Plugging the Relationship Gap

on June 10, 2015

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Building Lasting Relationships with the Always-On-Consumer – Part 2: Plugging the Relationship Gap

Consumer researchers say many companies don’t understand customer relationships and manage them unevenly, which leads to problems that damage the long-term relationship with customers. The authors of a Harvard Business Review research report titled Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships say many companies lack relational intelligence, meaning that they fail to understand “the variety of relationships customers can have with a firm and don’t know how to reinforce or change those connections.” In fact, in their analysis of consumer relationships in China, Germany, Spain, and the United States across more than 200 brands in 11 industries, the authors identified 29 distinct types of relationships. Relationship types can be positive or negative, distant or intimate, and intense or weak. Before companies can improve how they relate to customers—both existing and prospective ones—they need to understand the types of relationships they have with customers and customers’ expectations.

Today’s always-on consumer expects to be able to make purchasing decisions around the clock.

But because always-on consumers are multitasking—for example, checking their smartphones for information while watching a show on television—they are only partially engaged. The optimal time to engage a consumer can vary considerably, and there’s a fine line between accommodating a purchasing decision and disrupting one. A brand’s relationship with customers gets strengthened when messaging is tailored to the specific needs of each of those customers—on their terms and delivered through their preferred media. Successful brands tap into that with concise and targeted messages, delivered through various channels and appropriately timed in the forms of text messages, e-mails, tweets, and social media posts.

Keeping up with consumers in order to deliver to them an integrated experience requires innovative technology. Some companies have built their own in-house teams to develop best-in-class capabilities. A few examples from the big brands are @WalmartLabs, Amazon’s Lab126, and Zappos Labs. Whether the brand builds its own technology or uses an external source, the goal is to remain relevant to consumers. Such a level of investment in innovative technology must be supported by organizational maturity. And that necessitates moving from the traditional and transactional bow-tie team structure with functional silos and one point of contact between the company and its customers and partners and to the diamond model, which is networked and cross-functional and which has a number of points of contact.

Because of all of the data collected and the insights that can be extracted from all of the various sources of data, marketers must now collaborate differently.

Collaboration with a brand’s marketing counterparts, suppliers, and technology teams is essential for understanding and reaching the always-on consumer. As an example, for retailers the lines between off-line and online are blurry, and the boundaries are less clear between the functions and what teams do (referencing in-store teams from online teams). And they all have to come together to align marketing, research and development, finance, and other stakeholder groups.

In summary, before companies can improve how they relate to customers, they have to collaborate with all stakeholder groups to develop audience personae that portray always-on consumers and the types of relationships established with them. Conversations have to be more data driven in order to deliver results in such a dynamic environment, and investments in technology are essential if marketers are to become better listeners and support their decisions and approaches with data. For brand marketers, a major decision has to be made regarding whether to build their own in-house teams, or use external partners, or combine both in order to facilitate this level of organizational maturity.

Next: Plugging the Relationship Gaps: Learn How to Understand Customer Relationships and Expectations

Kara DegeorgisPlugging the Relationship Gap