My wife and I communicate with each other quite a bit, as you might expect. We chat in person, talk on the phone, text each other, exchange emails, leave sticky notes — you get the idea. That’s pretty standard for any modern relationship. We aren’t confined to a single channel of communication. But imagine if I couldn’t remember anything about what we discussed from one conversation or exchange to the next. What would happen if we talked on the phone during the day, but I couldn’t remember what she had said to me in person that morning? What if she texted me to add one more detail to an email conversation we had earlier, and I didn’t know what she was talking about. She would feel like I didn’t value what she told me in a way that could jeopardize our relationship — or, at the very least, she’d think I wasn’t very smart anymore.

Much like my relationship with my wife, your relationships with your customers or potential customers aren’t confined to a single channel. Customers interact with you in person, at a store or in a branch location. They talk to you on the phone through your call centers or with your salespeople. They visit your website, use your mobile app, read your emails, receive your push notifications, interact with your chatbots, etc.

And while it’s ridiculous to think that I wouldn’t be able to remember interactions with my wife across channels, it’s commonplace for businesses to forget their customers or treat them like strangers. Can you say you have the ability to recognize and remember your customers in each channel? If not, they may be thinking you don’t value your relationship with them — or that you aren’t very smart.

Bad cross-channel marketing is common.

If you struggle with effective cross-channel communication with your customers and prospects, the good news is that you’re not alone. Recognizing and remembering someone across channels isn’t easy. More often than not, though, I see companies not even trying.

Recently, I bought a new basketball hoop for my son. Of course, I didn’t just buy the first one I found. I spent several days looking for the right one. I visited one retailer’s site on both my laptop and my phone several times over those few days. Surprisingly, at no point during my research did the site ever acknowledge that I was clearly researching basketball hoops, nor did it try to help me find the right one. After I bought a hoop, none of the emails I received from the retailer (aside from my order confirmation) acknowledged my recent purchase or my interest in basketball. Rather, they were all generic emails that everyone else on the mailing list received.

This problem isn’t confined to retail. It’s a cross-industry struggle. For example, when I was researching banks to refinance my mortgage, I spent a lot of time reviewing information from my regular bank. I did research on the website, I talked to a person on the phone, and I received emails from the bank throughout the whole process. None of the digital channels ever recognized what I was trying to do or guided me to any relevant resources — even though I was singularly focused on mortgage refinancing for several weeks. I ended up selecting another bank.

I know that none of these companies want to treat me like they don’t know or understand me. They would love to be able to recognize what I’m trying to do and help me accomplish it no matter which channel I’m in. It’s just that it’s hard to do.

Good cross-channel marketing is hard.

Why is it hard? Your channels have all evolved independently over time. As a result, you have different systems to power each channel. The key to recognizing and understanding each person across channels lies in customer data, and unfortunately, the data from each channel is siloed. You have tools to power your website and separate tools to analyze website data, systems to support your mobile app, technology to set up and manage your email campaigns, and systems for your call center and for your in-store/in-branch operations. There may be a few links between them to share data that you’ve developed over the years, but by and large, they remain separate.

And it’s not just the technologies. Organizations and teams are structured around different channels too. You have your web team, your email team, your mobile team, your in-store staff, etc. It’s not that these teams don’t interact, it’s just that structuring your organization like this encourages you to think about these channels separately.

But your customers don’t. They think about your company as a single unit, not as separate channels. Each time they visit your website or receive an email from you, they consider it as part of one single experience with your company.

The good news is the technology exists today to treat customers to a consistent and relevant experience across channels, so it no longer makes sense to act like you don’t know them.

Related: 10 Proven Ways Good Leaders Build Trust With Their Employees

It’s worth it to be better at cross-channel coordination.

In the inContact Customer Experience Transformation Benchmark Study conducted in 2017, consumers reported on 4,700 interactions from 15 industries across channels such as inbound/outbound calls, email, chat, social, online self-service and more. The study found that less than half of consumers — just 42 percent — are satisfied with their experiences regardless of channel, and that 72 percent of consumers expect companies to know their purchase history, regardless of how or where they’re interacting with the company. Essentially, customers want you to know them no matter where they are.

So how do you show customers that you recognize and remember them regardless of channel? It starts with the right technology. You need a centralized system that can bring all of your customer data together to create a single picture of each person. Ideally, that same system can act on the data in each channel, or at least enable your other systems to act on it. That means that your website and your mobile app can access the data to determine the best experience for each person based on what you know about her needs. Your emails leverage the same data to select content to include in each email to each person. Your call center and in-store/in-branch staff can access the same data to recognize each person they speak with and respond with relevant information. And so on.

It’s certainly a lofty dream, and it will take some time before companies perfect it, but some companies are on their way. When I was talking about this problem with my team, one of my employees told a story about when she was researching auto insurance while logged into USAA’s website. When she called into USAA’s phone line sometime later, she was immediately asked if she wanted to speak with someone about auto insurance. That’s a great example of a company recognizing someone from one channel to the next. The company proactively helped her conduct research by removing the need for her to go through phone menu options and explain her needs to someone on the phone. She had already demonstrated her intent online, so there’s no need for her to explain it again.

Auction site Invaluable is another great example. It uses data stored centrally to deliver relevant recommendations for items, categories or upcoming auctions that each individual may be interested in across each of its channels — email, website, mobile, etc. Each time a person interacts with the company from any of those channels, the data is accumulated and analyzed in a central location so that it can be used to select the content most likely to appeal to each person regardless of channel.

Related: Advice From Real Entrepreneurs on Starting Your Own Business

Final thoughts.

In this new year, give some thought to how you’re treating your customers and prospects. It may take time to build the technological and organizational links to make cross-channel communication possible, so start today. Recognizing and understanding your customers is the first step to creating a winning customer experience — because it never makes sense to treat people like strangers when you know them.


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