The Martech Challenge: The digital revolution has transformed how marketers reach and engage customers, as well as the tools needed to be effective.  In this series brought to you by Sailthru, we look at how to meet martech challenges head on — exploring cross-channel marketing, innovation, customer experience, email marketing and other topics essential to today’s marketers. See the whole series here

Back in the golden era of the consumer age, it was commonplace to walk into a store and have a salesperson recognize you. He knew your name, your tastes, and even made personal recommendations. In the pre-internet days, stores like Selfridges and Nordstrom built their culture around customer service.

But then the Internet came along and things changed. Many companies began to neglect their customers. They turned instead to pushing product over experience. They had this idea — and many still do — that if you cast a wide enough net, some will buy. The result was a deluge of emails and ads. Few have moved away from this approach and the result is less omnichannel marketing and more omnichannel pestering. Annoyed customers unsubscribe, block ads, mark emails as spam, and ultimately, exit the sales funnel.

But retail is going back to its roots. Contrary to what some may think, personalized service in retail is not dead and gone. Not only is it possible in the digital age, but in a world where so many companies are selling similar products, customer experience is once again the critical differentiator.

According to Gartner, by 2018, companies that invest in personalization will outsell their competitors by 20 percent. And interestingly, nearly all companies (89 percent) surveyed by Gartner in a separate study said they believe customer experience will be their primary basis for competition by 2016. Retail thought leaders are heralding this new age, when in fact, it’s always been this way for consumers who never stopped believing that they are, in fact, always right; it’s just marketers and technology that are now catching up to being able to deliver on this digitally.

The three building blocks of customer centricity

A successful customer experience is all about relevancy — sending consumers content that is meaningful to them and coordinating messages across email, the Web, call centers, and other channels. In fact, when it comes to reaching consumers, relevancy is the new currency.

“Many businesses think they can send a mass campaign to everyone and that will be good enough, but data we’re analyzing from retailers proves otherwise,” explains Neil Capel, Founder and Chairman of Sailthru, a marketing personalization company. “You’ve got to deliver messages that are personalized, relevant, and at the right frequency, otherwise you annoy consumers, and they just leave. By focusing on creating a modern experience, brands can increase customer lifetime value by 20 percent and individual channel revenue, like email, by 70 percent.”

Customer centricity is founded on three essential building blocks — and all three need to work together to generate customer engagement and loyalty.

1. Get their individual attention

If you want to get a consumer’s attention, speak to her about the things she cares about. You don’t want to push children’s toys to someone whose children are out of the home. Likewise, you’ll have limited success pitching camping gear to someone with a Woody Allen-type phobia about the wilderness.

Get to know your customers as individuals, not as marketing segments. Learn about their preferences, hobbies, and favorite vacation spots. This requires a 360-degree view of the customer based on deterministic behaviors and interests from your direct interactions with each individual and using those insights to communicate deals and information that perk up their ears.

The Clymb, an Internet Retailer Top 500 company, recently increased email revenue by 71 percent and revenue per send by 175 percent by combining their email and onsite data to serve personalized email recommendations and advance segmentation by predicting which customers will purchase in the next 24 hours and 7 days. They’re proving that treating customers as individuals delivers significant revenue.

2. Add value

People like to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, whether it’s buying something on sale or receiving exceptional customer experience. Good value equals a high quality product, an item that ships right away, and addressing customer concerns promptly without having to ask the same questions over and over —  it converys that you know them and their history.

It also means standing behind your product, solving customer problems at every stage of the game, whether it’s in processing a return, locating a hard-to-find item, or understanding what a customer’s interests are so you can deliver personalized and appropriate offers in your ongoing marketing efforts.

3. Be consistent

Consistency is probably one of the biggest challenges brands now face. Today, consumers interact with brands through a multitude of channels and devices. A consumer might be watching an ad for a product on TV while simultaneously doing research on a laptop to learn more about that product or to find the best price.

Your job as a brand is to deliver an experience that is seamless across all those channels. Whether you’re engaging with a customer through your website, email, or push notifications from a mobile app, the messages you send out should be clear, consistent, and all based on a single view of the customer.

“It’s not about looking at this vast trove of data out there and trying to find the little signals that personalize the experience,” says Capel. “It’s about the depth and the quality of the data that exists on the individual customer and having the systems in place to act on it that makes a difference and creates competitive advantage.”

Putting your customers first means characterizing them as more than just a transaction. It means learning about each customer individually and basing a relevant, valuable, and consistent strategy around that. By fostering a dialog with customers, smart brands can ensure their customers will return again — and again.

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