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How do you take the theory of customer experience marketing and turn it into reality?
Like any good student of the trade you need to dedicate a fair amount of time to understanding the business inside and out. It is essential to be versed in the potential threats and opportunities that face the company. The best way to do this is to interview customers and the people at the coalface of the business. One hour with the one of the successful sales people will give you more insight into the customer than reading 100 pages of executive level company strategy. That is not to say you can ignore the strategy documents but the day to day experiences can only be identified through real-life examples.
It is the experiences of the sales, support and service people in an organization that will provide you with the context for how a future experience marketing campaign will look like. Listen carefully to the words they use to describe their experiences. They will most likely describe the experiences much better than any theoretical discussion could. These descriptions can easily be crafted into marketing stories, pitch lines, case studies, and even positioning statements.
The next step would be to meet with the customers and interview them about their needs. This is an obvious step but there are some considerations that will help make this a fruitful meeting. To really learn what your customers think you need to avoid being directed by opinion within the company. Different departments and managers will have different ideas about what is important for customers. In truth the most important constituency of customers is the group referred to as early adopters. Their opinion counts more than any of the other customer groups because they lead the trends in terms of product adoption.
Once you have some feedback from the customers who really matter begin working on evangelizing your new found knowledge within the company. The idea behind this step is to find your supporters within the company so you can build a stronger case for your experience marketing ideas. You will not always find that everyone is supportive of the new ideas or they may already be committed to other processes. Don’t waste your time trying to convert the high resistance people in your organization. Focus only on those that seem receptive and willing to listen. Think of this as a political campaign. Rather than wasting precious resources trying to get the extreme opposition over to your side, strengthen your relationships with the supporters and the undecided individuals. To make the evangelizing easier you may need to provide tools to pass onto others. This will help them not only understand how the experience marketing is understood by customers but how it can be replicated in several campaigns. Use your interviews to build a series of papers, emails, presentations and handouts to provide tangible tools for others to pass around and consider.
Usability studies are an ideal way to gather more hard evidence of how customers, partners or vendors experience your website and the company support structures behind that. Set up usability labs that allow you to video randomly selected customers attempting to complete a task on your company site. Ask them to order something, subscribe for something, change account details or simply find a particular product. By watching users do these things, it will give you immediate information about potential problems and bottlenecks in your processes. Take the feedback and divide it into three groups, "things we can change this week"; "things we can build into the next release"; and "things that are a major problem and need to be rebuilt". The less important changes will give you some momentum to help you tweak the website without disrupting the overall development schedule. Avoid fire alarm tactics at all costs. Don’t approach your development team with random feedback and demand immediate changes. They will not be cooperative.
In some cases you may want to develop a team of experts that can go out to customers on a regular basis and repeat this process again and again. The more feedback you have the better. For the benefit of building a long term case for implementing experience marketing changes or campaigns, keep all of your activities bound by metrics that you can measure against. This will make it easier for you to see results or measure the ROI of the changes.
Compile your feedback, usability results, measurements of any trial changes and interviews and make suggestions to the decision makers. There is a much higher chance of your suggestions being accepted if you included the decision makers are several stages in this process. Engage them from the beginning with your plans and follow up regularly with invitations to be part of the interviews or usability experiences. If they see the customers involved in the experience they too will buy into the suggestions you make.