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Digital communications – a panacea for customer experience managers?

We are planning a second edition of B2B Customer Experience. We will make sure that this new edition has a chapter devoted to the role of digital in delivering great customer experience. We know this will be welcomed by many people and it certainly is important. However, a word of caution, it is not a magic potion. It is not an easy and cheap replacement for the other pillars of customer experience.

Take for example Sports Direct. We bought a pair of New Balance 680 running shoes from the company. The price was fair and the delivery was quick and efficient. We buy so much online nowadays we are reluctant when ordering to check any buttons that ask if we are willing to receive updates, special offers, mailing items etc. Our inbox is full enough without a daily tsunami from every online company we have done business with. We assiduously avoided ticking any consenting boxes when we bought the running shoes. Did we miss something? We don’t think so. However, it hasn’t stopped Sports Direct sending at least one missive every day for the last few months. We can’t get rid of the damned things.

Now Sports Direct must have a sales and marketing team who believe that these promotional emails work. Maybe they do; we haven’t got access to that data. All we know is that they infuriate us. In fact, they annoy us so much we swear we will never do business with Sports Direct again.

Here is the problem. Digital communications cost next to nothing. In a limited and very specific way digital communications perform a supportive role to good marketing experience. Like everything else, overdoing it causes dissonance. Sports Direct (and they are not alone) don’t get this. They are pushing for short-term gains over long-term brand building. They hope that if they scatter enough of their digital confetti, some will deliver an extra order.

The exemplar in digital communications is Amazon. They know how to do it. Their online offer is supported by digital communications. They don’t overdo it and when they send an email it is crafted by artificial intelligence that suggests from our search history that here is something we may really want. And crucially, if we want to contact Amazon for any reason, it is easy. At the bottom of their online page they have a menu with a heading “Let us help you”. Scroll down and we see a “Customer Service” hyperlink that takes us to contact options of email, chat or phone. We can attest from experience that they really do pick up the phone and are incredibly helpful. Other companies see the front-end of Amazon’s digital offer and like it. But they are not prepared to invest in the more difficult and expensive integration to provide a seamless and rewarding experience.

Yes, digital communications are increasingly important in customer experience strategy. But they are not a cheap substitute. We apologise in advance to all those finance directors and cheapskates who think that it is a panacea that will save them lots of dosh.


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