweet, a pin, a post, a pause in online checkout, or a failed delivery-will be the determining factor for customer satisfaction and brand loyalty."
Real-time strategies, Houchin adds, require the proper mix of staff, skills, and available time. However, employees often lack the latter, sparking some hesitation across departments. Thus, executives and managers must look to the following critical areas for real-time success: establishing baseline metrics and customer understanding; determining decision-making guardrails and "trust" frameworks; and creating an organizational environment that follows the four T's-teams, tools, training, and testing.
- Teams: Because the heavy use of data, reports, and real-time decision-making require employees to think differently, businesses must establish guardrails that allow these teams to operate within certain boundaries so they may understand their specific responsibilities and functions with their given comfort zone.
- Tools: Each real-time team must be equipped with the technologies necessary to perform their roles. However, said tools and interfaces create a steep learning curve that employees must adjust to relatively quickly. Thus, by limiting their scope of responsibility (i.e. a single channel), upon rollout, employees will have a safe sandbox in which to play.
- Training: Employees benefit from specialized training and development programs. As such initiatives permit them to adjust their mindsets so they may operate effectively within the real-time space. But, despite their readiness, many may become overwhelmed, resulting in job fatigue. Therefore, companies must constantly monitor employee KPIs while also establishing rotation programs that allow staff members to "unplug" and gain new experience.
- Testing: Companies constantly learn through experimentation and employees do, too. Once the essential tools have been implemented and the proper teams established, employees can then begin testing these new boundaries and creating an environment in which they feel comfortable, despite the knowledge that not every decision will go according to plan. But, when armed with confidence and experienced insights, employees will continue to make better future decisions.
Yet, while it may seem fairly straightforward to establish teams, train staff, and send employees on their way, assigning roles and responsibilities stands as only the first step when defining these roles and responsibilities. Though employees must understand the "what" behind their job description, they must clearly comprehend the "why" before full-fledged engagement can be achieved.
"The proliferation of real-time data has made employees substantially more engaged, as the quick feedback loop allows for more aggressive testing and drives swifts iterations," says Cassie Lancellotti-Young, vice president of analytics and optimization at Sailthru. "This most often bolsters productivity, so long as employees are focused on the metrics that are truly meaningful to the bottom line."
Driving quick wins and cultivating long-term business value are essential elements for an effective real-time strategy. Thus, companies must monitor key performance indicators that are reflective of both factors. Said KPIs should explain how the two goals interrelate, highlighting how today's quick win may inevitably impact long-term business metrics and overarching goals. By understanding the interplay between these varying measurables, employees will understand how the efforts put forth in the present will likely influence the future.
Integrating both employee-managed KPIs and customer metrics into the company will also ensure that the individual actions taken every minute of the day will translate into long-term sustainable company growth and consumer engagement, Houchin emphasizes. Lancellotti-Young also adds that executives and managers must effectively tie together how real-time optimization plays into bigger picture corporate goals, for it's imperative to explain how an employee's behavior today will impact the bottom line tomorrow. Because, while the changes an individual drives may seem small at present, such actions inevitably add up, potentially resulting in exceptionally profitable outcomes.
This real-time feedback loop also helps to boost morale and professional development by constantly empowering employees with the information necessary to act in the company's best interest and ensure customer satisfaction. However, when defining roles and responsibilities, the greatest challenge lies in determining the most important metric for the given individual, as some touchpoints require immediate attention, while others serve long-term goals. Thus, employees must clarify to what degree real-time should play a role in their daily routines by assessing the nature of the metrics themselves.
Ultimately, it's not necessary for all employees to obsess over real-time, as this focus rarely applies to every area of the business. Companies must make it their mission to be transparent about where expectations lie. In fact, it's unrealistic to expect all employees to operate in real-time, as certain metrics require organizations to observe historical data over time to understand the bigger business trends at hand. Customer lifetime value, for instance, could never happen solely in the here and now, as Lancellotti-Young emphasizes, for this metric must be allowed to evolve throughout the customer journey. Only then will employees be able to derive meaning and drive action based on such long-term trends and behaviors.
Real-time expectations and consumer demand continue to mount, but organizations must understand that employee roles and responsibilities must remain balanced across the customer journey timeline. While the needs of each business will vary, executives and managers must recognize that real-time isn't necessary, nor appropriate, all the time. Just as companies must define employee roles and responsibilities, they must also identify real-time's role within the overall organization itself. Once established, said businesses will be able to rollout an effective strategy that embraces both employee and consumer engagement while driving ROI, retention, and satisfaction simultaneously.