What are the 3 biggest customer relationship marketing mistakes?

By Paula Tompkins on June 22, 2015
Paula Tompkins-Customer Relationship Marketing

Why do customers tell brands, “I’m just not into you anymore”? Anyone in the retail business knows that disappointing customers has harsh consequences, of which the worst result is not the lost revenue from the individual customer. The reputational damage from customers repeating their complaints to friends hurts the bottom-line more.

If you fail customers in a big way, 64% share damaging remarks on social media. The old adage of one unhappy customer tells 10 people about their bad experience is no longer true. Now, an unhappy customer can tell thousands in seconds.

Many leaders today feel the customer relationship marketing answer lies in digital transformations. As the founder of a technology company that has worked with hundreds of major brands, I can tell you without hesitation that technology is not the answer. Technology is only a part of the solution.

The answer? Steven Jobs said it best, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Most executives understand the importance of making a customer feel special. Yet, only 17% say they can deliver a personalized customer experience.

It is not changes to marketing or technology that have raised the bar for customer retention. It is the changes in customer behavior and buying preferences. And, millions of consumers are dissatisfied with their customer experiences.

Forrester reports nearly 70% of U.S. consumers reported an unsatisfactory service interaction during the past 12 months. Another study by Accenture reports even higher levels of dissatisfaction.

Accenture says 91% of customers are frustrated that a single issue requires multiple contacts to resolve. A whopping 89% are frustrated at having to repeat the same information to multiple employees or through multiple channels.

As with most normal relationships, there is more than one reason for a break up. In reverse order of importance, here are the top three reasons that I think customers walk away.

3.   You don’t listen to me.

Listening, or good communication, is huge in any relationship. It is a foundational principle that organizations need to honor with their customers. An organization cannot claim to have good communication, when it frustrates a customer with conflicting messages. Or when a company makes a customer disconnect (online or on the phone), and directs them to contact another part of the business.

Communication challenges are even bigger for corporations with retail outlets because so many departments (sales, service, marketing, catalogs, etc.) plus the channel partners (store, dealer or franchisee, etc.) interact with consumers. There are many customer touch points — call centers, websites, social media channels, brick and mortar locations, catalogs, sales, and service.

The IT systems of the various departments and the channel partners are rarely integrated. Additionally, the organizations lack customer-centric processes. A third of marketers admit to managing these touch points in silos. (Based on my experience, I suspect the actual number is much higher.)

Most corporations and their channel partners lack a lifecycle communication strategy to drive customer loyalty in a coordinated manner. In fact, a recent study says less than two-fifths (38%) of marketers understand the customer journey.

The result is that consumers receive multiple messages and poorly timed impersonal communications that are not relevant.

To fix communication breakdowns, a brand needs to map the customer lifecycle. It is important that leaders understand the total customer experience, from the first contact to consideration, purchase, use and repurchase. Only then can a company build a customer relationship marketing plan to integrate the touch points in a meaningful way.

2.   You don’t make me feel special.

No one likes to be taken for granted in their relationships, and customers are no different. Personalization combined with well-timed, relevant information is what makes a customer feel special.

Most executives understand the importance of making a customer feel special. 70% of executives participating in a Forrester study believe personalization is of strategic importance. Yet, only 17% say they can deliver a personalized customer experience. They say the issue is the inability to access data in a relevant way.

An enterprise-wide data strategy identifies the information necessary for delivering a personal experience and includes all the lifecycle touch points for a customer. Unfortunately, many organizations lack an enterprise-wide data strategy.

Companies do not need to ditch their legacy systems or develop customer relationship management systems that hold all the data. Modern technology can make any siloed data that is critical to the customer journey accessible to both the customer and the organization. What is important is identifying what data is the right data. Frequently, the call centers know the answer to the data questions.

We know the technology exists to make a customer feel special. Leadership knows better communication is a strategic imperative. Yet, customer experiences are still not good enough.  Improving the customer experience is so important that 89% of business leaders believe it should be their primary focus, not product innovation.

1.  Your controlling behavior is a turn-off.

The root of customer break-ups is the territorial approach stemming from the various departments and strategic partner(s). Each one believes they ‘own’ the customer. These messy customer custody battles choke retention opportunities and diminish any hope of an omnichannel solution. While every department is a stakeholder, not every department can be the owner.

Someone must clearly drive the customer relationship for the brand-side. I do not think anyone can ‘own’ a relationship in the first place. Relationships are two-way streets and controlling behaviors alienate people — the customers and your business associates and partners.

What companies need is one person that serves as an empowered consumer advocate that is responsible for the customer experience. Someone from the business side — not IT. Ideally, the consumer advocate would report to the CEO and have budget. Frequently, I see this role get the responsibility without any budget. No budget equals failure.

Case studies and my own experience reveal that merely designating a customer advocate role to the CMO or creating a chief customer officer is not enough.  The customer advocate needs backing. Success depends on the C-suite setting specific improvement targets across the organization and/or tying bonuses and incentive plans to customer experience KPIs.  Alone and without budget, this role will not break down the silos that inhibit and stunt communication.

I believe the customer advocate’s main objectives are two-fold. They need to involve the channel partners in solution development and to build stronger more collaborative partnerships across the organization.

The fact is that customers really own the business relationship. Companies who understand this will reap the benefits in dollars and reputation.

The original version of this article was published in the Customer Experience Report on June 14, 2015. Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder of ChannelNet, is a digital marketing and sales expert. ChannelNet has helped hundreds of the world’s leading companies use technology to sell their products and build customer relationships.


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