Keeping Up With Consumer 'Connectioneering'

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
"Consumer Connectioneering" requires brands to recognize and interact with the consumer in whatever channel or combination of channels the consumer prefers.

As data-driven CRM as a discipline enters its third wave, I'm reminded of all the CRM best practices that have gone on before, and how today's multichannel and omni-channel environments require new perspective among brand marketers who seek consumer loyalty and greater lifetime value.

The pressure to leverage all available channels has unique challenges of its own. Mobile, social, online display- and the analytics driving these newer channels- serve to engage consumers in new and different ways; each requires recognition of how each channel uniquely helps. Add to this the complexity of a consumer expecting (even demanding) to be recognized as he or she moves from one channel to another seamlessly, and that relevant content become accessible, suddenly the task is quite daunting.

CRM has evolved and the consumer is firmly in control

The first wave of CRM dealt with channel data (mail, phone, store, and later email) and recognized, generally, that the multichannel customer was a more loyal and profitable customer. This often dealt with making database investments, establishing a knowledgebase built on analytics expertise and tools, and getting senior executive buy-in along the way.

The second wave of CRM (continuing into the third) has been to recognize how these channels orchestrate best to make the customer experience more relevant and enjoyable. It also started to focus attention on how brands and corporations may need to realign themselves around the customer, and learn to be listeners, rather than (just) broadcasters.

The third wave of CRM - yes, we're here - has the consumer firmly in control, where brands needs to be fully in dialogue mode-listening, responding, and anticipating the consumers' needs, and doing so with mobile and social channels now aiding that dialogue. For brands and organizations, marketing, information technology, finance, customer service and merchandising are in concert mode (or need to be)-enabling customer experience to be managed (it's still CRM here) and customer value to be fostered, measured and, the loyalty part, fully respected and honored. At Harte-Hanks, we've called this enterprise orchestration around the customer, "Consumer Connectioneering" (

According to Aberdeen Research, in its report "The 2012 Omni-Channel Retail Experience" (January 2012), the top three reasons cited among retail respondents for uniting channel views were: lost sales opportunities (49 percent); customer expects similar experience regardless of channel (42 percent); and inconsistent branding across channels (35 percent).

A smarter organization needs to hum the consumer's tune

"Consumer Connectioneering" requires brands to recognize and interact with the consumer in whatever channel or combination of channels the consumer prefers. For example, it's estimated that as many as 50 to 70 percent of in-store visits are prompted or informed by something that preceded the store visit. Only 13 percent of total retail sales happen online.

Too often, brands may not realize that a "failed" website visit was actually their very owncustomerchecking sizes, reading product reviews, or identifying a product's local availability, with no intention to purchase online but then came to the store to check the product and complete a transaction. Whether these prompts are online or offline-and they are increasingly online-it is imperative that a retail brand connect those prompts to the store visit, otherwise a huge opportunity of recognizing (and rewarding) the customer is being missed.

In truth, each channel has different views of the customer, but if a marketer looks at people in silos, it will have only a partial view and will make mistakes based only on what is seen within each independent channel. No one is empowered to bring it together, yet a methodology is required to do so.

A good example of a silo view, that's since been corrected, is the "MySite" of a major home products retailer. Originally, the MySite allowed consumer registrants to create and store information on home projects that they'd like to tackle. However, the online undertaking did not include an in-store component. The store only gained from a subsequent transaction, perhaps reflecting only a part of a planned project, and didn't tie that purchase back to MySite usage in any measurable way. Today, the retailer now has in-store kiosks that allow its MySite users to access their projects in-store and to converse with an in-store expert representative. Clearly, a harmonization of online and in-store channels would have helped the "projects" functionality take off from the start, instead of providing consumers with an initial disjointed experience that left the retailer with an incomplete understanding of the customer's motivation.

There are several examples, however, where brands are bridging single channels, to multichannel, and working toward omni-channel, the ultimate state in Consumer Connectioneering.

Kiehl's, the health and beauty products marketer, has in-store iPads that give in-store sales representatives a view of what a consumer was looking at prior to her store visit. Once the consumer arrives at the store, the representative then can use the information to help her make a purchase, or use past product viewing and transaction history on demand to stimulate repeat purchases.

Several brands, including Toyota, Sony, and L'Oreal are building Web-based services on top of their customer databases. These online interfaces inform the database to allow real-time interactions, prompting business rules and resulting relevant communications based on actual tracked consumer behavior. In some instances, these communications also are triggered by past customer transactions and performance. By enabling this type of real-time analytics, instead of a batch form database update once a day, marketers can move into the third wave of CRM and "connect" with the customer and stimulate smart "conversations."

'Consumer Connectioneering' take-aways

Consumer Connectioneering is based on a methodology that starts with a brand commitment to a data-driven strategy to construct a single, omni-channel view of the customer brand interactions, even as channels proliferate. It starts by assessing various single-channel and limited multichannel views that exist in a marketing organization, and constructs a means to integrate the data, then validate and correct conflicting data. Next, necessary consumer permissions and preferences must be enabled. Then, a data management platform needs to be constructed that allows real-time analytics and business rules to flow from the omni-channel view. This view also must ensure customer tracking and measurement along the way so that loyalty and consistency can be rewarded.

An omni-channel view recognizes that consumers have less tolerance for marketing in general and no tolerance for irrelevance; that consumers are technologically and socially empowered; that internally, brands have increasing demands for marketing accountability; and that consumers generate more data in more channels than ever.

Specifically, marketers need to:

  • Understand and integrate emerging technologies. Is there a CRM roadmap?
  • Take a holistic view of the customer to create, manage and measure personalized, integrated, multichannel communications. Is there an understood path to purchase?
  • Give consumers control and input in areas such as communication content, message cadence and channel preference. Is loyalty fostered through preference centers, message frequency, and cross-channel customer recognition?
  • Focus on customer data. Is there a customer data strategy, supported by a customer data integration and data quality regimen? Is customer data capture planned for at all points of interaction where analytics is informed?
  • Focus on loyalty and opportunities for incremental spend by understanding customers and their behaviors. Does the omni-channel view recognize top customers, and support local marketing strategies, social sharing, and other best-customer activity?
  • Partner with experts in emerging channels to effectively capture data and measure results. CRM dashboards and strategies may require single-channel experts, but most definitely require multichannel orchestration and learning.
  • Partner with experts with cross-channel expertise and analytics in an effort to optimize your marketing mix for the greatest results. Analytics and media mix optimization cannot be fully automated - statisticians who understand the brand, the business and the vertical market are required at all times.

In essence, today's CRM requires a discipline and plan for Consumer Connectioneering. It's where the consumer has gone, and marketers need to be there with her. Several brands are leading the way; we need to emulate them on how to get there.