Relationship management

By collecting data about customers, marketing departments can help frontline staff and improve a brand’s image among consumers – but they must pass on the right information. By David Reed

The brand experience and the customer journey have been much on the mind of marketers lately. All the effort put into creating brand imagery and expectations counts for nothing if it is not realised when a customer finally deals with the company.

As the growth of word of mouth and experiential marketing demonstrate, meeting brand expectations can create loyal customers who become advocates of the product or service.

This mechanism first came to the fore with the growth of call centres and CRM. These remain the primary channels for delivering on the brand promise. And as is shown by new research carried out by Data Vantage Group (DVG), in association with Marketing Week publisher Centaur Communications, the gap between expectation and experience remains significant.

Living up to Promises
Only half of sales and marketing staff believe their company’s customer management practices live up to the brand promise. Nearly six out of ten are neutral or negative about how well their company understands the customer journey (see chart 1).

That might be taken to mean that sales and marketing is doing its job well, only to be let down by other functions. The truth is more complicated. In particular, the data, information and knowledge which these functions gather appears to be working like gravity – it draws it in, but won’t let it go again.

As a result, the customer journey is more a series of lurching steps with little connection. Studies carried out by DVG have shown that, of all the elements of negative customer experiences that lead to dissatisfaction, it is inconsistency that does 84% of the damage.

The findings are based on 1,262 responses to a questionnaire circulated by titles within the Centaur stable, including Marketing Week.

The majority (54%) work in small to medium-sized companies, but there was strong representation from professionals in major organisations – 20% work for businesses with over 10,000 staff. Globalisation has clearly taken hold, since 14% of companies work in North America, 16% in Asia and 33% in the rest of the world, compared to 37% in Europe.

Notably, 42% of respondents have worked in sales and marketing for more than ten years, with 29% having seven to ten years’ experience. But only a quarter of sales and marketing respondents have worked in their present company for seven years or more.

By contrast, 55% have been in their current post for less than three years. The velocity of job changes in this sector reduces the knowledge base that individuals have of their existing employers, compared to the portfolio of personal skills they build up during a career.

A key development during those careers is likely to have been the shift from a product-based view of the business towards one that is customer-centric. The customer is claimed to have been placed at the centre of 62% of companies (see chart 2).

But by way of comparison, among the 84% of respondents working in call centres, data and e-commerce, only 49% say their company is customer-centric.

Customer segmentation ought to be common practice among sales and marketing, but only 37% say it is, compared to 44% who say it is not. Surprisingly, those involved in call handling, data and online are better equipped – 43% have customer segmentation against 27% who do not.

Sharing knowledge is difficult when you do not have any, but asked if customer knowledge is spread to the response management function, half of back office respondents said this happened sometimes and 19% said it was a rare occurrence.

This is bad news for the quality of customer interactions as it leaves call centre agents with only a partial picture of the individual they are dealing with.

There appears to be a one-way process by which data is collated and analysed by the sales and marketing function, but these resources and insights do not get shared with other operational units. More troubling is the exact balance between those who have good and bad relationships with the CRM function.

Delivery Lynchpin
This department should be the lynchpin of delivering the customer experience, yet there are underlying problems that run counter to the strategic goal.

Perhaps those working in sales and marketing are simply hampered by the problems they experience dealing with more technical functions.

Somewhere, things have gone wrong with the internal delivery of customer insight and knowledge, which bodes ill for the external interaction with customers. Failing to recognise an individual or lacking information about the breadth of their product holding does not deliver the one-to-one experience which so many now expect to receive.

It could be that the skills which sales and marketing professionals have historically needed do not equip them to perform effectively in this new, highly interactive environment. There is a distinction between the sort of skills and customer knowledge used to build brands or sales and those required to manage relationships. • As chart 4 shows, people working in sales and marketing departments believe they have good skills, with over two-thirds rating their abilities highly. Equally, 57% claim a good level of customer knowledge. This may be true in the classic planning sense, even if this does not always translate into data planning abilities.

One reason for this could be a lack of skill in using IT – half of respondents say they are only average at using systems, with one quarter above average. There is a similar lack of confidence around resource and capacity management, with the quarter saying they have reasonable skills offset by the quarter seeing their abilities here as below average.

Kick-starting Campaigns
Getting campaigns out of the door is a relative strong suit, as reflected in the 44% who rate their operational planning skills positively. But some feel challenged even here, since 38% are neutral and one in five negative about this aspect of their job.

Only when it comes to rating the support they give to other functions does the typically bullish nature of the sales and marketing professional return – 69% are confident they are good at this. Even so, they do not feel highly valued. Just 32% say they are perceived as important within their business and 25% say they are rated poorly or very poorly by their company.

Undervalued is not the same as under-resourced and half of practitioners expect their budget to increase next year. Their companies clearly still see considerable value in setting the customers expectations of interactions before they happen.

For how long this will be the case may depend on whether companies start to recognise the importance of linking outbound and inbound messages. For now, there are some problems to resolve. Starting with the fact that 50% of sales and marketing people say the industry only sometimes meets customer expectations – not one says this is always the case.

The full report will be published by DVG in early 2007. For more information e-mail: hmarks@datavantage.co.uk.

DM Live! will take place at Earls Court 2, on November 21 and 22 2006 The show allows marketers to:
• Learn from experts in the Conference & IDM Academies
• Find out how to make tangible improvements to campaigns
• Discover how to increase response rates
• Meet leading suppliers of digital, interactive and traditional marketing
• Gain free entry to Insight and the brand new Data Show
For more information visit www.dmliveshow.co.uk

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