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Marketers, don’t just collect data on your customers – talk to them

It’s so important to talk to your customers

Despite more data than ever available to tell marketers what consumers do and don’t want, brands are still wasting comms on closed ears. James Calvert, chief data strategy officer at M&C Saatchi, explains why data isn’t always the answer.

Our time is too valuable to spend it creating things your customers don’t want. Yet, despite the best of intentions, many brands find themselves facing this unwelcome reality.

Jargon-jammed emails. Generic copy. Complex forms. Indifferent call handlers and automated contact sequences with no room for nuance. This is the reality of what your customers see, hear and feel.

Yes, things are getting better. Maybe even good. Many of us agree the general standard of how a brand serves its customers has indeed risen in recent years. But, let’s be honest – it’s not good enough.

Customer expectations have risen in line with the most progressive brands. Creative technology has unlocked new norms. Timely delivery, connected experiences and seamless services are all expected and are no longer the competitive advantage they once were.

Legacy technology, inefficient organizations or a lack of investment – whatever the root cause, most brands can still do much more to make work their customers will welcome.

Talking helps

You might have heard the saying, ’You can’t get value from customers if you don’t create value for customers.’ No doubt this is true. Yet, we can’t help but wonder if it could have a further qualifier. You can’t get value from customers if you don’t create value for customers. And you can’t create value for your customers if you don’t actively listen to your customers.

You might be looking for new opportunities. Or wondering why people cancel. Or how to get more people to buy and which features to add next. Or why net promoter score is high, but sales are flat. Your data may be telling you what is happening, but it’s not letting you know why. This is where talking helps.

Running customer interviews sounds simple, but it is hard to do with consistency. Brands who do reveal opportunities that you (and the competition) didn’t even know existed. Customers will tell you things – useful, actionable things. Things you never would have found before. When we understand the why and the how of customer behavior, we can see new opportunities for change – new opportunities to increase your odds of making work your customers will welcome.

Get creative

Data and technology are on a roll. There is no doubt we live in the era of the algorithm. Your news feed and streaming recommendations. People who bought this also bought that. The AlphaGo AI beating the Go world champion.

Data and technology are disrupting how brands serve their customers every day. It seems like it’s never going to stop. Yet data on its own is just information. And technology is inert until it’s applied. You only have to look at a few rows of Swift code to see that some magic happens to get to a seamless in-app experience.

In today’s world, there’s a growing need for big thinking and an enormous power in great ideas. Creative is still the most important element in driving change and commercial impact.

Instead of making a video ad, make personalized video ads. Enjoy creative that gets three times the attention. Instead of a best guess, use data to reveal unexpected combinations. See average basket volume expand. Instead of a static FAQ, create an artificial intelligence (AI) character trained on the brand typology. See renewal rates grow.

We love and embrace technology and data with an open mind. A mindset that sees how creativity changes everything, from technology into magic and data into insight.

Be ready to make friends

Creative agencies are crafting campaign ideas into award-winning creative, often without a concern for the broader customer experience. Customer specialists are mapping ever complex variants, often impractical to produce and near impossible to measure. And the transformation consultants promise a better future – if you follow their proprietary methods and deploy their preferred technology vendors.

When faced with this challenge, what is a brand to do? Well, the simple answer is to sync everything up. Have each part conscious, aware and adjusting to the other. You should create campaign ideas that can work across the total customer experience. In turn, your customer communications should be of the brand and campaign idea. They should be practical and actionable for your technology – more so if investing in new automation.

Of course, in practical terms this is easier said than done. At M&C Saatchi we’re fortunate to have brand, customer, data and technology specialists. Together we create work that delivers one experience across brand and communications. If you have separate agencies, get them to make friends. To work together, in practice not theory. Your future brand and customers will be thankful.

James Calvert is chief data strategy officer at M&C Saatchi.

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