A significant portion of marketing strategy has shifted toward being customer-centric, emphasizing the relationship between a business and its target audiences rather than just the high quality of products and services. This trend is exemplified in the e-commerce arena by the growing importance of personalization as well as targeted deals. However, according to Forrester principal analyst James McQuivey, organizations need to take things further to build "the ultimate customer relationship."
Creating positive relationships with customers has become much more complex due to the number of touchpoints between brands and their target audiences. As McQuivey aptly noted, the ultimate customer experience must be able to accommodate in-person interactions as well as the wide range of digital ones that are now available.
"Need new technical abilities? You'll find that out quickly as you try to build a digital relationship. Need a new organizational approach to the customer? Need to develop new products? All of this will become crystal clear once you move beyond your brand relationship and try to build the ultimate customer relationship," McQuivey wrote.
The foundation for such a relationship is delivering value to customers and doing so in a way that actually engages them with the company. For example, McQuivey highlighted the Starbucks Rewards system. This allows customers to accumulate points and earn free drinks for regularly participating in the program. What makes this initiative successful is the focus on convenience. Users can create accounts on the Starbucks website to view their point balances and review the rewards they may be able to earn.
A strategy for digital connection
One of the barriers to achieving better customer relationships is the impact of technology. As McQuivey noted, many organizations are unsure of where to focus, and this is true for business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies. For instance, developing a customer-facing mobile application requires a certain degree of maturity in technical infrastructure as well as software development expertise. Should organizations that do not already have those resources make investments to release the app? The decision-making process becomes even more complex when considering the myriad choices that can go into a large-scale digital engagement project. Ultimately, the right strategy will depend on the unique needs of a given organization.
It will be helpful to assess current capabilities and identify the organization's strong points - this is where internal teams should initially focus. When considering the weaker areas, stakeholders will need to assess how to best fill in the gaps. It may make sense to hire additional staff for an initiative that could become a foundational element for the business. For other projects, outsourcing IT service may be more cost effective and allow internal teams to better utilize their strengths.
Particularly for expanding organizations, cloud computing solutions are likely to enter the discussion. Imagine being able to quickly deploy new IT resources to completely revamp the website or leverage cloud storage to enable collaboration among a global marketing team. Of course, enthusiasm for these capabilities must be met with some objectivity. Organizations will need to ensure their IT teams have the necessary tools to monitor usage and keep costs under control. Otherwise, the expenses associated with the cloud can outpace the technology's value.
A thorough partner-vetting framework and appropriate strategy for implementation enables IT to complement the strengths of a given organization. For example, Massage Envy recently found itself struggling to innovate as the business grew. Baseline magazine reported that the need to consistently maintain Web-based scheduling tools for numerous locations took up a large amount of time.
"The choice was either to staff up as we grew or to look for a strategic partnership that would allow us to better expand the business," Massage Envy CIO Dan Miller told the news source. "The decision to outsource day-to-day infrastructure and operations has allowed us to incubate new and better technologies that advance the business."
As industries such as cloud computing become more competitive, many vendors are looking to add value beyond their technical deployments. This means vendors are acting more like technology partners by providing insight into how their services can be implemented to best fit their customers' goals. In Massage Envy's case, its service provider allowed the company to enhance disaster recovery and business continuity, Baseline reported. Where as the organization formerly had to shut down its systems for upgrades, it can now keep mission-critical processes running. Additionally, shifting some of the routine maintenance to the cloud enabled Massage Envy to develop new apps to improve the value it provided to customers.
Organizations adopting managed services will need to take the time to consider how a third party's expertise and resources can fit into an overall IT strategy. While some may choose to fully outsource software, those with the need for customization and control may find more value in cloud infrastructure they can use to build out their own software resources. The key factor to keep in mind in the digital relationship-fueled world is how to keep business running smoothly while delivering the most value to the customer.
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