2014-10-June-Spongebob-Attacks.jpgWe've all been there: After buying something a bit goofy on Amazon or another online retailer -- like a SpongeBob DVD box set for your kids -- related merchandise chases you around the Internet with vexing results.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Anticipating people’s next moves online can vastly improve the user experience and is the holy grail of digital commerce. Usage of data and marketing is becoming sophisticated enough to mine people’s interests and social signals, and serve them what they are looking for at the right moment. And customers’ offline, online, mobile, desktop and brick-and-mortar experiences all come into play.

Age of the Customer, Age of Engagement

It's no secret that we are in the age of the customer.

Customers can (and do) provide unfiltered, real-time feedback on your products and services through mobile devices and social media channels. These empowered customers expect brands to view and communicate with them as individuals. The result of this consumer power is that it has become extremely difficult for companies to deliver a seamless, exceptional experience across multiple channels to drive deep engagement with prospects and customers. And in recent research conducted by Econsultancy, 89 percent of company respondents and 96 percent of agency respondents stated that a great customer experience is a key requirement for driving brand loyalty.

That’s where engagement automation comes in. Engagement automation lets you orchestrate a consistent conversation no matter where and how your customer engages with your brand, streamlining transitions and interactions across channels to improve conversions.

Delivering One-to-One Marketing in Practice

Consider the airline industry. A customer can purchase airfare from one of the big airlines, and the carrier can then choose to act on that data to better service the customer at curbside, check-in and in flight. It’s possible to even pipe that information to a wearable computing device worn by service representatives so they can tailor offers on the fly.

Maybe the customer has been shopping on their mobile device before making a purchase on an airline app, and the customer is a good candidate for duty-free shopping suggestions. Perhaps golf clubs were checked in, and there’s a golf course deal at the final destination to recommend. Such data points are where marketing and sales converge, and there’s more information in a mobile apps era. By creating this frictionless customer experience, the customer becomes more likely to fly with the brand again and more likely to tell others about the brand -- increasing the customer’s lifetime value, and generating attractive, long-term ROI.

Cruise ships also depend on wowing customers to come back. Carnival Cruises follows much of the shopping activity and data that its passengers log during a trip and looks for ways to offer better service. Its crew can act on mobile-served data points, such as knowing that I have two kids, so when I book a restaurant they can have child seats ready. Perhaps even offer my preferred drink.

Microsoft is another brand powerhouse which is embracing automation to delight customers with personalized experiences. Last year, I purchased a new Surface tablet after attending Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, and three days later, I received a phone call from a real person to check if I encountered any issues. It takes a lot of effort to align sales, marketing and customer service efforts for customer satisfaction.

In order to provide personalized experiences, Microsoft must interpret various data across all touchpoints, and share them across departments to gain a holistic view of and effectively engage with potential customers. These service nuances go a long way in enhancing the customer experience. This extra effort is well worth it -- 70 percent of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies who they feel provide above-par customer service.

Marketers - Join the Party

A 2013 Marketing Automation benchmark report found that only nine percent of marketers said they were capable of running such campaigns. What we’re talking about is truly disruptive multichannel marketing that merges real time data points to better serve the customer and simultaneously boost the bottom line. To create the experiences that boost ROI, marketers need access to the tools that will enable them to be nimble and create personal experiences for each customer.

Savvy sales and marketing efforts can work in unison to continually pool data on people’s interests -- maybe it’s a good time for a ticket sale to the next Bond film because you just expressed “Like” interest on Facebook? If the timing is right, it’s a beautiful connection.

Every interaction with people matters. It’s the types of nuances in service previously mentioned that make people’s ticketing and traveling easier, and therefore, make them want to repeat the experience with the same airline or cruise ship.

Much of this is playing into mobile apps usage patterns and looking for opportunities to offer services or products that make sense for individuals rather than bothering them. And many signals can come into play such as Facebook likes or Twitter tweets to glean a better picture of the customer when shaping service experiences.

Successful marketing automation insightfully informs the customer -- without the SpongeBob stalking -- which makes all the difference for meaningful engagement. And that’s the closest thing to securing revenue.

Title image by Kevin Harber (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0