Skip to main content

Don’t Blame Email: Retailers need to provide an adaptive customer experience


Reading business news and talking to retailers, I often hear about marketers’ disappointment in not reaching their email marketing goals. It’s become a real issue that they try to solve by sending more appealing emails with better offers more often. But still, it’s an uphill battle. Why? Because retailers aren’t really missing goals with email; the truth is that you can’t look at email as a stand-alone agent any longer.

Today’s Elusive Shopper

Here’s the deal, and this may be obvious to everyone: consumers no longer shop in a single channel nor in a linear fashion. Emails may not see a direct path from email sent >email opened->click through>purchase any longer. That’s so 2006. So, if you are trying to measure email performance by considering the email, you are missing the point.

Email generates demand. It reminds the customer that you are there and reminds them to shop. That said, the subject line has become the most important aspect of an email. Mostly because they are read on mobile devices or within a sea of other emails. If the subject line doesn’t catch the eye of the viewer, it’s deleted. And often, it is the only part of the email that is read.

Yes, mobile has become critical. Consider that over 36% of mobile subscribers use iPhones or iPads to read email and 34% of subscribers only use mobile devices to read emails. (Informz). And that 80% of Internet users own a smartphone. Ignore it at your peril.

But there is still a key point to remember: Email – wherever it appears – is just one facet of a customer journey that has fast become unmappable.

Customers Off the Map

As marketers, our goal is to influence our customers’ decisions. We know that if we provide engaging and relevant experiences, they will reciprocate with loyalty, which leads to increased lifetime value. We set up defined customer journeys and triggered events to help us automate our ability to deliver the right message at the right time to influence decision making, and hopefully achieve our business objective. Right?

But what happens when deviates from the defined journey?

If they abandon their online cart, but then buy the items in the store instead of online, they most likely will still receive an email three days later reminding them to buy those same items online. Is that the best possible customer experience? If a loyal customer is overdue on their annual account renewal, but is displaying strong renewal behavior on their mobile app instead of the web, is emailing them a 20% discount code the smartest move?

Adaptive Customer Experience: Customers, Not Channels

The time has arrived for the adaptive customer experience, which can be defined as a customer experience that automatically adapts to the unpredictable behavior of your customers and naturally improves every single time a customer interacts with your brand no matter where and when the interaction occurs.

Since customers control when and where they interact with us, we need to shift focus from channels to always knowing the latest state of each customer relationship, no matter where and when they interact with us.

By converting our linear customer journeys into dynamic opportunity, we can let the customer control their journey while we make sure we have all their relevant information needed to recognize who they are and how to service them upon every interaction. Every time your customer interacts with your brand, the adaptive customer experience can use both historical and in-the-moment customer relationship information to deliver the right message. It can then dynamically spread the new state of that customer relationship across all potential touchpoints, in milliseconds.

This shift in focus means that your ecosystem gets updated with the latest state of that customer relationship so that every channel is prepared to leverage this new information, which is critical to deliver the right message when the next interaction occurs. No more annoying “abandoned shopping cart” email reminders when your customer already bought the products. No more unnecessary discounting when your customer was already going to renew. Instead, you are presented with a new opportunity to be one step ahead, maximizing customer lifetime value and increasing your power to influence.

Channels Roles in Customer Experience

Marketers can no longer look at channels separately. Channels are irrelevant to the strategy, they are a mechanism to reach the consumer only and guide the content, not the strategy. That said, you need to understand how you will use a channel.

I see it this way:

Email marketing is primarily to drive demand. Use it to start or keep a customer going down a purchase path.

Mobile is a highly personalized tool. Make sure that all email content is mobile optimized as well.

SMS is a customer service-oriented tool first. Use it sparingly for marketing.

Push is a great marketing tool, especially if combined with location and personalization.

Web is a demand-capture event. You need to provide a highly adaptive customer experience here that is tied to both your email and mobile strategy. It is all one strategy, not separate channel based concepts. Your emails should match the experience the user gets on the Web and vice versa.

In the end, it is time for marketing organizations to start forgetting about the channel and start organizing around the customer first, adapting to their needs instead of the other way around. Define the experience, starting with an audience and corporate objective for that audience. Then design the adaptive customer experience. This will take you much farther than a channel-centric approach.

Jeff Hassemer is chief strategy officer at Alterian, an adaptive customer experience company.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds