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Customer Engagement in the (Very Near) Digital Future

Marketers will understand customers better in the future, asserts Hung LeHong, research VP and Gartner fellow. Data-driven marketers will be better equipped to draw from the wealth of information available through sources such as mobile, social, and the Internet of Things. But that won’t make marketers’ jobs any easier. Customers will have different and higher demands, LeHong said during a presentation at the Gartner Customer 360 Summit. They will expect their preferred brands to be available in every channel and to be transparent about service and price.

Marketers need to prepare for that future reality today. LeHong offered 10 considerations in three areas: customer service and relationship management; customer insight; and transaction and loyalty.

Customer service and relationship management

1. Automate what you can. It’s impractical—if not impossible—to automate an entire relationship, but marketers will need to automate some responses. There’s a steadily increasing number of channels, thus an ever-increasing number of interactions; brands need to scale to respond effectively. Additionally, marketers need to spend more of their time personalizing communications and interactions, so they need to balance those personal interactions with automated ones.

2. Think social reverberation. Nearly every interaction with a prospect or customer will also be an interaction with that individual’s social graph. It’s best to assume that customers will share their brand interactions with their network. As a result, marketers should determine how to use technology to assess and track social impact, as well as to influence it. Also, marketers need to compose communications that are meant to be shared—or not. That is, marketers need to be deliberated about what they’d like customer to share or not share.

3. Be real (time). Customers will demand real-time transparency for customer service, which means it will be a must have. Customers can already track package status, flight changes, and more. A real-time approach to service provides reassurance to customers, as well as the ability for them to take an alternative action when necessary. Not only is this level of proactive service a marketing asset, but customers will expect this kind of visibility. They’ll want to know how long a line is or where parking is.

4. Build in service. Not every product can or should have a built-in service component. But for certain products, more companies will digitally build in ongoing customer engagement. This is the Internet of Things, LeHong said. The supply chain used to end with the physical delivery of a product. Today there’s a digital supply chain that continues in the home—for example, a company sending a software update or a recipe to an oven—and this will only increase in the future.

Customer insight

5. Get personal. Personalization in the future will based on blending intent data (e.g. social comments or online behaviors), context, and customer interaction history. Personalization engines that consider all three will serve up the optimal offer at the best time.

6. Understand social influence. The voice of the customer is not equal. Commenters—and their positive or negative comments—don’t influence equally. If someone with 50 friends posts a complaint on Facebook and Twitter, it won’t have the same impact as someone with 50,000 friends.  Marketers need to understand that, as well as understand how social influence actually impacts sales (or not). When an influencer comments about a brand, does its sales or share prices go up or down? Marketers should use technology that assesses social influence to find out and plan accordingly.

7. Respect privacy. “Privacy can be bought, trust must be earned, and security will be expected at all times,” LeHong said. Marketers can “buy” privacy (i.e. data) from their customers if there’s a fair value exchange—and, if there’s an easy way for them to opt out. Brands can’t buy trust, have to earn it. They earn trust by offering great products, services, and experiences. In terms of security: There’s no excuse, he said; companies have to build it in—and then prove to customers that they can trust that security.


8. Make buying easy. Payment is becoming its own customer experience—and has the potential to be a complicated one that frustrates customers. There’s a plethora of options companies can add to the experience; for example, biometric authentication, coupons, mobile payments, loyalty points, PIN, real-time fraud detection, real-time offers. The experience will be good or bad depending on what’s added and how customers need to use those options. Craft a payment experience that’s so simple it’s almost invisible.

9. Open the price kimono. Price visibility will become the norm. If a price is visible everywhere, it likely will become the same everywhere, so companies will need to compete on personalized deals instead. Pricing is often a competitive lever; visibility removes that lever. So, price competition will move from being based on a product’s regular price, to being based on special offers and personalized pricing such as context-aware pricing.

10. Think long-term loyalty. Today customers earn miles, points, and the like after a purchase or interaction. In the future loyalty recognition will move instead to one that spans the entire customer engagement cycle and lifespan. For example, companies may award loyalty points pre- or post-transaction, for such activities as checking prices online, viewing an ad, liking a post, checking in, adding an item to a shopping cart, or doing physical activity.

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