How Marketers Can Use Data to Create Great Customer Experiences

Zach Brooke
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Key Takeaways

​​What​? Marketers must be conversant in traditional disciplines and emerging technology.

So what? Those skills are necessary to deliver excellent customer and employee experiences.

Now what? Warren Tomlin of IBM says investing in employee experience is one of the most overlooked drivers of great customer experiences.

Feb. 15, 2017 

Quick: What skills do marketers need in 2017?

 An easier question to ask might be what’s not needed. Whether it’s classical business acumen, communications expertise or tech and data proficiency, there’s seemingly no tool that’s too specialized to be considered outside the realm of marketing.  

Learning to bridge those areas is the single most important task for 21st-century marketers, and, like any summit, can be demoralizing. But instead of focusing on outstanding proficiencies like a checklist, perhaps it’s better to focus on the goal of deploying those tools in tandem: experience. Warren Tomlin, chief experience officer for IBM, says that providing a better customer and employee experience is the North Start that all companies and individuals should chart their courses to. Then use their skills to set sail.

Register today for the FREE Customer Centricity Virtual Conference, featuring Warren Tomlin and Guy Kawasaki, taking place Feb. 22.

Q: What are the keys to great providing great experiences in 2017?

A: As leaders in 2017 and beyond we have to talk about the need to be bilingual and fluent in two languages. That’s not Spanish and English or English and French. It's really the language of strategy and business, and the language of technology. When you’re having a conversation with the CIO or the CTO about how they make experiences come to life they're worrying about words like scalable, secure, cloud-enabled, etc. And if you think about the chief digital officer or chief marketing officer they’re talking about acquisition and retention. Our view is that modern leaders need to be bilingual across those two languages because strategies unlock new possibilities for technology to deliver those strategies. It becomes a virtuous circle.

Q: What happens when not everyone speaks the same language?

A: We see these “random acts of digital” that have emerged. The analogy we often use is if you look across an organization it's almost like a campground at night. There is a glow from all the fires in a campground and all the campers are huddled around them. In some ways, that’s what is happening inside the organization. HR or product management or marketing or IT—they’re all standing at differing levels of maturity of digital efforts to try to get experience. But if you don't federate those into one bonfire that everyone coalesces around, then you’re sub-optimizing through these random acts of digital. When you bring them all together, great experiences don't happen by accident. The last best experience that anybody has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation everyone has for everywhere.

Q: Do you have any examples of great experiences you’ve help deliver to IBM clients?

A: We have a bank client where the CEO would go into the Apple store and repeatedly drop a pen or a pencil and then bend down to look under the tables and see how it’s all connected. He knew as he was redesigning the retail bank of the future that the last, best experience someone had in retail is arguably the Apple store. We have another financial services client that is using our cognitive capability in their contact center, so when you call them what are doing is taking all your information that you have with them and then they're building out a personality profile on you. When you call, they've also profiled their agents to personality type—they’re real-time queuing the calls to ultimately drive a better experience that will lead to a better outcome. That’s a lot of orchestration between technology and strategy and creativity.

Q: What is the role of the marketer in all of this?

A: My view is the CMO’s role was a strategic marketing role. At some point—with the dawn of the internet—it became subordinated to a chief marcom role, and a lot of decisions that were still being made were still being driven by IT.

Marketers are now coming to work with great technology in their pockets. They’re now coming to the CIO, CTO and saying this is what I want. I want these great consumer experiences at work. We've gone in 20 plus years from great, powerful computing and internet access at work and not being great at home, to employees and marketers going to work saying look why can’t I have all this [tech] at work when I can have it in my home life. It’s completely inverted. The role of the chief marketing officer now has emerged to be one of the key orchestrators and drivers of change. Not from a marcom position, but being the voice of the customer to drive that experiences and drive that change.

Q: When you talk about these great experiences—and they do sound great—they seem like massive projects that require that full flex of corporation working in tandem for a long period of time? What is a reasonable timeline to improve experience?

A: Most of these great experiences rely heavily on data. At the end of the day, you and I are probably in some ways very similar and in some ways very different. To drive really great experiences, it’s a bit of a cliché, but you need to get down to the experience of one. And so I think your point is fair. If you spend all your time planning and orchestrating with heavy tech and heavy strategy and everything else by the time you rolling it out, has your market and your customer already moved?

I think most brands have most clients we work with understand consumer digitization, digital transformation, digital reinvention. They build apps. They’ve built websites. They’ve triaged all those capabilities and services to those digital channels. For the most part they are generally pretty good. I would say you need to know where you're going. But then you’ve got to start the fire.

Q: How do you start that fire?

A: The area that is most overlooked now is the emergence of employee experience. It's a bit counterintuitive because ideally as a marketer, you want to spend your budget on the things that impact your customers most directly. I also lead our mobile business globally and I would say probably 80% of our client’s questions have been around employees, and how employees have been enabled so they have the tools and capabilities to drive the best experiences for customers. What that would look like is you would have a hardware company, and you’ve had a tablet in the smock of the employee at the hardware employee at a big box store, so when customers go in a talk about insulation, he or she can pull it out, show you a video, figure out how much you need to insulate your house, have it shipped to you. You don’t even need to go to the cash register, you can do the transaction there while the customer is being educated.  

Experiences are hard, but if they’re purposeful you can get to a better place. What we’ve seen is the realization that investing in employee experiences will drive better experiences. It’s one of the most profound areas that’s overlooked.

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Author Bio:
Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @Zach_Brooke.
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