Jodie Sangster, head of industry body ADMA, recently put me on the spot with a very pointed question. Who, she asked me, owns the customer experience in a modern business?
Jodie wasn’t asking it arbitrarily; she was moderating a debate at a recent conference, and I was part of a four-person panel discussing the shape of modern marketing.
Given the often disconnected state of many brands’ channel experience across digital, in-store, through call centres and in general communications, the question was not entirely unexpected. This perceived disconnection comes at a time when we have access to more data about our customers than ever before – data they expect us to use in order to give them a better experience.
For years, marketers – especially those of us working in the service brand sector – have known that in the absence of a tangible product to touch and interact with, our service channels, websites and mobile solutions drive customers’ perception of the brand and the resulting customer relationship.
So back to the question, in modern business who owns the customer experience business?
For most marketers, the answer is pretty simple. We’re the brand guardians and we manage the way it’s manifested to customers; therefore we own the customer experience. And, when you stretch “marketing” beyond marcomms, it becomes even more obvious, surely? Marketing manages the product, the price, even the place that customers experience the brand.
Can it really be that simple?
After all, if this was the case, the operations team would have a fairly large claim to setting the customer experience. They typically write and deliver the call centre scripts that customers experience. In many organisations they’re responsible for the multitude of BAU communications such as late payments; end of contract; the management of complaints etc.
These are the communications that show the true behaviours and attitudes of a company, rather than the well- manicured image crafted by marketing. Surely they have a material impact on the experience a customer has and therefore a valid claim?
Likewise, the business insights team – those who manage the organisation’s data, identifying who’s doing what, where and when and creating how much value. Surely their quantification of value and opportunity to ultimately drive investment decisions define the experience we’re willing to give different people?
And of course, in a digital world none of this is possible without the IT department. They’re where the metaphorical rubber of business vision and strategy hits the very real tarmac of reality. They’re the people who create, manage and update the very platforms our customers engage with. Looked at from the IT-department’s perspective – the team that chooses the software, hardware, the cloud-based solutions businesses rely upon – marketing simply provides a front-end skin.
The real smarts and capabilities lie squarely in the underlying technology.
Even sales can lay claim to shaping customer experience. In many businesses, from banks to car yards and everything in between, the sales person is the one real person customers interact with as they make their decision. They’re the physical manifestation of the brand in human form.
The question of who owns the customer experience, then, is an important one. Mainly because the answer goes a long way to defining the skills and capabilities of a modern marketer. Because just as we’ve always been more than just the ad-johnnies, paid to come-up with creative ideas and witty headlines; so we’re equally not the sole owners of the customer, let alone their experience.
The modern CMO needs to be intimately connected to their c-suite peers.
Because ultimately, customer experience comes through the effective coordination of brand, product offering, and delivery touch-points operating in unison.
No single business area is uniquely responsible for customer experience. Reflecting the interconnected state of most businesses, everybody across the organization has a responsibility for delivering customer experience.
Whilst marketing, and the brand team in particular, may craft the personality experienced by customers; in its broader sense, experience is dependent on many other elements. So whilst IT, operations, finance etc. may not always appear as glamorous as champagne marketing, they ultimately hold the key to successfully delivering the vision for a compelling customer experience. Without them, no matter how clever or engaging the marketing, it will ultimately remain disconnected from the tangible interactions a customer actually experiences with the brand.
Not surprisingly, those marketers who collaborate and understand the need to work with colleagues from across the business, not just their own discipline, have always been the most valuable and most successful.
And this will continue to be the case.
Jason Hill is Head of Planning at OgilvyOne.
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