Last week, relationship marketing expert Elaine Gamble took us through the new meaning of consumer engagement and how it relates to the new wave of relationship marketing. She says that in order for marketers to be successful in customer engagement, they must look at it as a two-way communication with their consumers, providing information while demonstrating they are listening and driving ongoing, sustained interest in a next interaction. Check out her second post here.

For our third post in our relationship marketing series, Elaine provides her perspective on consumer experience. She shares her wisdom on customer experience excellence with tips on implementing a successful consumer experience strategy within your organization.

What is consumer experience excellence?

In my first post, I provided a definition of relationship marketing:

A business strategy that maximizes the value of products and profitably boosts retention via 1:1 communication, customer preferences, two-way engagement, and collaboration with your customers, bringing new value over time.

As discussed, relationship marketing is not about selling, or why my product is better than yours–it involves partnering, collaborating, and actively building value together with your customer in a manner that is meaningful to them (as perceived by the customer).

As we consider this relationship marketing definition, it is easy to see why relationship marketing would be essentially inseparable from the consumer experience. In a nutshell, consumer experience is:

The cumulative impact, both emotional and tangible, of all the encounters and interactions a customer has with an organization over time.

For many brands, consumer experience refers to the servicing infrastructure or process behind the consumer journey (e.g. customer service, consumer care). The key guiding principles for consumer experience excellence include: Reliability, Convenience, Responsiveness and Relevance.

Why Consumer Experience Excellence is Crucial for Brands

An excellent customer experience has many benefits, including driving higher repeat purchase and customer loyalty. Consumer experience is also a key enabler/’pillar’ of relationship marketing excellence:

– Consumer experience excellence demonstrates an organization can deliver what they promise–the consumer has the opportunity to see you in action first hand. Hence, it represents the essence of building relationships, establishing trust, and bringing value that is meaningful to the consumer

– Relationship Marketing is not about selling and a satisfying consumer experience potentially frees an organization from the shackles of having to constantly sell to get revenue (my product is better because of XYZ, my price is better, I’ve got a better deal than XYZ brand, etc.). A memorable and satisfying consumer experience may prompt the consumer to consider a purchase with you without your having to work as hard on the sell. You’ve differentiated your product or service in other intangible ways through your interactions. You’ve earned their trust and the right to have a relationship with them

– Consumer experience excellence enables companies to escape the inertia trap–consumers stay with you because they truly believe in the relationship they have with you and have trust in your marketing promise (they do not stay because they haven’t had a chance to leave yet or are afraid to do so, inertia)

– Opt-In is a key enabler of relationship marketing business return (aka “hand-raisers”). Consumers may be much more receptive to opt-in for future marketing messages and cross-sell/upsell when requested in a consumer experience/service context (helpfulness, etc.). Although it is possible to understand and act on consumer preferences without opt-in (e.g. digital, cookies), the most passionate customers and responders are hand-raisers, those that made a conscious choice to receive your marketing messages. Using customer experience to drive opt-in directly supports your ability to deliver response and business return in relationship marketing. In my experience, hand-raisers have a response rate that is 70% higher vs. non-hand-raisers

How can you leverage consumer experience to support ongoing relationship marketing initiatives?

– Request opt-in for marketing messages during the consumer experience (email, mobile). This can be positioned as helpfulness; as discussed, opt-in is a key enabler of relationship marketing excellence

– If you have a product training or servicing infrastructure with steps or several parts, determine which part of the customer experience is most meaningful to your consumers and make this the focus of follow-up relationship marketing messages/engagement. This potentially demonstrates you are listening and collaborating, especially if the focus is the most satisfied audiences (based on net promoter scores, etc.)

– It is customary to issue a satisfaction survey after consumer experience interactions.  Along with collecting the survey, sharing what you learned with consumers is a way to foster collaboration and ongoing trust, enabling two-way communications (key relationship marketing principles)

– If someone was not satisfied with their consumer experience, spend some time in your relationship marketing exploring this with your customer (via a sequence of touchpoints, etc.). This can be communication that demonstrates you are listening, how you acted on the feedback, and how you want to be more helpful in the future. Inform the customer how he/she helped you to get better

– A sense of community is part of relationship marketing. Leverage a positive consumer experience to support a sense of community and the development of advocates. Actively engage satisfied customers in sharing their experience with others. In doing so, provide specific discussion areas/topics audiences can consider for their feedback. This will enable you to establish a stronger and more engaged group of advocates (not just people who would passively recommend or share a link)

As we consider the role of consumer experience in relationship marketing, we must remember two important tactical pieces. When a consumer opts-in, do not inundate them with sales emails after a positive consumer experience interaction (e.g. product offers). We defeat the purpose of building relationships if we immediately pull the trigger on too much communication, especially if unrelated to the task or context in which you engaged the customer.

We must also remember to be transparent about your strengths, opportunities, and insights gained from consumer experience–this should be part of your relationship marketing strategy and execution.

Consumer experience excellence is key to unlocking the business potential of relationship marketing and truly differentiating your product in ways other than the typical sales pitch or feature-driven messaging.

Look for Elaine Gamble’s next post in the relationship marketing series: the role of segmentation and customization in relationship marketing or check out the full Relationship Marketing eBook here.