Your customer’s online journey is only part of the story

For years we’ve been hearing about the promise of customer experience management, the notion that you can understand your customer at a highly detailed level and serve them the content, products, services and even ads that matter (or at least make sense) to them.

Today’s marketing software is bringing that idea closer to reality.

But technology is only part of the brand-consumer interaction story. Just because you understand your customer through the lens of their online activities doesn’t mean that translates into smart and insightful interactions in person. We need to take that knowledge and use it in every step of the customer journey. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned, that doesn’t always happen.

A matter of trust

For Exhibit A, I give you United Airlines and its PR disaster this week. The company not only blew it with the customer they so unceremoniously had dragged off a plane, they potentially upended their relationship with loyal and potential future customers alike.

The United case showed that having technology available for learning about our customers’ wants and needs in an online context isn’t enough. Companies have to learn to use that knowledge for in-person engagements too. (Of course, a little common sense wouldn’t have hurt, either.)

When you look at successful companies, they have a core understanding that the customer is at the center of every decision and action they make, regardless of where the interaction takes place. In his annual letter to shareholders this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted that “obsessive customer focus” is the only thing that stands between a company and inevitable brand demise.

Salesforce  is another company that obsesses over customer satisfaction. Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff is constantly talking about a company’s core values. He says one of those core values has to be trust. If you don’t have trust, in his view, it’s impossible to do business.

It’s pretty clear that United wasn’t thinking about that in their infamous customer incident this week, and, while their example was particularly glaring, brands could still take it as a cautionary tale to know your customer and use that knowledge in every interaction, whether online or in person.

Tech is only part of the answer

Marketing technology vendors are in the business of helping you understand the customer at an extremely detailed level. Salesforce is a good example of a company that sells software to focus on every aspect of the customer relationship — from sales to marketing to service — and is constantly talking about giving that customer the best possible experience.

In a presentation in Washington, DC earlier this month, Salesforce’s Benioff spoke about the increasing number of signals coming in from connected devices that can help brands understand their customer better. “When all these things are connected, everything pivots back to the customer,” he said.

He’s right of course, and companies like his and others are trying to help you get there, but it’s not always easy putting that data to work or getting it in the hands of employees at the moment they are connecting with that customer. Technology is just one piece of the puzzle.

Salesforce is far from alone when it comes to selling you software to help you have better and more informed interactions with your customers. Just this week, in fact, we saw Sprinklr, a company that up until now has been focused on helping companies understand customers’ social signals, launch a new platform called Experience Cloud.

A few weeks before that we saw Adobe release a marketing platform with the same name. Both product sets have a slightly different focus, but they want to help their users manage the all-important customer experience. That means understanding what customers want and giving it to them, maybe without them even asking.

Empower your employees

As we learned this week, however, the technology is just a starting point, and having some information in a database can only get you so far. At some point that customer is going to walk into your store or onto your airplane, and you need to be ready to carry that customer focus to the in-person relationship. You need to take that knowledge, put it in the hands of your employees and empower them to make reasonable decisions when dealing with your precious customers.

Companies like Amazon and Salesforce strive to maintain a customer-centric approach because their CEOs understand at a fundamental level that you can never take that brand-customer connection for granted. When you do anything to damage that relationship, as United did this week, you risk shattering the trust you worked so hard to build.

It’s about a total commitment to keeping customers happy. Marketing technology vendors tend to get that because it’s a big part of what they’re selling, but it takes more than throwing technology at the problem. It requires giving your employees the training and knowledge to put that to work in real life, too.