Customer experience is the opportunity to grow influence
The business world’s preoccupation with customer experience has led to billions being invested in digital transformation. This means marketers can play a bigger role, says Omobono’s Jonathon Palmer, but to do so successfully requires clarity on where to best focus efforts.
For the past eight years, Omobono has completed annual research on the state of marketing for global business brands. Along the way, we have learned which channels work best, what issues marketing leaders face and the keys to success.
This year’s research, in partnership with Marketing Week, gleaned from more than 1,100 participants around the globe, reveals key insights about the role marketers should be playing in helping organisations shape their customer experience and become more relevant in their customers’ lives.
It is clear that marketers recognise they should be taking this role seriously, with 49% of participants stating that deepening customer relationships is their biggest marketing objective for the year ahead, second only to raising brand awareness. In fact, for those organisations with a turnover of £500m+, it is the number one focus, with 58% ranking it in the top spot.
It also seems that marketers and the companies they work for are paying more attention to customer experience than ever, with 75% of respondents saying it is increasing in importance.
Converting intent into action
Yet despite it being on everyone’s radar, only a minority of businesses are delivering a truly joined up experience for their customers. When asked to what extent customer experience is embedded in the organisation, only 23% of participants say it is fully embedded. The reality is that many businesses still have a long way to go, with 62% of respondents saying that it is either fairly or somewhat embedded.
This disparity between perceived importance and the actual degree of implementation reflects the inherent difficulty in delivering a consistently rewarding experience across the entire customer journey. Despite this, it is clear that some of the respondents are committed to making it happen. One says: “84% of our business is repeat business. Our reputation is very important and one job could ruin that.”
Another explains: “We have got to change the attitudes of the organisation from selling them anything to the systematic study of the customer and how to service them.”
The debate around who should own customer experience has been raging for some time. Our research shows that marketing fully owns customer experience in only 16% of companies, with a slightly higher percentage of 23% in larger companies with a revenue over £500m.
While who owns customer experience varies, sales and customer services take the reins in the majority of cases, though operations and IT often play a key role too. This is unsurprising as customers will always engage with sales when discussing products or complain to customer service when something goes wrong. Only three participants stated that customer experience was owned by a dedicated team, so this is still a relative rarity.
New thinking required
The lines around marketing are blurring, since by its very nature customer experience touches many different parts of the organisation. To fully embed it across the organisation requires new, non-siloed ways of thinking and working. This presents marketers with an opportunity to play a bigger role in the organisation by helping to align key drivers. We have identified brand, people and technology platforms as the three drivers that marketers most need to address. We call this the ‘Halo’ model.
Those companies that are taking the lead in this area recognise that delivering a great customer experience outside the organisation begins with a great employee experience inside the organisation. For many companies, your people are your product, particularly those that operate in B2B where service delivery is a key differentiator. Attracting the best people and inspiring them to deliver on the brand promise is critical to success. Therefore, marketing needs to work closely with HR to help shape the employee and candidate experiences and build the employer brand, particularly in view of the fact that HR has historically been involved in customer experience in only 13% of cases.
It is also a critical partner for marketing as the business’s technology, tools and platforms must seamlessly underpin not only the customer experience, but also help support employees by ensuring they have the right tools to do the job.
Marketing’s customer experience sweet spot
As marketing thinking is applied more widely across the organisation, we see three areas where marketers can add the most value in customer experience:
– Customer insight: While sales and customer service have front line exposure to what customers want, marketing is best placed to represent the voice of the customer in the organisation as a whole (though, ironically, gathering insights was tied for the least important challenge by marketers in our research). Owning customer insight, from primary research to user experience and the customer journey, will help you have the ear of the organisation (including the CEO) and a bigger say in guiding the overall customer experience strategy.
– Customer touchpoints: Marketing has always been responsible for key customer touchpoints such as the website, apps, events and most recently voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa. Evidence suggests that this role will continue to expand, and possibly even encompass ecommerce too.
– Customer-first mindset: To some degree, the question of who owns customer experience is missing the point, as everyone in the organisation needs to have a customer-first mindset. Marketing can play a key role in defining and communicating the customer experience, vision and strategy, helping to rally employees and drive cultural transformation so that it is fully embedded right across the organisation.
Playing a smarter game
Although 75% of respondents agree that the role of marketing is (very or fairly) important, one of the biggest challenges it faces is a lack of influence within the organisation. Only 28% of participants believe marketing is very influential, with this dropping to only 12% in bigger companies. For it to play a greater role, there are three ways to get marketing up the agenda.
First, it must cultivate the necessary relationships to ensure it has the ear of the board and particularly the CEO. According to our research, customer experience is a board-level issue in 34% of companies.
Second, align marketing directly with the business strategy (which is the top objective across the board), and partner with sales and senior leadership to deliver it.
Third, ensure that there is a clear understanding of marketing’s contribution to ROI for the company.
It is clear that customer experience presents marketers with an opportunity to play a far greater role both inside and outside the organisation if they are able to build influence, collaborate more widely and be willing to invest in insight.
Jonathon Palmer is global head of strategy at Omobono, the creative and tech agency for global business brands