Resolve to Listen to Your Customers in 2014

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Rob Tate, PossibleNOW
Rob Tate, PossibleNOW

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, just 8% of Americans achieve their New Year's resolutions. It's a laughably low success rate and one of the reasons resolution announcements at the Christmas dinner table are often met with skepticism or laughter, or both. Resolutions usually fail because they're unrealistic. The individual in question simply isn't ready or able to change.

There's a lesson here for CMOs and CEOs planning for 2014. A recent Oracle survey of more than 1,300 senior executives found that 97% agree that customer experience is critical to success and 93% have made it a top-three priority over the next two years. Yet fewer than 40% have customer experience initiatives in progress and just 20% of those that do would describe them as sophisticated.

Why? Their goal—or resolution—is too large, too vague, and involves too many moving parts. They know they need to listen to customers and engage them in meaningful, profitable relationships. But they haven't broken it down into actionable, budget-able pieces and can't get buy-in from IT, legal, investor relations, or other stakeholders.

Simply put, many large organizations are good at talking to customers through sales, marketing, and support. But they aren't very good at listening to or learning from what customers have to say.  

That's why the best starting point for many enterprises is preference management: The active collection, maintenance, and distribution of unique consumer characteristics, such as product interest, channel preference, and frequency of communication.

Here are three simple preference management resolutions—in order of complexity—that can actually be proposed, piloted, budgeted, and achieved next year:

1. Offer opt-down functionality in your email marketing. Instead of presenting customers with an all-or-nothing engagement, give them the power to tailor communications to suit their interests. Offering an opt-down option drastically reduces opt-outs and helps marketers focus messaging on topics of interest. 

2. Install a website preference center. Create an easy-to-use portal where customers can create individual profiles, select topics of interest, preferred delivery channels, and pace of communications.  Preference centers provide the ability for customers to maintain their preferences as their interests change over time.

3. Expand your preference collection with a pilot program. Preference management should be present at every interaction point between brand and customer, such as mobile, social media, in-store, contact center, and more. However, these initiatives require approval from many stakeholders and can quickly become bogged down or even abandoned. Identify a specific brand or line of business to use as a pilot program to prove preference management ROI and gain momentum before seeking company-wide application.

Approaching preference management as a series of actionable steps makes it easier to plan and earn organizational buy-in. It's the difference between resolving to “get skinny again” and resolving to lose 15 lbs. by July. The latter is realistic and actionable, while the former will be forgotten before the snow melts.

Resolve to listen to customers in 2014 and plan for it in simple, achievable steps. Empowered by preference data, companies can improve marketing campaign results, increase sales revenue, and enhance customer experience while satisfying privacy requirements at the same time. That's what I call a happy new year.

Rob Tate is director of enterprise sales at PossibleNOW and tweets at @possiblenow

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