The Evolving Customer Experience

While every marketer strives to create a positive customer experience, not every business is built on a model of delivering nirvana. For example, when was the last time you heard of a positive experience with an auto insurance claim?

Recently a friend of mine was side-swiped in his car by a taxi driver. He sustained no bodily damage, but his Lexus wasn't so lucky. The misfortune of the evening was compounded by his apprehension of what was certain to be a time-wasting ordeal in dealing with the insurance company and body shop.

When my friend contacted his insurance carrier, rather than hearing the expected laundry list of things he had to do, the company representative responded, "No problem sir, we handle this all the time. We'll take care of everything."

The insurance company orchestrated all of the pesky details. An appointment was made at a convenient body shop, the estimator and insurance company adjuster would be on site, and a rental car would be waiting. A few days later, my friend's car had been restored to mint condition. He ended up an extremely satisfied customer, and paid the company the ultimate compliment by saying that he would not switch insurers just to save a few dollars.



As my friend relayed the details of his experience, I was in awe -- finally, here was a company that actually got it! By perfecting its core competency, and by having a focus on the pulse of its customer base, knowing the customers' pain points, it was able to enhance and streamline processes, reducing the headaches associated with its core function. In doing so, company strategists positioned the firm as a leader within its market segment.

As email marketers, there are multiple lessons we can take away here. Each one ties back to the core theme: know your customer.

The first step in cultivating the ideal customer experience is based on what we know about the audience. Having a clearly defined and centralized data collection strategy directly translates into how successful and profitable an email program will be -- yet I am continually shocked at how many well-known brands treat data collection as secondary. Many marketers lose this focus, which leads to flawed execution. Here is a review of the fundamentals.

1) Focus on your core mission. Regardless of what product or service we may be selling, as email marketers our core competence is all about delivering email that is personal and relevant to the consumer. This begins with Data Collection 101 -- collecting the data you need now and in the immediate future to develop a meaningful dialogue with your audience.

2) Make it painless. Keep it simple to sign up for email. As a matter of best practice, make it easy to opt-in to your email communications. Include a sign-up opportunity on every page of your Web site, collecting at least the basic fields: first name, last name, zip code and, naturally, email address. Devise a structured data collection strategy that is designed to fill in the blanks over time via a series of surveys and interactive polls.

3) Ask them what they want. Trust that your audience knows best, and ask them what they want. Allow your customers to easily select their preferences, in terms of types of communications they would like to receive, as well as desired frequency. Involve your audience in your company's evolution. Survey your customers regularly to see what types of improvements, services or products would make the overall experience the most memorable. By keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience, you will deepen and enhance the relationship -- and keep them engaged and coming back for more.

4) Allow the process to evolve over time. Data collection is a process that, when done correctly, will continue to morph and improve with age. By incorporating all of the data you collect over time -- demographics, psychographics, historical/behavioral actions -- you will not only develop a true contextual conversation with your audience, but you'll be able to learn and implement improvements to your core services and products that will become a natural evolution.

Email marketing done well: with the right fundamentals, even a caveman can do it.

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