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Jason VandeBoom, founder and CEO, ActiveCampaign

Ask most marketers what they do, and they will start off by talking about content marketing, point of sale material and the leads they generate and pass to sales. They are focused on promotion, one of the four Ps of marketing first defined by E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960.

More strategic-minded marketers might talk about the other three P’s as well: their role in product development, pricing and the places, channels or locations through which their products are distributed. These are the levers that they have been taught to pull to drive growth for their businesses.

Where does customer experience fit into all this? In the minds of most marketers, it doesn’t — at least if they’re being honest. They might throw “CX” into a few keynotes or panel conversations. But actually designing, shaping and taking responsibility for what happens when somebody interacts with the business? That is a complex remit that they have been happy to leave to customer-facing teams.

Suddenly, this is changing. Customer experience is rapidly becoming more designable, more accessible and more creative. It is also impossible to ignore its importance to marketing. Experiences are what people buy, what people remember and what people talk about. They are fundamental to the product and the way it is promoted. They build brands.

Nobody understands this better than small businesses, so it is no coincidence they are driving a new experience-led approach to marketing. These organizations have an instinctive feel for consistently delighting customers, making the experience itself a reason to come back and a reason to recommend to others. What has changed is that they now have the tools to design and deliver experiences like this at scale. 

How SMBs are redefining digital customer experience

As a result of the COVID-19, many SMBs have had to find ways to do more with less, and one result is they have embraced automation. However, they have not done so through the big, legacy tech stacks that have dominated automated customer experiences in the past. Instead, they are using a new generation of nimble, accessible plug-and-play automation tools that are inherently flexible and easy to express themselves through.

Over the past year, people have come to expect businesses to remove as much friction as possible from the experience of visiting them. Rather than just dropping by a local nail salon or a hardware store, customers can get in touch via any number of channels (such as Facebook Messenger or live chat on a website), make a private appointment for a specific time or order a product they can pick up in a socially distanced way. Customers feel more confident and comfortable and, crucially, more engaged.

In the past, often when dealing with larger organizations, people have been forced to put up with automated customer experiences. They were a barrier that customers desperately tried to figure a way around when trying to speak to an actual person. But when designed and delivered by smaller businesses, automation is making it easier to connect, person to person, especially in times of change like the past year. Over the last year, this has shifted expectations about automated customer experiences. No longer an unwelcome downside to dealing with a few, large organizations, they have made it easier and more accessible to deal with a range of smaller ones.

New types of challengers and new approaches to customer experience

According to recent reports, customer experience has clearly been a focus for companies during the pandemic and quarantine. So much so that 60% of polled consumers said they’ve seen a positive shift to more robust CX during COVID-19. 

For smaller businesses digitizing operations for the first time, what will be essential to getting CX right is creating environments in which researching, ordering and customer support are seamless experiences. Customer experience helps small businesses build brands and scale, providing the freedom to grow while being run profitably, sustainably and in a way that puts customers first. This will help create new kinds of challenger brands across different categories. Marketers at larger businesses need to be ready to respond. In the following ways, they can take control of customer experience and steer clear of several old assumptions along the way.

  • It’s not a cost-cutting exercise. If marketers see automation primarily as a means of cutting costs and reducing the burden on customer facing teams, they are missing opportunities to create new experiences on new channels rather than replacing experiences customers want to have,such as talking to a human being when they have a problem. The goal is to design experiences that customers actually seek out. 
  • Automation supports personalization. Too many businesses assume that they should deliver personalization by automating every aspect of the customer journey. No technology, no matter how sophisticated, can personalize an experience for customers the way a well-informed human being can. Marketers should use automation to capture information, build up a profile of their customer’s journey and make sure sales and support teams know what the next best step should be.
  • Use technology as a creative canvas. The real potential of automation and digital customer experiences is to give creative-minded people access to more moments in their customers’ lives. This enables marketers to apply creativity to new areas: reaching out after a customer purchases, marking special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries and following up and checking in after they have visited the help pages of the company’s site. As a marketer, treating these moments as individualized media opportunities and focusing attention on what the brand should say (and how it should say it) during each of them is the benefit of a dynamic automated approach.
  • Plan to amplify advocacy. Many marketers talk enthusiastically about customer advocacy, but far fewer develop plans for capturing and scaling it. Automation is changing this through ways that include inviting satisfied customers to join online communities and following up on Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to generate case studies, reviews and referrals.

Marketers that aspire to create positive, memorable customer experiences know the impact these have on brand reputation, loyalty and revenues. However, they have mostly sought to influence them through indirect means, which is no longer enough. Marketers have an opportunity to take a direct role in designing the customer experiences that reflect and amplify their brand. If they do not rise to it, they will be left behind by those that do.

The post Why marketing can no longer ignore customer experience appeared first on Digiday.