Every day, the need for a cohesive digital strategy gets more and more vital. And every day, mapping out the digital experience gets more complex. 

Customers embrace new platforms and interact with brands in new ways, while marketers explore new technologies for reaching and attracting buyers. Consumers want brands to communicate with them at relevant times — and to leave them alone otherwise. 

Marketers talk a big game about delivering seamless experiences that blend the offline and online to create long-term emotional connections with customers. At its core, this is context marketing — putting the right offer in front of the right customer in the right context at the right time. And when it works, the customer is delighted. When it doesn’t, it’s spam.

But how does one do that? What does it even mean? And what kind of organization, processes and technology does it require?

Let’s start by defining a great customer experience. Consider Apple, a long-time leader and experimenter in customer service and contextual marketing. Whether ordering online, via the mobile app or in store, Apple has created a seamless process, the classic (and best) example of a consistent buying experience. The company leverages what it knows about you: your personal information, what version phone you have, how to transfer your data and your contact information to tailor the experience just to you.

This may not sound like a huge accomplishment. As consumers, we have come to expect this type of experience from our favorite brands across industries. However, getting the experience right is no easy feat.

So how can marketers create a context-appropriate, exceptional digital experience for their customers?

It starts with the people. And it starts at the top

You can’t deliver a great customer experience if it’s not embedded into the fabric of your company. Everyone from the CEO and CMO (and even the Board of Directors, in the right situation) to the newest intern needs to be constantly thinking about customers: how they discover your products, how they buy, where they make decisions, what apps and services they use and so forth. Employees must answer those questions every day. Every product decision and every system put in place should be solving customer problems. This requires focused and committed leadership.

In short, understanding your customer journey is not just the responsibility of the marketing department (although they better know it too).

Make customer happiness a priority

More companies are appointing a C-level executive to be the voice of the customer. Call it what you will: Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Advocate or Chief Customer Officer. This person has a seat at the most important company meetings. And the very fact that this role exists — along with its related department and teams — sends a clear message to everyone from the customers to the employees and stakeholders that customer happiness is a priority. 

Know that making the customer happy is not just about building out a support organization, although that could be part of it. It’s about obsessing over your customers and building products that improve their experiences. You’ve got to walk the walk.

Now it’s time to execute

Once you have the right people asking the right questions and solving the right problems, you need to put processes in place to execute your strategy. This includes everything from cross-department information sharing, regular updates to decision makers, internal tracking tools, and a complete understanding of the customer journey. This may sound simple, but it’s hard to get right. 

More good ideas die from indigestion than disease — which is to say, from a lack of internal cohesion, as opposed to external market forces.

Consider how your company works. If decision-makers are often on the go, make sure they have mobile approval systems. Is your customer support or success teams in regular contact with product teams? Too often, companies view support — the people who talk to customers and solve their problems — as a silo. 

Customer support should be recognized as a hub of vital information about your customers, how they use your product, and where they’re getting stuck. Crucially, spend time thinking about key metrics that align the company around delivering great customer experiences. 

What technology is required?

Once you have the people and processes in place to know your customers, what are the tools and systems needed to actually create great experiences? How do you personalize every interaction — whether it’s an email, mobile landing page, customer support call or product recommendation? And how do you then optimize those interactions? After all, you’ll want to be able to track, test, analyze and iterate so that you’re continuously improving the customer experience. Oh, and can you do this across your entire customer base? This piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most challenging: implementing a solution that improves customer experience automatically, at scale.

Get this right and your business has a competitive advantage. Get this wrong and you end up annoying or, worse, harassing your customers. How do you ensure you have the right technology to power it all? There are thousands of marketing software solutions to choose from

Before you start researching options, understand what marketing efforts are working, how to make those better, and where the next few opportunities are to improve your customer experience. The more specific you can be, the better. Too often, companies waste money, time and resources on a system that wasn’t designed for their specific needs. Put the work in up front, and you’ll find picking the right piece of software a whole lot easier.

Title image by Alex Jones