The Customer-Activated Business: 5 Strategies for Success

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Customer-activated businesses are firms that turn every customer interaction into new ways to differentiate experiences and deliver value. Since marketing benefits the most when firms close the gap between servicing the customer cost-effectively and truly creating an engaging experience, CMOs need to set the tone for this transformation by infusing customer insights and the desire to delight buyers into every activity.

Social, mobile, big data, cloud, and other inherently digital technologies change how buyers expect to interact with brands. Prospects and subscribers want to get what they want, in their immediate context, at their moments of need, and from any source they choose.

CMOs who tune into customers’ context — by using data and cues flowing from digital interactions to understand who buyers are and what they are trying to achieve when they reach out — will deliver superior experiences, products, and services that customers find more useful and valuable than the competition’s.

To understand how employees’ interactions create a value exchange with subscribers in this digital age, Forrester teamed up with KMWorld to investigate the state of customer-to-employee communication. We found that most customer-to-employee communication fails to engage more digitally savvy buyers because it:

■ Happens via traditional means using old-school technologies. Despite the popularity of online channels and interactive technologies like video and message sharing, most customer communication still happens face-to-face, over the phone, or through email. While these technologies are familiar and comfortable, they fall woefully short in their ability to broadly share insights and drive broader collaboration.

■ Focuses on solving problems, not building relationships. Empowered customers want to talk to us about their experiences with our brands, products, and services. Unfortunately, most respondents feel that customers contact them only when they have problems. While talking to customers during work, 62% of respondents are resolving issues, 55% are delivering some form of service, and 39% are handling complaints. When talking with other employees about customers, 82% said that complaints dominate the conversation. This is surprising since only 13% of those surveyed said that they work in customer service or a call center.

Taps internal data sources containing limited customer insight. To make decisions that affect buyers, 72% of respondents say that they use information provided by internal sources like the company intranet, 59% rely on transaction histories, and 56% tap into the CRM database or official voice of the customer information. Hearing directly from customers is low on the list: Only 20% listen in on the sentiments expressed through social media, and astonishingly, 15% don’t talk to customers at all.

CMOs Must Adocate for New Ways to Apply the Subscriber Voice

Companies need to better leverage data, technology, and process to help employees interpret the customer’s context — and act on the insights coming from those interactions — to deliver differentiated service and experiences.

Bright futures lay ahead for CMOs who shift their firm’s strategy from reacting efficiently to proactively engaging by identifying those engagement moments that customers value using digital and traditional interactions to amplify the brand and generate demand and by creating delightful post-sales experiences.

While the desired outcome is ambitious — a more competent customer engagement model that helps every employee use the voice of the customer to guide business decisions every day — the result will be differentiated customer experiences that deliver long-term value.

To increase the probability that customer-activated operations will emerge cross- organizationally, CMOs must:

  1. Set a companywide tone for bringing customer voices and insight into every commercial process while helping employees avoid any potential risks to the brand.
  2. Foster a technology and investment agenda around turning customer information into insights that all employees can readily act on in their day-to-day activity.
  3. Extend customer information gathering and direct employees’ communication beyond the sale to create value at every stage in the customer’s life cycle.
  4. Help other functions understand the role they play in the firm’s customer engagement strategy and the obligations they take on when interacting with buyers.


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Unite Brand Promise And Subscriber Experience To Help Employees Engage

As steward of the brand, teams led by CMOs interact broadly with the market, affecting prospects, customers, partners, and competitors. CMOs help converge brand and experience when they:

■ Bring subscriber understanding into sharper focus. Many employees must wade through

oceans of data in their quest to better understand customers. CMOs refresh the customer data management agenda when they deploy new processes and technologies that tap into behavioral data and purchase indicators found in unconventional sources.

■ Apply listening technology and process to the art of understanding subscribers’ needs. Market, competitive, social, and sentiment analysis help marketing monitor brand health and preempt crises. CMOs who share this information help employees tune into buyers’ cares and concerns, especially with social media creating access to the world’s largest focus group for customer insights on brands, products, policies, and customer experiences.

■ Publish content that informs employees’ decisions as it attracts a crowd. Sharing useful content, good stories, and insightful studies helps employees be more helpful and talk more fluently about the brand when they engage with prospects and customers.

Invest In Technology And Processes That Turn Insight Into Action

It is one thing to understand what subscribers want and need and an entirely different thing to get employees to take the right actions that turn those insights into experiences that subscribers value. CMOs expedite this transformation when marketing investment helps employees:

■ Engage subscribers in product capability and road map discussions. Product designers, contact center reps, service delivery, and fulfillment need better, easier ways to capture the good ideas that customers share with them. They also need to amplify their voices when discussing how to better provide the solutions that buyers want. Two-thirds of those we surveyed said that the quality of the products and services their firm delivers would improve with better access to customer information.

■ Become confident brand ambassadors. To perform more effectively and efficiently at work, 89% of respondents say that employees need more access to customer data. When armed with this information, 82% said that they would make better business decisions, and 81% said that they would serve subscribers better. Hearing the customer’s voice gives employees more confidence: 69% feel that they could represent their brands better with more access to this information.

■ Tailor interpersonal interactions to each customer. Business-to-business (B2B) customer relationships are active and constantly morphing in response to news, competitors’ actions, or other market events.

■ Manage each subscriber’s success in a personalized manner. In a digital world plagued by interactive voice response systems, a personalized touch can make the difference between delighting and disappointing buyers.

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Activate Subscribers’ Interactions Across The Buyer’s Life Cycle

Most marketers focus budget and activity primarily on customer acquisition. Yet it costs six to seven times as much to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. CMOs who put customer insight to work invest specifically in post-sale communications that keep subscriber conversations going long after the ink dries on the contract.

These CMOs help other functional teams:

■ Understand their current subscribers’ context. Despite popular adages like “the customer is always right” and “360-degree view,” few companies excel at knowing exactly what their customers do. Our survey respondents rated their companies as only slightly above average in capturing the customer’s context and putting this insight toward creating an ongoing exchange of value.

■ Expand wallet share through targeted cross-sell/upsell communications. Subscribers’ interactions at many firms build to a peak before buyers purchase and then dry up until it’s time to renew. CMOs keep clients from falling into this trough of detachment when they institute communication programs to scale post-sale interactions.

■ Tap into enthusiasts for advice and advocacy. Advocates amplify your firm’s brand and mission, provide credible references, and supply evidence that your products perform as advertised. They can even act as surrogate product managers or design leads when you get them to show you how they use your products. To capture value from these interactions, CMOs invest in new ways that let employees tap into advocates’ enthusiasm.

Give influential opinion leaders a voice. Digitally empowered buyers would rather talk to another happy customer, or an impartial brand enthusiast, than listen to your marketing pitch.

Help Peers Assume The Right Customer Engagement Responsibilities

In the digital world, employees — especially the 15% who don’t talk with customers today — must understand the obligations they take on when they interact with buyers. CMOs help employees deliver more customer value and avoid the potential risks and pitfalls of talking directly to customers when they:

■ Advocate for common customer behaviors across the organization. Savvy CMOs translate customers’ expectations into a brand experience that reflects a company’s mission and values regardless of which employee participates in the interaction. Marketing benefits when employees’ interactions, aided by technology, deliver delightful, perpetual experiences since these interactions serve only to extend the brand reach in more effective ways than traditional, more costly media channels.

■ Help build a customer-obsessed culture. Knowing customers obsessively means understanding what they experience at critical moments and building a customer experience that turns that need into delight.

Measure and report on customer engagement quality. Executive management needs to know precisely how business activities affect revenue, drive efficiency, and keep existing customers in the fold. To increase the firm’s ability to put this type of analysis into action, CMOs must shift reporting from a historical, operational focus to one that’s forward-looking. Because marketing looks across industries, the competition, and a huge lineup of partners, the marketing dashboard can be the best tool to start to manage how customer conversations turn into real business value.

Concluding Recommendations: Activate Customer Understanding to Create Customer Obsession

Getting your employees to listen to and engage with customers is the first step on the journey

to enterprise-wide customer activation.

■ Shift from hierarchical communications to stewarding conversations. To change the tone of internal communications, meet with your head of service and the CIO to look for new ways to drive broader sharing of information across organizational boundaries.

■ Become an advocate for data sharing. CMOs who share brand, feedback, and social listening information break through conventional customer information compartmentalization.

■ Shape business discussions around customer opportunities. Channel, product, and sales silos speak their own languages unless the CMO makes sure that customer thinking and messaging converge.

Roll customer activation investments into a single virtual budget. When the CFO wants to know what returns result from investment in customer data, collaboration, and unified communications, CMOs should answer by translating customer engagement into real business value.

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