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The 4 Pillars of a Customer-Engaging Email Marketing Strategy

November 30, 2016

4 pillars of customer engaging email marketing strategyOf the many communications channels that weave together to form an omnichannel customer experience strategy, email continues to be relevant and valuable. Email marketing isn’t just about marketing; it’s a way of maintaining your customer relationships in between more direct touchpoints, like transactions and customer service calls. Like social media, email reaches people where they already spend time – in their inboxes.

But just like any other tool, it all comes down to how you use it. Email marketing is a blank canvas, and there are many ways to go about creating campaigns that help you meet your goals. These four fundamental practices will create the foundation for engaging customers with email content.

1 – Great engagement comes from great content.

Content is hands-down the most important factor in getting customers to engage. In the email marketing world, “engagement” translates to Opens and Click-throughs. Great content is what compels each behavior, followed by the design and presentation of the content. So if you’re going to have an email marketing campaign in play, build it on a foundation of excellent content.

Content is an umbrella term that describes a variety of media that can populate emails. Blog posts, articles, whitepapers, e-books, infographics, video, audio, Tweets, copy/text, and photos are all different kinds of content at your disposal. And it’s a good idea to use as many as you can, especially those that are visual: content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images [source]. 

2 – Prioritize content that is mobile-friendly.

More and more of the digital world is revolving around mobile devices, and email is no exception. At the time of this writing, two thirds of emails are being opened on mobile devices (emphasis on smartphones), compared to desktop email usage. But on the back end, most email campaigns are being designed and run from desktop computers. Template design, list management, and campaign delivery are all easier to achieve on a full-screen device.

Don’t become mobile-blind. When you’re ready to test an email template, make sure you’re viewing it on a mobile phone as well as your computer. You can recruit others in the office who have different devices (for example, Apple vs. Android operating systems) to make sure your content and template design translates well across platforms. And make sure the content you are linking to from your emails is also mobile-friendly. A sales landing page, a blog post, or a document download have no value to a customer who can’t view them easily and clearly.

3 – Try to balance predictability and surprise with your content.

It’s a good idea to be consistent with your email delivery: consistent timing, consistent quality, and consistent design. Customers should have some idea of what they can expect when a new email from you lands in their inbox. If you create an expectation of content that provides value, not purchase pressure, customers will continue to open your messages and engage with that content. Regular quality content also means they’ll be more accepting of the occasional hard sell or special offer, and not feel they’re being spammed or pressured.

But within this context of consistency, there’s also room to try new things or mix up your approach.

  • Vary your header images. Put unique imagery at the top of each message, along with a compelling headline, to grab customers’ attention.
  • Vary your format. Are you delivering a monthly newsletter featuring several recent blog posts? Next time, try just featuring one meaty, valuable post and letting it be the star of the show. Or try different things with your subject lines, like questions, humor, provocative statements.
  • Vary your timing. If you regularly deliver your campaigns at the same time every week or month, try throwing in a one-time message that lands on a Sunday evening, for example. Ideally this message should look a little different than your usual content (see above). The break in routine can catch the attention of readers who have gotten used to a certain pattern.
4 – Make sure you are complying with spam regulations.

What does this have to do with customer engagement? Well, if you run an email program that isn’t compliant with regulations, you soon won’t have an email program to run. Customers can and do report unwanted, bothersome, or low-value emails as spam. These complaints have weight: email service providers use the reports to hone their spam filtering software. Bad behavior can get you “blacklisted,” and there’s little you can do about that once it happens.

The regulations you need to be familiar with are covered by the federal CAN-SPAM Act, which oversees commercial email communications. Technology makes it very easy, and thus very tempting, to do the exact things that CAN-SPAM prohibits – intentionally or accidentally. However, if you are found to be in violation of these rules, the penalties are hefty: you can be fined per email that you send, so the bigger your list, the more you risk.

 

These tips cover the “Before” and “During” stages of running an email marketing program. The “After” stage – how to make sense of, and make use of, your email marketing analytics – is covered in detail here. Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter for regular updates, or visit the CSP.com homepage (and scroll down just a little) to sign up for our monthly email newsletter!


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Are CMOs Ready to Take Responsibility for the Customer Experience?

June 22, 2016

Should Chief Marketing Officers be customer experience experts? Looking at the increasing trend of CMOs becoming the chief managers of customer experience (or CX) for their brands, the answer is a resounding yes.

According to a recent Gartner study, a considerable number of CMOs say the most-increased expectation their CEOs have of them, is that they lead customer experience. A corroborating report by Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud and Deloitte, titled Bridging the Digital Divide: How CMOs Can Rise to Meet Five Expanding Expectations,” names customer acquisition, personal experiences and customer engagement as the top three external marketing priorities of a CMO. Sanjay Dholakia, CMO at Marketo, even goes so far as to say that by 2020, CMOs will have become responsible for the entire customer journey.

While CX may not traditionally be regarded as a marketing function, new research unequivocally proves it to be not only a decisive factor in brand identity, but also in differentiation within the marketplace. Customer expectations have evolved: a 2015 study found that 42% of Americans would turn away from a branQuote to support CMOs involvement in CXd after just two negative experiences.

Positive customer experiences, on the other hand, not only influence the way a bank is perceived, but also play an active role in retention and repeat business through customer loyalty, and eventually in increased revenue. According to the Gartner study, 89 percent of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience in 2016. Whereas the quality of customer service was once seen as a separate, ‘internal’ issue, nowadays it’s an inextricable and decisive factor in a bank’s advertising and marketing strategy.

That said, the question is not whether CMOs should become the stewards of their bank’s CX. The question is: are they up to the task? “It’s a new expectation and it’s a difficult expectation,” says Laura McLellan, VP-Marketing Strategies at Gartner.

When the study asked CMOs about the areas in which they’d made the most progress, customer experience came in last.

Clearly it’s not just customers who are on a journey; a lot of CMOs have journeys of their own ahead of them. Challenges include tying together web, commerce, and mobile technologies to not leave any gaps in quality; centralizing customer data; and providing customers with the best possible interactions with every part of the bank, down to each branch.

This may sound daunting, but like every journey, building up great CX starts with a single step. There is no need for CMOs to reinvent the wheel: the expertise to research customers’ experiences and help enhance them is already at hand. CSP has nearly 30 years of experience with customer satisfaction research and improvement, specializing in financial services. Our seasoned experts and proprietary tools can help you along your individual journey.

One thing is certain: as marketers invest more in improving customer experience, and banks adopt CX as one of their most important strategies for staying ahead of the competition, no CMO can afford to stay behind. In order to be prepared for the future, take the first step now.

Improving the Customer Experience Through Benchmarking

August 11, 2015

Benchmarking is the process companies use to identify and establish key performance standards, or benchmarks, and measure their performance against those standards over time. With a benchmark analysis, a company can compare its current scores in critical areas against its own past performance, as well as against its competitors.

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Done in-house from the ground up, benchmarking can be a dauntingly complex process. Benchmarks must be agreed upon, measurement tools and strategies implemented, research assigned and completed (which, in some cases, means navigating security and permission concerns), and reports compiled. The information in the final analysis can be invaluable, if the right resources, attention, and talent are invested in it.

What’s more, benchmarking is not a one-time exercise, but a living process that depends on continuing collection and interpretation of current data. The shelf life of a single analysis report is fairly short, but properly maintained, a benchmarking strategy can be a gift that keeps giving.

Where does benchmarking fit into improving the customer experience?

Often used to determine how a company is faring against its peers financially, benchmark analysis also has a qualitative application. This includes measuring the critical metrics of customer service and experience that carry the most weight with overall customer satisfaction – what CSP calls key drivers.

Responses to Voice of the Customer initiatives like surveys can be translated into scores and percentages, which then get used to identify the top, bottom, and average range of responses to those metrics. Comparing the most current available scores against these ranges gives an indication of whether the customer experience is excelling, lagging, or falling behind.

Benchmarking is a way for managers to reality-check their perception of how their strategies and employees are performing against what the customers are actually saying.

Benchmarking provides a competitive advantage

The quality of a business’s customer service is often a make-or-break factor in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and likelihood to promote that company to others. In many ways, customer experience is the marketing that keeps happening even after you’ve initially earned the customer’s business.

Benchmarking not only demonstrates a company’s performance against itself, but against a defined peer group of its competitors, measured by uniform standards. While a direct Company A vs. Company B comparison may not reveal much of use, there is valuable insight in identifying one’s overall standing among the rest of the pack.

For instance, let’s say a manager has grown concerned about how long customers are kept waiting before they speak to a representative. Maybe she has noticed longer lines on the sales floor, or customers looking frustrated or impatient while in line.

Through benchmarking, she has been tracking “wait time” as a key driver for six months, and sees that this month, customers have indeed indicated a drop in satisfaction against this metric. She then reviews the wait time satisfaction scores of her peer competitors and determines that they have seen a slight increase in the same period of time, dropping her company back in the ratings from the “top” to “average” category. Now there is a risk she may start to lose customers to the better-performing competitors.

This intelligence informs the manager of an opportunity to improve the customer experience by implementing new strategies to affect the wait time at her location. Continued benchmarking will help her track progress against that goal, and identify any new opportunities for improvement that may come along.

It doesn’t end with the report

Benchmarking is one step in the process – a critical one, but nonetheless, just one. As with all Voice of the Customer data, its ultimate value depends on how the information is used to improve the customer experience with well-informed training, continued evaluation, and timely reporting.

That’s why CSP’s new Benchmark Analytics Reporting Dashboard pairs so nicely with our training and employee support, such as the STARS library available to our clients, to create a balanced ecosystem of process, performance, and progress. The dashboard takes much of the rigorous research and reporting aspects of benchmarking and delivers an easy-to-read analysis that can tell you, at a glance, where you fall among your peer group.

To learn more about benchmarking, the new dashboard, STARS, or any other component of customer experience management, contact us with your questions.