Are marketers responsible for the Last Mile of customer experience?


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The Last Mile is a term used by cable TV and telecommunication companies to describe the section of the network that actually reaches the customer. You see, the main cable lines can be used by many customers, and are usually the first ones built. It is the last mile that takes all the time and represents a disproportionate portion of the cost. But while it is costly, without that last mile, you never reach the customer.

I have been working with some marketers in the retail industry recently who have been focusing on direct mail and email communications to their customers. When we identified some lapsed customers in their customer database, they naturally wanted to adapt their current marketing programs to focus more strongly on that highly valuable customer segment.

What they were doing was good, but not enough. You see, they forgot about the Last Mile.

The Last Mile is where you meet the customers, face to face, and either build up or tear down the relationship. You can’t do all that electronically; sooner or later you have to face the “moment of truth” when you have to deliver on the customer experience.

In retail, the Last Mile is in the store.

You can do all the direct-to-consumer marketing you want, but if you are in retail, you have to deliver in-store. Rather than hide from that fact, the best marketers capitalize on it, involving the store managers and associates in a concerted multi-channel effort towards a specific objective — in this case, the objective is to bring lapsed customers back into the store and have them make a purchase.

To succeed in such an effort, you need a store team that believes in the mission of the company and is dedicated to outstanding customer experiences. In the case of this particular client, they actually do have such a team. For many of my clients, however, that is the rub. One client confided in me that he was worried about bringing customers to his stores, because he felt they might not come back after their experience. Now, that is a problem that extends far beyond marketing!

Marketers may not be in charge of store experience, but we are responsible for understanding customer needs and how well our company’s value proposition is meeting those needs. For a marketer with a proof of sub-average in-store experience, the role is a tough one; the marketer must “shine the light” over and over again on where the gap in customer experience lies.

Store operations will NOT appreciate the harsh light of day being shone on their faults; they may try and turn those findings into a political power play (or may feel like that is what you are doing). But the goal is not to win or lose points in the corporate office; rather, the goal needs to be a singular one — to win market share, retained customers and increased sustained profit by serving the needs of customers better. Marketing can improve, store ops can improve, everyone MUST improve to earn customer respect and not be treated as a commodity — which is the real risk these days.

How do you avoid a political battle over the customer:

1. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Like Joe Friday in Dragnet, make sure to report the facts and not to get entangled in the conclusions. Especially, do not try to make scapegoats out of the store management team. That approach will just slow the process down.

2. Let someone else bring the bad news. You may initiate the research that highlights gaps in customer experience, but try to do so with someone on the store ops team, as well as an impartial party, like the CFO, involved. That way it does not look like political oneupsmanship.

3. Measure improvement as well as gaps. Stay with the process and make sure to highlight heros of customer experience as well as villians. Find the best right now and the greatest improvement over time, to help the medicine go down more smoothly.

As for our retail client, they embarked on a calling campaign, with the store managers reaching out to these lapsed customers personally with an offer to bring them back. Even with a retail business with advocates as store associates, we will be measuring performance and identifying successes as well as “opportunities for improvement.”

Marketers are ALWAYS responsible for customers — even when the news is not good and involves other departments. Find a way to depersonalize the data and you will find allies in your quest to improve experience and profits.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Price
Mark Price is the managing partner and founder of LiftPoint Consulting (, a consulting firm that specializes in customer analysis and relationship marketing. He is responsible for leading client engagements, e-commerce and database marketing, and talent acquisition. Mark is also a RetailWire Brain Trust Panelist, a blogger at and a monthly contributor to the blog of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Marketing Association.


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