Friends of mine were remodeling their master bath. After searching for a claw foot tub in stores and online, they found the perfect one that fit their space. It was only available for purchase on the retailer’s e-commerce site, they bought it online.

When it arrived, the tub was too big. The dimensions online were incorrect. They went to return it to the closest store, but were told they couldn't -- because it was purchased online, they had to ship it back.

The retailer didn’t have a total customer relationship view or a single view of product information or inventory across channels and touch points. This left the customer representative working with a system that was a silo of limited information. She didn’t have access to a rich customer profile. She didn't know that Joe and his wife spent almost $10,000 with the brand in the last year. She couldn't see the products they bought online and in stores. Without this information, she couldn't deliver a great customer experience.

And it was a terrible customer experience. My friends share it with everyone who asks about their remodel. They name the retailer when they tell the story. And, they don’t shop there anymore. This terrible customer experience is negatively impacting the retailer’s revenue and brand reputation.

Bad customer experiences happen a lot. Companies in the US lose an estimated $83 billion each year due to defections and abandoned purchases as a direct result of a poor experience, according to a Datamonitor/Ovum report.

Customer Experience is the New Marketing

Gartner believes that by 2016, companies will compete primarily on the customer experiences they deliver. So who should own customer experience?

Twenty-five percent of CMOs say that their CEOs expect them to lead customer experience. What’s their definition of customer experience? "The practice of centralizing customer data in an effort to provide customers with the best possible interactions with every part of the company, from marketing to sales and even finance.”

Mercedes Benz USA President and CEO, Steve Cannon said, “Customer experience is the new marketing."

The Gap Between Customer Expectations + Your Ability to Deliver

My previous post, 3 Barriers to Delivering Omnichannel Experiences, explained how omnichannel is all about seeing your business through the eyes of your customer. Customers don’t think in terms of channels and touch points, they just expect a seamless, integrated and consistent customer experience. It’s one brand to the customer. But there's a gap between customer expectations and what most businesses can deliver today.

Most companies who sell through multiple channels operate in silos. They are channel-centric rather than customer-centric. This business model doesn’t empower employees to deliver seamless, integrated and consistent customer experiences across channels and touch points. Different leaders manage each channel and are held accountable to their own P&L. In most cases, there's no incentive for leaders to collaborate.

Old Navy’s CMO, Ivan Wicksteed got it right when he said,

Seventy percent of searches for Old Navy are on a mobile device. Consumers look at the product online and often want to touch it in the store. The end goal is not to get them to buy in the store. The end goal is to get them to buy.”

The end goal is what incentives should be based on.

Executives at most organizations I’ve spoken with admit they are at the very beginning stages of their journey to becoming omnichannel retailers. They recognize that empowering employees with a total customer relationship view and a single view of product information and inventory across channels are critical success factors.

Becoming an omnichannel business is not an easy transition. It forces executives to rethink their definition of customer-centricity and whether their business model supports it. “Now that we need to deliver seamless, integrated and consistent customer experiences across channels and touch points, we realized we’re not as customer-centric as we thought we were,” admitted an SVP of marketing at a financial services company.

You Have to Transform Your Business

We’re going through a transformation to empower our employees to deliver great customer experiences at every stage of the customer journey,” said Chris Brogan, SVP of Strategy and Analytics at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. “Our competitive differentiation comes from knowing our customers better than our competitors. We manage our customer data like a strategic asset so we can use that information to serve customers better and build loyalty for our brand.”


Hyatt uses data integration, data quality and master data management (MDM) technology to connect the numerous applications that contain fragmented customer data including sales, marketing, e-commerce, customer service and finance. It brings the core customer profiles together into a single, trusted location, where they are continually managed. Now its customer profiles are clean, de-duplicated, enriched and validated. Members of a household as well as the connections between corporate hierarchies are now visible. Business and analytics applications are fueled with this clean, consistent and connected information so customer-facing teams can do their jobs more effectively.

When he first joined Hyatt, Brogan did a search for his name in the central customer database and found 13 different versions of himself. This included the single Chris Brogan who lived across the street from Wrigley Field with his buddies in his 20s and the Chris Brogan who lives in the suburbs with his wife and two children. “I can guarantee those two guys want something very different from a hotel stay,” he joked. Those guest profiles have now been successfully consolidated.

According to Brogan,

Successful marketing, sales and customer experience initiatives need to be built on a solid customer data foundation. It’s much harder to execute effectively and continually improve if your customer data is a mess.”

Improving How You Manage, Use and Analyze Data is More Important Than Ever

Some companies lack a single view of product information across channels and touch points. About 60 percent of retail managers believe that shoppers are better connected to product information than in-store associates. That’s a problem. The same challenges exist for product information as customer information. How many different systems contain valuable product information?


Harrods overcame this challenge. The retailer has a strategic initiative to transform from a single iconic store to an omnichannel business. In the past, Harrods’ merchants managed information for about 500,000 products for the store point of sale system and a few catalogs. Now they are using product information management technology (PIM) to effectively manage and merchandise 1.7 million products in the store and online.

Because they are managing product information centrally, they can fuel the ERP system and e-commerce platform with full, searchable multimedia product information. Harrods has also reduced the time it takes to introduce new products and generate revenue from them. In less than one hour, buyers complete the process from sourcing to market readiness.

It Ends with Satisfied Customers

By 2016, you will need to be ready to compete primarily on the customer experiences you deliver across channels and touch points. This means really knowing who your customers are so you can serve them better. Many businesses will transform from a channel-centric business model to a truly customer-centric business model. They will no longer tolerate messy data. They will recognize the importance of arming marketing, sales, e-commerce and customer service teams with the clean, consistent and connected customer, product and inventory information they need to deliver seamless, integrated and consistent experiences across touch points. And all of us will be more satisfied customers.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Patrick Hoesly 


Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Image of Harrods by  Michael Cavén