Shush – Listen for customer signals with event-based marketing & service

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Introduction

The concept of event-based marketing is simple and not particularly new.  Every day, real people exhibit specific behaviors and experience important moments – the result of choices, the onslaught of time, and changes in the environment.  Yet many marketers aren’t listening for these signals because they’re too busy myopically blasting out their communications.   In the ‘2020s, that approach won’t cut it.

Those truly concerned with improving customer experience must go beyond commonplace outbound marketing tactics and build a system that regularly pays attention to what customers are saying and doing.  One that swiftly responds to all types of pointers and caters to a full range of customer needs across buying and service journeys.  

Think about how backward most traditional outbound methods are in relation to the concept of customer-centricity.  Primarily company-driven and orchestrated like warfare or a run for political office, today’s outbound communications are:

  • Agenda-based – predicated on what the company wants to accomplish
  • Impersonal – using generic formats, timing, and messages intended for huge audiences
  • Unrelenting – the same droning message sent repeatedly

Pre-scheduled and scripted campaigns mass-promote products – all in the hopes that with enough sheer shock and barrage customers will acquiesce.  Targeting, rarely surgical or on-time, is more like incessantly carpet-bombing vast swaths of enemy territory until fatigue sets in; with full surrender the goal.  Service and support, like managing collateral damage, are reactive, apologetic, and disconnected.

Rather than listening to contextual customer signals, most companies keep slogging away on massive campaigns with crude targeting based on a host of static assumptions about segment-based propensity.  Millennials must want this product; Send the 20%-off offer to all customers who bought product X. 

Habitually, they blast those messages out on their schedule – interrupting, annoying, and getting a cold shoulder from 98% of the intended audience.  In the past four years, the average email click-thru rate has stagnated at around 2%.[i]  Does that sound like a recipe for success or a path to nowhere? 

Unfortunately, most brands aren’t willing to break old habits.  They’ve invested in large teams that plan recurring campaigns, product promotions, and the like.  They find comfort in these methods because they are familiar and predictable.  But ironically what’s most predictable is the lackluster results that ensue.

Meanwhile, technologies like the smartphone have rolled out en-masse resulting in a sea change of new signals.  Officially extensions of our brain, we rely on our phones for countless tasks.  They record our location, behavior, and more importantly, telegraph our intent.  These indicators are warm leads for organizations looking to be relevant and valuable, yet they are sudden and short-lived (micro-moments[ii]).  On average a mobile session lasts less than one minute – a need arises, a customer plucks a phone from a pocket, thumbs scurry for a query or response, and then in an instant, it’s put away.  

Technology has digitized our world and supplies a plethora of signals.  In addition to mobile events, there’s a bounty of others that portent customer intent, moments of need, and resulting opportunities.  Some simple examples:

Event type Example
Account activity Large withdraw from a savings account
Holiday Black Friday approaches
Life-stage Obtained driver license
Loyalty-stage Reached new loyalty tier based on points
Weather Extreme cold warning issued by a gov’t agency

Using an event-based CX solution transforms how and why outbound customer communications occur.  Instead of pushing products in a monologue, event-driven CX provides a just-in-time proactive and welcoming dialogue based on needs, situations, and environmental variables.  Businesses using it report better sales leads, revenue lift, improved NPS, and higher profits (in the range of 3x to 10x).   The same Smart Insights research revealed using event-based marketing emails resulted in 5x the click-thru rate (10.75%)!  

And consider some of these specific (and astonishing) cases:

  • A global bank achieved a 12-point NPS lead over its competition
  • A leading telecommunications provider increased the number of accepted offers by 300%

To take full advantage of this approach, organizations must catalog the cadre of events that signal and portend customer behavior, and then put mechanisms in place to listen and react with speed and precision. 

To start such a catalog, I began compiling a list of 200+ event-based marketing use cases across a variety of industries (with a focus on financial services and telecommunications).  Out of that exercise surfaced these distinct event categories:

Event Category Example
Account status Average bank account balance trending down (by X standard deviations)
Behavior-Account Roaming charges incurred or within x% of the limit
Behavior-Device Failure of device/machine
Behavior-Person Digital browsing – showing purchase interest/intent
Calendar Major shopping holiday approaching
Contract-Account Changes in the account/contract terms & conditions
Environmental Severe weather alert – hurricane warning
Forecast Model score updated – Churn/attrition score rises above a threshold
Inactivity No activity (of a certain type) in the last 30 days – e.g., no deposits
Law/regulation Change in the overall privacy policy
Milestone Birthday – Age changes (milestones such as 18, 55, 65, etc.)
Product/Service Replenish – consumable products, such as printer ink
Product-wide/Service-wide The interest rate on all accounts of type X increases by x%
Profile-Person Investable assets increase (or decrease) by x% (or crosses a threshold)
Transaction status Order status change (disruption in availability, timing)

Here are five behaviors to practice that break tradition and completely flip old outbound approaches.  Implement these and watch as customers voraciously open, read, and respond to communications.  And then also watch response rates, loyalty, and revenues soar.

It’s hard to listen when talking

Bernard Baruch, a renowned presidential advisor in WWI and WWII said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”  The same holds true for businesses’ desire for successful customer engagements.  To carry this out, they’ll first need investments in digital listening systems – and to fund those efforts they should scale back on tone-deaf campaign management schemes.

Businesspeople must invest in early-warning systems across a variety of channels and data sources.  These listening systems should be:

  • Fed data from real-time consumer-facing devices such as web, mobile, ATMs, Kiosks, and IVRs
  • Served up filtered data from IoT devices such as connected cars and other network-attached machines equipped with sensors
  • Connected to transactional systems such as order and billing systems
  • Getting syndicated feeds from systemic systems, such as the National Weather Service
  • Filtering signal from noise

Here are some other examples of the micro-moments a listening system can detect, and the short and longer-term customer needs in question:

Micro-moment Example signal Immediate need Longer-term need
Transaction denied Credit card swipe Approval; alternative payment method Increased credit limit
Service unavailable Lost connection to device Restore service Assurance of service reliability
Account balance too low Missed direct deposit Root cause analysis Assurance of reliability and efficacy of the bank’s services
Car crash Airbag deploys Help; temporary transportation Claim processing; Car repaired or replaced
Severe storm Weather alerts Safety; shelter Claim processing; affected belongings repaired or replaced

Expand to respond to all customer needs, not just buying signals

The beauty of using an event-driven approach is that its frequency isn’t predictable but it’s predictably relevant.  With hundreds of events affecting customer’s lives constantly, there’s ample opportunity to interact when customers expect it and appreciate it.  And when you do that, you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to continue the dialogue.

Yet a key to success is to react to signals that hint toward service needs as well as marketing and buying needs.

By now, everyone is familiar with event-based marketing use cases like basket abandonment and welcome emails.  And these have borne out that the triggered approach to outbound works.  In the first half of 2019, GetResponse analyzed 4 billion emails and found that “autoresponder emails” had incredible open and click rates (a whopping 89% and 35% respectively).[iii]  And as Irek Klimczak astutely points out in this post, “When someone gets a message straight after taking an action, they’re more likely ready to read and respond to it.”

Corporations must learn from this and build on it – detecting marketing and service behaviors and triggering relevant and valuable responses.

Listen harder, react faster and smarter, treat empathically

If you want to win at this game, you’ll need to quickly graduate from simple events to detecting complex events – that means combining many signals (across time and multiple touchpoints) to find patterns that reveal deeper insights into the customer’s situation and needs.  

To illustrate, it’s simple to flag that a customer’s account hasn’t met the minimum balance requirement, but it’s more difficult to forecast that ahead of time.  The latter is much more valuable to the consumer, especially if they’re given an adequate warning that allows them to avoid unwanted fees.

In another example, one sensor throwing a warning on a machine is an incomplete gauge of the overall machine’s health.  However, that same machine, equipped with a host of sensors throwing errors is a much more compelling case for a looming total failure.   And similarly, to predict behaviors like churn, companies need a variety of detectors.  When a customer throws multiple hints of discontent in a limited timeframe, with the right listening devices in place, businesses are in a better position to detect and act on potential defections.  Brands attentive to these events can go from being reactive to proactive and even prescriptive.

And time is of the essence in picking up on these and swiftly responding. 

Why?  Because time is the enemy of information’s value to decision making.  When an event happens, the information resulting from it may be extremely valuable seconds after it occurs, yet through time that value decays. 

Brands that can factor in recent contextual information and rapidly respond to complex events are more likely to address immediate sensitivities and handle customer interactions better.  And responding to those events and using all the available information enables brands to treat customers with empathy.  Customers appreciate interactions that are valuable, relevant, and timely – and will view brands as being empathetic in these circumstances.

Start your outbound event engine – and keep it running 24×7

In July 2019, I penned the article “The Final 4: Martech Platforms & Ecosystems.”  It included a transformative, but somewhat glossed over assumption:

The Relationship Execution Platform’s job, as the primary platform for all customer engagement, is to handle all inbound and outbound communications.  And to do this effectively, it must be always-on and real-time.  Easier said than done!

event-based marketing

Figure 1: Relationship Execution Platform – Always-On Next-Best-Action (NBA) Approach

Shown in Figure 1, the approach has the following key outbound principles:

  • There are 3 ways to inject customer records into the engine:  1) A scheduled run that cycles through all records and trickles them one-by-one to the policy and prioritization layers.  2) A triggered run that injects one record based on external triggers that fire.  3) An emergency run, where operators insert X records.  For example, “Send a notification to all customers in the 25 zip codes affected by the natural disaster declaration.”
  • It is always running:  When it’s not responding to inbound requests or external triggers, it’s cycling through each customer record to check whether time-based criteria have been satisfied.   For example, has customer 123 transacted or engaged in any way in the last 30 days?  If not, consider what the highest value next-best-action would be.
  • Outbound treatments always happen as individual transactions:  This is important because of timing.  Putting outbound records into segments and treating in batches slows down individual treatment.  There is no reason to batch, wait, and blast anymore.  And as we’ve learned, seconds matter when responding to signals.
  • Arbitration is fair and balanced: Once a customer record survives and arrives at the arbitration level, the formula for which action to take is fair, empathetic, and balances the needs of both parties.  It uses the formula P*C*V*L which stands for Propensity for an action multiplied by the Context times the Value of the action times a Lever for temporary tilts.  Propensity and context consider an individual’s needs.  Value and levers account for the business’s economic realities.

Is this always-on outbound architecture achievable?   The answer is yes, but make sure the vendor you buy from designed it to achieve these principles at speed and scale.

Producing ROR – Return on Relationship

So why do all this?   Why isn’t the status quo of batch-based campaign management good enough?

It boils down to one simple concept: Push versus pull.  Pushing marketing messages is not customer-centric.  It’s business-centric.  On the other hand, pulling implies leaning in, listening, and reacting to what customers are saying, doing, and in need of now.

This has an enormous impact on customers’ impressions of interactions.  It increases loyalty and advocacy because the treatments are prompt, valuable, and story-worthy.  It enhances the relationship.  And in an evolving relationship, if there is a continual fair exchange of value and memorable experiences, each party will willingly, authentically, and enthusiastically return for more and spread the word.

Conclusion

As shown by the huge number of marketing and service signals occurring constantly around us, there are countless opportunities to listen for moments of need and respond in kind.  The question is are you willing to stop pushing your agenda and start listening to what customers need?

Outbound segment-based campaign management had a good run.  It helped firms go from mass-advertising campaigns to a data-driven approach, enabling marketers to cluster customers into segments and differentiate treatments.  And along the way, some threw in a few simple event-based marketing use cases using separate transactional systems for good measure.

But it’s time to move to the next level of personalization and modernize outbound methodologies.  The signals are all around us.  Marketing and service data are readily available and moving faster.  And the technology to capture it, crunch through it, and respond to events in real-time has adequately matured.  In short, there are no technological or economic reasons why an always-on outbound approach won’t work. 

Like any big change that promises big rewards, however, embarking on this road will require investment, overcoming doubts, and persistence.   Yet make no mistake, customers want this kind of treatment and the performance of your business is at stake.


[i] Smart Insights, https://www.smartinsights.com/email-marketing/email-communications-strategy/statistics-sources-for-email-marketing/, 2019

[ii] Google, https://think.storage.googleapis.com/images/micromoments-guide-to-winning-shift-to-mobile-download.pdf, 2015

[iii] GetResponse, https://www.getresponse.com/resources/reports/email-marketing-benchmarks#average-results-by-message-type, 2019

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