It's Almost 2014: How Well Is Your Brand Helping Customers?

We've Got to Deliver Services When and How Consumers Want It -- On Their Terms

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I couldn't sleep last night. So at 4 a.m. I spent time digesting last week -- we hosted Dreamforce in San Francisco. Innovative executives from around the globe joined us, looking to find ideas to escape the gravitational pull of the past. As the guru and author Deepak Chopra noted at the event, "Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future."

The future that everyone was talking about puts customers at the center and connects them to companies and products in new ways, thanks to mobile, social and cloud. No one I spoke with argued that this doesn't make sense. But many are confused about where to start.

Here is a raw framework I'd like to share. This is me thinking out loud, so please share your thoughts.

Connecting = helping. To connect is to help. Mobile devices and always-on connectivity give companies many more opportunities to help. But just to help is not enough. Companies have been doing that for hundreds of years. In the future companies will need to provide help when and how the customer wants it.

Yesterday, customers needed to go into a store for help, during the hours that the store was open. Today, customers expect to be helped at whatever time they need it, with whatever device they prefer. Companies that get this are reaching new heights and many are revolutionizing their industries.

Take Uber, for example, the mobile app that is turning the traditional model of city transportation on its head. The help Uber provides is simple: I need to get from here to there. That help is provided when I want it: I need a ride now! And the help is provided how I want it: Press a button and the driver comes to me. This form of service is why Uber, which was not around a few years ago, generates hundreds of millions in revenue and is being valued by investors at $4 billion.

Customers will make tradeoffs, if they get something in return. Customers will drive hours out of their way to an outlet store, at significant personal inconvenience, for steep discounts. But few executives would agree that outlets are the best way to connect with customers in the future. Those stores are still helping customers on the company's terms, not the consumer's.

Last week, one of our customers, Ford, showcased its vision for the future. The car is connected to the network. A message pops up on the dashboard that says, "Hi Mike. You have driven 8,000 miles on your filter. It's time to change it. Press this button to schedule the appointment." And I bet in the future, Ford will come to you to pick up the car and then drop it off when it's done. Why? Customers will expect that in world of on-demand products and services.

Here are several other quick examples. The Delta app helps us check in to flights. When? Whenever we need to. How? I push a button on my phone. The Amazon Kindle helps us find the right book or piece of content? When? Immediately. How? I push the "mayday" button on the device.

Data make this all possible. We have discussed what customers will expect in terms of help. But how do we make this happen? To deliver on this level of customer expectations, we need to get serious about data. Data drives relevancy. And relevancy drives business results.

You need a unified view of your customers, with a data-built understanding of customer journeys and connections. And you must deliver communications to each of those customers, based on the help they need at that moment.

Are you prepared to connect in this new way? You'd better be. Your future depends on it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Lazerow is CMO of of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, a unified marketing platform for brands. Lazerow founded Buddy Media, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012, as well as Golf.com, which was sold to Time Inc. and U-Wire, which was sold to CBS. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/lazerow
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