The message today is the same as it was 10 years ago: Your most important customer is the one you already have. But the tactics through which you retain, satisfy, and impress your current customers have dramatically changed. It’s critical, as a business, to go beyond traditional marketing to integrating customer service and marketing in order to create a customer experience before people even try your product or service… and long after they have tried it.

Many companies cannot keep up with what Altimeter Group analyst and author Brian Solis has termed “Digital Darwinism,” which is when technologies and societies advance faster than businesses can adapt. Without adapting to technology and society, you cannot create the right message in the right medium for your core customers. Solis points out that the churn of businesses in and out of the Fortune 1000 list is increasing as businesses fail to listen to and engage with their customers in the ways their customers expect.

When you boil all of this down, the most important thing to create for your customer is an integrated, positive, defined experience across every touchpoint in the dynamic customer journey. I was lucky enough to ask Brian a few questions about his latest book What’s the Future of Business, and here’s what he had to say:

Without alignment between customer service and marketing, it’s difficult to create the experience your customers want and need to remain loyal. What are some of the ways companies are bridging the gap? When it comes down to the details, what are they actually doing to achieve synchronization?

Your question touches upon something that I believe represents the immediate future of business and it’s also the main premise of the new book. Right now, businesses are exploring new technology with both excitement and skepticism. Many are doing so without a greater understanding of customer needs or expectations, their overall journey throughout the lifecycle, and most important, without a common vision for a holistic or converged experience. To that end, the answer is bigger than customer service and marketing. It’s everything at every touch point. Consumerism is changing and businesses have not given enough thought to the role technology plays in decision-making and relationships.

You reference the first mile of customer engagement as being the most important. What are some brands that do this in a way that is replicable and extraordinary in your mind?

I’m not sure I’m looking for examples that are replicable, but I do believe extraordinary is the key word. It means remarkable, which implies special. When you study extraordinary companies, what set them apart is often the LF… the leadership factor.

Sephora, for example, is one of the brands that’s leading the way toward the digital experience. The company recently invested in an entirely new shopping experience that integrates mobile, social, and in store activity. Starbucks is also exploring the art and science of integration. The company recently appointed its first Chief Digital Officer. As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says, the company isn’t in the coffee business, it’s in the experience business. Once you shift perspective to see the bigger picture, you can then take steps toward synchronization. But everything begins with looking beyond products and services to then define how they (along with your customers) align within a greater ecosystem.

How can paid media work with owned and earned to add to a brand experience instead of being “the insurance salesperson” at the party?

This is such a great analogy. I will say though that some of my insurance salesperson friends are among the best to have at a party. :)

With that said, it comes back to the last point about experiences. Part of the challenge with paid, earned, and owned media is that each often reside in different departments with mismatched goals and metrics. When you aspire to deliver an intentional and integrated experience, each group needs to work with one another. This is why Starbucks is in the experience business. They’re not alone. When asked what business Virgin Group is in, founder Richard Branson replied:

“The experience business. Anybody can sell a cup of coffee. Anyone can buy an airplane and we all buy planes from the same manufacturers (Boeing or Airbus), but there the difference stops. If you fly on a Virgin plane… you know you’re going to have a completely different experience.”

When we think about media in this context, it’s less about how it can work together and more about, as you asked, how it can add to the brand experience. With Starbucks and Virgin, media becomes an extension of the business vision and mission. Leadership and DNA is more important than ever before. And, if it doesn’t exist within the organization, it’ll come down to you as the champion. Someone has to make the case and if it’s not you, then who will it be?

  • Irfan Elahi

    Really great post articulating the core semantics of today’s consumers evolved experiences which has become highly complex specially because of the rise of social media. We’ve also blogged some insightful statistics about this in our startup’s blog which is focused in leveraging consumer purchasing journeys by rendering interactive smartness in local retail industry and assume that you would appreciate the read as well:

    http://towntawks.com/blog/2013/04/04/marketing-vs-customer-experience-facts-statistics/