Four trends in customer approach
Customers increasingly decide where, when and how they buy things. That implies that they are in control, and their expectations are ever higher. If you can’t meet their expectations, they will turn to your competitors without looking back. How can companies tie customers to their businesses?
Customer engagement is key, as it leads to increased customer loyalty. In today’s market, four trends will boost your chances of designing the ultimate customer engagement approach.

 
Trend 1: digital marketing and big data
I regularly receive a newsletter from a clothes brand. It is visually appealing, but the content is relevant to the company itself, not to me. If I’ve just bought three pairs of pants and a sweater last Saturday, for example, I don’t want to receive an email the next day offering me a 15% discount if I order a new pair of pants.
 
To avoid embarrassing situations like this, businesses must put their customers, not their own organisations, in the spotlight. If you know your customers, you can impact their behaviour – or at least cater to it and think one step ahead. By approaching them intelligently, you will increase conversion. The big data collected via marketing automation can be analysed to achieve smart insights that lead to personalised marketing. This saves you from sending an awkward purchase push to a customer who has just filed a complaint; acting intelligently means sending a discount voucher or a personal message.
 
Trend 2: new business models
By combining customer insights with innovative technologies, you could win new business.  Customers are at the centre of your approach: how can the information you have about their behaviours and needs help you offer them relevant extra services? Just one example: think of a smart electric toothbrush that analyses users’ brushing behaviours and keeps track of how long they brush their teeth (via an app). The toothbrush will know when the brush heads need replacement, and the new heads can be send to the customer at the right time. Companies should, in other words, seek smart cross- and upsell opportunities.
 
Trend 3: direct-to-consumer
Producers increasingly target end customers, skipping the wholesale and retail channels in the supply chain. Pretty tricky, as resellers feel left out. Producers, however, claim that this approach helps generate name recognition, thus leading to higher demand and, in turn, benefits for the resellers too. 
 
The direct-to-consumer trend also impacts the customer experience. IKEA, for example, regularly posts pictures of cushions on Facebook, asking which cushion its followers like best. Based on the results, IKEA decides to produce – or not produce – a particular model. IKEA benefits from fast, reliable market research while customers feel valued and involved in the brand.
 
Another clear trend is the growing interest in ordering personalised products directly from the manufacturer. On the Nike website and in Nike stores, for example, Nike lovers can customise their sneakers or sports shoes. Converse takes it one step further still: in its SoHo, New York City flagship store, customers can design their own shoes in three steps, returning two hours later to pick them up. Cost: USD 200.
 
This type of customisation requires a fairly complex e-commerce platform, intelligent product information management, advanced back office systems, etc. Yet as soon as these can ‘talk’, they deliver a wealth of information about your customers, ensuring that they will only see the products they like. Voila, no more embarrassing approaches, and customers who appreciates your personal touch.
 
Trend 4: IT and the business
Finally, to ensure the best customer experience, you need a neatly structured IT landscape. Sure, your business teams can choose a specific tool or solution themselves without consulting the IT team, but it would be a shame if that solution is hard to integrate and manage from an IT point of view.  Make sure you don’t end up with a tangled mess of systems and tools.
 
Instead, it’s best to let the IT department proactively propose ideas and solutions, discussing with the administration, marketing, etc. teams how and when they can choose their tools themselves.
 
By translating your strategy into IT needs, you can determine its impact on your organisation’s IT architecture. In this way, an organisation can build a robust technological foundation that allows it to swiftly respond to new ideas, opportunities and developments related to designing the best customer experience. 
 
Get started with customer engagement
Customers are at the centre of everything, and organisations have to adapt their strategies accordingly. Thinking outside the box is key here. Embarking upon an omnichannel strategy without any customer know-how is not the way to go. Investing in IT and applications makes no sense without a clear vision of how to deliver the best customer experience. 
 
To sum up, creating customer engagement is more than simply implementing a series of tools. It all starts with a strategy that is based on customer know-how. By analysing customer data, you will gain insights that can lead to new business models. These insights will also reveal if you should approach your customers directly vs. create involvement through, for example, loyalty and/or gamification. In other words, we have to change course, and this is the right time to embrace customer engagement – with both business and IT at the steering wheel.