For many marketing leaders, improving the customer experience (CX) is one of their most urgent challenges in 2016. According to the consulting firm Gartner, 89 percent of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of CX this year.

Unfortunately, most marketers don’t feel ready for this challenge. According to a 2015 study by The CMO Club and Oracle Marketing Cloud, only 13 percent of CMOs feel they are delivering a personalized and engaging customer experience.

This is what excites me about the increase in customer-focused events like Advocamp (where Vision Critical will be exhibiting at booth 11); companies are finally seeing that investing more in customer success, service and experiences can be a value driver for their business.

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Here are a few ways executives—especially those in marketing leadership roles—can put CX at the top of their lists this year.

Lesson 1: Empower your customers (they’re already in charge anyways)

Delivering a great customer experience starts with understanding the power your customers have over your business. Customers are using digital channels and networks to assemble knowledge about your products and give their opinions on them in real time.

_-92Why is this scary? Customers now have the power to change the course of business. One bad review or negative Tweet can affect your brand’s image or halt a sale. On the other hand, one customer can also inspire a new product or marketing campaign. That’s why smart brands are investing in tools that allow them to create a more seamless and enjoyable experience for their customers.

Look at a company like Uber. They empower their customers by quickly and easily giving them a ride when they want it. More importantly, by collecting their customers’ ratings and feedback after each ride, every user is helping them improve their service. By embracing (and facilitating) customer empowerment and engagement, Uber is making loyal customers and learning from every interaction.

Don’t look at empowered customers as a threat. Seize the opportunity to do better.

Lesson 2: There’s plenty of tech to choose from—and no excuses

Most marketers use traditional surveys to get customer insights. But generic questionnaires don’t create a two-way exchange that make customers feel valued. In fact, survey technology can alienate and push them awaywhich won’t give your brand useful insights.

Improving_Customer_Experience_TechWhile some companies are investing heavily in marketing technology to improve the customer experience, many are still missing one critical tool in their stack: customer intelligenceWhile most conversations about martech have focused on predictive analytics and big data, the need to engage directly with customers is, in fact, just as crucial. Although big data is able to quantify human behavior, it can’t explain motivation. You need a way to dig into the peaks and valleys in your dashboards.

Lesson 3: Get beyond the data and focus on human relationships

In the end, improving the customer experience requires companies to re-evaluate their relationships with customers. For CX managers and directors, it’s critical to gain a more proactive pulse on customers—something they can only gain by engaging with people directly.

_-82 (1)The only way to truly connect with your customers is to redefine the relationship you have with them and start thinking of them as people, rather than as data points. That really only begins when you start engaging with your customers in regular, ongoing conversations that deepen over time. 

My recommendation: in everything you do, worry less about statistics and more about delighting customers and building connections. On social media, focus on interactions, not follows. Build a robust online community, not just a database. You’ll see a difference—and your customers will too.

Getting a holistic picture of the customer—by using data and by engaging with customers directly—is critical to delivering better experiences and thriving in the age of endless disruption. To learn more about how marketing leaders can improve the customer experience, watch this webinar recap.

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