Merkle Global CEO Craig Dempster Defines Customer Experience For 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic had a “tremendous” effect on the need for brands to transform their customer experience. It acted as an accelerator, said Craig Dempster, global CEO at Merkle, a performance-based marketing agency.

“In the past eight months, ecommerce has grown the same amount it had grown in the past 10 years, collectively,” Dempster said.

Companies that invested heavily prior to the pandemic by leveraging data, digital experiences, and created great experiences for consumers were huge winners if they weren’t in an industry like travel. Those companies that under-invested will realize the competitive advantage of brands that did invest, and will invest a lot more next year.

Merkle’s Imperatives Services, published for the past 10 years, provide a guidebook to help businesses prepare for these types of strategies in the year ahead. The tumultuous year of 2020 gave the annually published imperatives a sharp focus on strategies that competitive organizations need to adopt in 2021 around customer experience.



“Data transformation, digital transformation and organizational agility are the three imperatives companies must get right to deliver the complete customer experience,” said Craig Dempster, global CEO at Merkle. “We rebranded the imperative to reflect change."

And rightfully so. The 2021 Customer Experience Imperatives — The Formula For Customer Experience Transformation — looks into customers, the most important asset, as well as data and technology advancements that are required to keep pace.

It’s no longer all about the CMO. This year’s Imperatives have expanded to become a guide for CMOs, CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, COOs—all those responsible for owning and maximizing the customer experience.

Customer lifetime value is one of the new key metrics the industry has begun to analyze to determine the value of a customer portfolio.

“Often we get stuck in campaign-related metrics, like how did this campaign perform and what was the response rate associated with it, or how much revenue or new sales the campaign drove,” he said. “All important metrics, but at the end of the day it’s about having a campaign portfolio of loyal customers in which you have significant share of wallet. The better portfolio, the better returns.”

Organizations need to use data to create the fuel that cultivates customer connections. As cloud technologies like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure become enterprise-wide efficient data management platforms for customer experience data, he said, more data can be stored in real-time for customer interactions.

Previously, companies would build a siloed marketing database and have limited feeds coming into it.

Using cloud technology, the amount of data that companies can bring in becomes much greater.

As technology stacks like Salesforce and Adobe begin to integrate more of their services, this builds a unified toolset the data can flow into and greater frequency hit customer touchpoints.

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning on top of that data allows more one-to-one interactions to learn in real-time rather than developed models that do not continually learn.

As brands and retailers experienced this year, consumers no longer think of shopping as “going to the store” -- particularly thanks to mobile phones.

The imperative notes that it has become very important to break out of the previous ways of thinking about a linear path to purchase. An arc of expertise with specific capabilities is needed to ensure a brand or retailer possesses the tools required to meet the expectations of the modern consumer.

The most important point to remember is that digital transformation is not about putting digital first in a media plan, or about having a better website. And it doesn’t just happen because customers come to a website.

The imperative states that “the next wave of digital transformation is about business and operating transformation. It is thinking about new ways to meet your customers where they want to engage. It is about putting the customer’s motivations before the brand. And it is about being centered on delivering every experience in a way that is informed by what you know about a customer, is built to serve their needs, and is dynamic enough to pivot in a flash, when a customer needs change.”

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