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Yes, the customer is always right; but how do we know what they really want?

Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the famous London department store, is credited with coining the phrase ‘the customer is always right’. This simple saying has been a business mantra for well over a century, and is now firmly at the epicenter of any modern marketer’s strategy.

Yet one of the most hotly discussed topics at our recent World Tour event in London focused on how to understand and deliver what customers actually want. It’s still pretty common practice to have separate marketing, sales and customer service departments, when really they should all feed into the same customer journey. As a result, B2B marketers face the perfect storm: dealing with always-connected customers -- who simply don’t care about what channel they’re using, and just want a single brand experience -- while relying on traditional customer engagement approaches that still reflect siloed business structures.

It’s time to break free

This all means that today’s customer journeys require new, smarter ways of engaging across all departments. Fortunately, to track this shifting relationship, CRM and other marketing automation systems have been evolving. Systems of record have been replaced by systems of engagement, as retrospective reports on one-way transactions have made way for living, breathing records of two-way interactions. And today, with added data science, these systems have become intelligent

The result: every interaction with every customer, whether they are a business or a consumer, can now be smart, personal and consistent. Marketers that are trying to keep up with their always-connected customers can take advantage of these intelligent systems to manage the entire customer journey.

Enlisting the help of technology

Then, solutions are available to help marketers understand what their customers really want. Let’s take Room & Board as an example. By analysing data on customer buying habits, the US furniture retailer discovered that customers browse online at weekends but often hold off making a purchase. Acting on this information, the company shifted its marketing email from midweek to Monday, focusing on products people had browsed for over the weekend. Email open rates leapt 225% from January 2014 to May this year as a result.

Another example comes from Fitbit, the maker of wearable activity trackers. Fitbit engages with customers from the moment they download its app. Instant email contact drives utilisation and brand loyalty by creating social connections with online friends already using Fitbits, as well as an up-selling opportunity. 

By harnessing insight and information, marketers are now able to communicate in more targeted, relevant ways and offer more attractive offers. Goodbye generic, poorly performing campaigns, and hello cut-through communications that say the right things to the right people. This data-based approach also makes measurement much clearer and simpler too.

Marketing has always been about customers, but now marketers have access to data and technical tools that can help them engage with customers right the way through their journey. Today, the idea that ‘the customer is always right’ is still about listening to the customer. It’s just that technology has changed the nature of this conversation to one that better understands what the customer is looking for.