Global consultancy firm Forrester has released a host of reports recently encouraging businesses to embrace ‘the age of the customer’, as a number of trends coalesce and make it important for firms in all industries to adopt engaging policies or risk being left behind by their rivals.

JP Gownder, an infrastructure and operations analyst with the firm, recently posted a blog discussing some of the technical implications of these predictions.

According to Mr Gownder, computing is to become “critical” in the age of the customer, in a trend that will effect both b2b and b2c companies.

Technology “is a front-line, customer-facing experience that helps companies win and serve customers more effectively”, he added.

This can take many different forms depending on the specific industry in which a firm is operating – CRM, for instance, can help businesses keep track of their customers and offer a personalised, engaging approach to each one individually.

Mr Gownder presented six meta-trends that he feels will emerge during the age of the customer – mobility, fragmentation, intelligent assistants, wearables, gestural computing and channel innovation.

The latter will see businesses strive to bring a sense of “relevance and tailored experience” to customers, such as can be offered through CRM technology. People are increasingly demanding of companies when it comes to personalisation, meaning firms will need to invest in this area if they are not to be left behind.

In terms of fragmentation, device proliferation looks set to continue, meaning marketers will need to take steps to ensure that they can offer a balanced, engaged approach over mobile and desktop platforms.

“Customers will actively shun businesses that lack mobile applications to enrich their experiences. Customers will gravitate toward businesses that use mobile technology proactively to solve their hardest problems,” added the Forrester analyst.

Certainly, it appears that companies are being asked to do more to connect with their customers – technology can make this process easier.

Only two in ten firms are tracking how much effort customers need to expend when dealing with them, meaning they may be unaware of frustration among their sales base, according to a new report from Capita and the Customer Contact Association (CCA).

This is despite the fact that a CCA survey has suggested eight in ten people have cut off contact with an organisation because effectively communicating their needs became too difficult.

Customer satisfaction features in the top three most important measurements of customer experience, making it stranger that more firms do not maintain their awareness of difficulties facing potential buyers or clients.

Automation and technology can offer a route towards a solution, with CRM software potentially making it easier to track customer data and ensure that they do not become frustrated in attempting to contact an organisation.

According to the CCA report, first contact resolution and average handling time are the second and third most important issues for customers – again, CRM can drive up efficiency and ensure that handling time drops, assuming that staff are well-trained and able to utilise the software effectively.

Simon Hunt, head of quality, insight and improvement with Capita, suggested that people are more willing to put the effort in for a company if they are offered a unique, tailored experience that makes them feel valued.

“This is why it’s important that we don’t look at customer experience measurements in isolation and instead view what’s going on in the bigger picture. It’s encouraging to see that the industry is constantly seeking ways to measure and improve the customer experience, but it’s a little surprising to see such measures as average call handling time still relied upon by some,” he added.

Anne Marie Forsyth, chief executive with the CCA, agreed with Mr Hunt and called on more firms to improve their service offering and put the right metrics in place.

With technology such as CRM available, it is becoming increasingly simple for companies to analyse customer information and use it to produce useful insights.

In this blog, I’m going to summarise what Liz Roche, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Microsoft Services and Jeff Marcoux, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft Dynamics CRM said at their session at Microsoft Dynamics Convergence 2014: ‘Digital Marketing and CRM: The art of possible and science of the probable around dynamic customer relationships.’

The main message of the talk was that technology changes human behaviour. A simple example: when was the last time your mobile phone was more than 10 feet away from you?

And can you remember being this attached to your phone 20 years ago?

It may be difficult but it’s worth it

Today, 40% of all internet traffic is coming from mobile devices. For a marketer, this means that the focus needs to be shifted accordingly. All touch points must be mobile-responsive, especially the website.

But this is far from all that you have to do to be able to stay on top of today’s pace of change. The purpose of adapting your business to relevant new technologies is not only to generate more leads, but, perhaps more importantly, to enhance your customers’ experience.

During their talk, Liz and Jeff argued that there’s a need for a new CEO – Customer Experience Optimisation. As you already know the power balance between a supplier and a buyer has shifted significantly in the past few years. This means your customers can decide to switch to your competitor much more easily than 15 years ago. However, if you manage to delight them every time you interact with them, why would they ever risk leaving you?

According to a recent research by Watermark Consulting that was carried out in 2007-2011, businesses that delivered great customer experience as the first in their market generated revenue that was 27% higher than the broader market, and 128% higher than those who only started focusing on customer experience years after the market CxP leader.

What does this mean? You can’t lose out by treating your customers exceptionally – now.

Unite your strategy

Jeff suggested that to design the perfect customer experience, you need to integrate your strategy, brand, marketing (marketing ROI) and technology implementation across all your digital and traditional channels. Some of us dislike the word ‘holistic approach’, but this concept is exactly what exceptional customer experience is about: creating a world in which your brand is unified and stands for excellence.

As well as integrating your business processes, you also need to integrate all your customer data into one database. Why? So that Sales, Marketing and Support are on the same page when communicating with your leads – no more asking the same question twice. Working from one database also speeds up the process of passing over leads and allows your teams to act upon a single set of criteria for qualified leads.

Another advantage of having all customer information in one place is being able to analyse their profitability throughout the customer’s lifecycle. This way you can determine which types of customers are most profitable for your business, and decide about focusing your entire resources on them – because it’s much better to delight your more profitable customers than to deliver great customer experience to the ones that cost you more than what they spend.

Customer’s point of view

Another important thing to pay attention to when designing customer experiences is the fact that your customer’s idea of the relationship is quite different from your idea. In business, we are used to dividing the sales funnel into certain stages (for example: attraction, acquisition, development, retention and growth); and so are our customers – the trouble is, their stages are different.

According to Liz, customer’s stages look more like this: engagement (for example, seeing an ad on LinkedIn), transaction (request for information, buying a product), fulfilment (delivery of request) and post-sale service (answering questions, service transaction). Once this chain of events has taken place, it happens all over again. To take advantage of this process, you need to plan a process that takes these stages into consideration.

The macro & micro journey

Liz & Jeff suggested creating customer journey plan that defines not just the customer macro journey (major events like the first and last point of contact, sales conversion etc.), but the micro journey – which includes every step of the way. Design how you’re going to engage your customers on every level of their customer journey – throughout the 4 aforementioned stages (engagement, transaction, fulfilment, service). Plan what you’ll do to interact with them and what the goal of each interaction will be (for example, offer them samples of your product with the goal of getting them to give you more information about themselves).

Next, define the channel through which the transaction is going to take place (a sales rep) and an interaction point through which you’ll let the customer know about this offer (phone call). Finally, decide which business process will be dominant in this action (sales, marketing, support).

Remember that your planning ahead must be flexible enough to take advantage of new opportunities. This means not planning everything to the last detail, but rather defining a clear path that you’ll follow and creating a formula for refusing and accepting new opportunities as they emerge.

It would be fair to say that budget airline Ryanair, along with its combative chief executive Michael O'Leary, is not known for taking a customer-focused approach to its business.

This attitude has served the company well so far – by offering a no-frills service it is able to reduce the cost of flying, meaning many people who complain about the firm will still find themselves booking flights with them in order to save a little cash.

However, recent noises emanating from the Irish business suggest change is afoot, with the firm set to change its overall strategy to become more popular with consumers.

Chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs recently spoke to the Drum after the firm launched its first ever advertising campaign, telling the publication it is planning to alter its somewhat dubious image.

"It's great that we haven’t had to advertise until now, it is great that we're coming to it late as you can do it in the right way and on your terms and not be like a lot of businesses that are stuck in advertising and afraid to drop their spend but they know they need to do digital at the same time," he explained.

The company is looking for creative, digital, media and CRM agencies to develop its marketing activity over the next year and beyond, highlighting the way that CRM can help businesses connect with customers – even ones as notoriously intransigent as Ryanair.

"I want to find the best. There's going to be a four agency line-up and they can be based anywhere in Europe. I want absolutely the best ones I can get for Ryanair," added Mr Jacobs.

Earlier this year, Michael O'Leary held a press event in London in which he expounded on plans to change the company's approach to its customers.

He compared Ryanair's new approach to that of brands such as Aldi, which are focused on cutting costs for consumers but not at the expense of quality.

One of the biggest changes in marketing over the last decade has been the development of real-time analytics technology such as CRM that allows firms to offer their customers a unique, focused experience.

Where in the past it was possible to, for instance, offer a viewer personalised content based on their shopping history, the possibilities involved in real-time marketing have rocketed recently.

Writing for CMS Wire, chief executive officer and co-founder of Evergage Karl Wirth argued that businesses now have the tools and actionable intelligence to message to consumers in real time.

“By analysing a visitor’s behaviour in an instant, putting him into one of a variety of segments, and using algorithms and rules engines to respond in real time, marketers can use their websites to test segmented messages and present relevant information within the context of the visit,” he explained.

Utilising CRM software can automate this process and make it more efficient, meaning companies will be more likely to see a strong return on investment when attempting to develop their marketing procedures.

According to Mr Wirth, the immediacy provided by this form of marketing can make consumers feel unique and more likely to become engaged with a brand, product or service, both in the B2B and B2C sectors.

Furthermore, customers are beginning to expect this kind of experience, demanding that companies are capable of distinguishing them from their counterparts.

“Predictive analytics allow marketers to move beyond looking at past purchases or current behaviour to target website content on an individual level,” explained Mr Wirth.

This means companies can adopt a more proactive approach to gaining new business, as long as they have the right talent and technology in place to take advantage of the influx of data from customers.

And according to the analytics expert, doing so can have major benefits.

“This kind of behaviour increases lead conversion, engagement and ultimately, revenue, all while lowering the cost per action,” he concluded.

The traditional role of the chief information officer (CIO) has undergone major changes over the last few years, with the increasing importance of digital to all aspects of business meaning tech experts need to spread their wings and work in areas they may not have known much about in the past.

One fundamental aspect of this shift has been the need for CIOs to become more ‘customer-focused’, by analysing the data they can access to draw conclusions about how B2B or B2C consumers are behaving.

According to a new globally-focused report from American technology and consultancy firm IBM, a so-called ‘digital revolution’ has taken place across the business world.

With new technologies such as smartphones and tablets underlining the importance of digital channels, CIOs are being asked to step into the marketing arena to a hitherto unexpected degree.

“Most [executives] expect digital channels to become one of the most predominant means of engaging with customers in the next few years. More than half say their organisation already uses such channels, but nine out of ten anticipate doing so by 2018. And they’re looking to CIOs to facilitate the shift,” the report claimed.

Although CIOs in ‘out-performing’ enterprises tend to be ahead of the pack on these metrics, it appears to be trickling down to many global businesses as more firms attempt to take advantage of marketing technologies such as CRM.

Matthew Young, CIO of European hotel group Travelodge, told IBM that it is crucial firms place the customer at the centre of their decisions – this entails thinking along those lines organisationally, rather than simply leaving such issues to a dedicated marketing team.

This means utilising “customer consideration metrics” is a new focus for tech experts within companies, concluded Mr Young.

CRM, as well as collating information of this kind effectively, makes it easier for companies to showcase it across their different teams, potentially improving levels of innovation.

Social media marketing is no longer in its infancy, it has moved on a deal since its introduction.

Originally, using social media platforms to market your brand consisted of ensuring your brand name was made readily available. For a period of time this area of marketing consisted predominately of who could shout the loudest, but over time the work has become more subtle and intelligent. Many companies remain unaware of this and retain their old school social media techniques.

Most consumers have become more savvy to the way in which companies market on these platforms. Originally people believed in the notion that a real human would man the controls, but the rise of automation tools posting content at  precise regular intervals, made people begin to lose faith.

To put it in context, 56% of people now ignore all tweets from brands and businesses. At the same time 85% of people expect companies to have an active social media presence leaving organisations in a catch 22 position. This compromise has been the driving force behind this shift to more intelligent social media marketing.

No longer should companies aim to shout the loudest, they should aim to get others to shout for them. As many as 90% of people trust peer reviews and recommendation, this statistic – and others along the same lines – have been vital in the evolution of social media marketing. You don’t need people to just see your posts; you need them to share them in order to give a recommendation by proxy.

Furthermore, implementing review systems that are visible to the public, either on social media sites or linked through from them, can greatly aid your cause. It has been observed by as many as 70% of global consumers, that online peer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising.

Why is this relevant to CRM?

The answer is that the two go hand in hand. Most modern CRM systems are repositories for all lead and customer data. This includes their buying habits and company habits, but also their social media output. CRMs like Microsoft Dynamics are slowly becoming vessels through which you can produce and curate social media content, as well as consume it. The combination of customer history and social media management tool, gives you the perfect platform to orchestrate peer influencing campaigns.

You understand what your customers have bought in the past or what products sell best – after all this is stored on your CRM – therefore offer deals and competitions on what people want. There is no better way of getting your social media contacts to do the hard work for you than offering them something they want.

Quite often these can be pretty simple and blatant share for a chance of winning competitions, that combine the benefits of raising brand awareness with a tacit recommendation from peers.

Additionally, all these social media interactions can be stored in your CRM to help create more focused traditional marketing campaigns and provide insight into a lead prior to a sales rep making a call. The relationship between social media marketing and CRM is mutually beneficial.

Over a fifth of the UK public uses three devices a day, with smartphones, computers and tablets the most popular, according to a new report from Facebook and market research company GfK.

Of the respondents in this category, 73 per cent switch between each platform mid-activity – for instance, they might browse a website looking for an item on their phone before switching to their laptop to make their final purchase.

What does this mean for companies hoping to market their services online? To some extent, it is a big opportunity – the more time people spend on the web, the more likely they are to stumble across digital advertising sending them in the direction of a sale.

However, it also means that firms need to ensure they can offer a strong customer experience across a variety of platforms. Ideally, this will be a linked-up service, in the sense that a consumer will be able to seamlessly switch from phone to laptop without noticing any change in their browsing approach.

Mark Bulling, Europe, Middle East and Asia measurement lead for Facebook, told the Drum that a lot of people now use different devices to access the internet on a regular basis.

“Facebook is one of the activities where there is a really prominent trend across those devices, along with email, it’s one of the things most likely to occur wherever you are,” he added.

Oliver Robinson, GfK research lead, added that the shift tends to be from a smaller to a bigger device, as the latter is more convenient when it comes to adding data, typing or purchasing items.

Furthermore, there may be a lasting impression that laptops and desktop PCs are more secure than their mobile counterparts, although this is not really the case.

Mr Bulling and Mr Robinson called for brands to offer consistent services across all their platforms if they are to stand out from the crowd and attract new customers in the mobile era.

Programmatic advertising and the use of CRM technology is making behavioural targeting a real possibility for businesses keen to engage with potential customers in novel ways – however, the barriers of user privacy and multiple device tracking remain major hurdles to be jumped.

Steve Chester, director of data and industry programmes at the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), told Marketing Week that the possibilities offered by this kind of marketing can make things better and more efficient for both consumers and businesses.

Advertisers will no longer need to target broad swathes of the population, instead focusing their content towards the right people who are more likely to purchase their products or services.

For instance, brands can target people based on their browsing habits online, ensuring they access internet users who will be interested in whatever they are offering.

Research from the IAB and YouGov estimates that online behavioural advertising accounted for 12 per cent of all ad spend in 2011, with Mr Chester suggesting this investment is only likely to increase in the future.

This is not only related to direct response campaigns, the model traditionally associated with behavioural targeting.

“There is a chunk of brand awareness activity as well and it is growing because programmatic is a method of accessing inventory efficiently. As a result, we expect to see a substantial increase in the amount of video inventory that is bought programmatically,” explained the IAB director.

Excitingly, the UK is the most advanced market for this approach, both in terms of revenue and maturity. Video ad platform SpotXchange recently predicted that 38.9 per cent of online video revenue will be traded programmatically, up from nine per cent in 2012.

“The industry is working on ways to understand consumer journeys across all devices in order to target them with relevant advertising at the right time,” concluded Mr Chester, adding that privacy needs to be at the forefront of marketers’ minds if they are to avoid getting into hot water or damaging the reputation of their brands.

CRM systems and other marketing automation processes are becoming extremely popular among Europe’s business communities, according to a new report from leading industry analysts Ovum.

This take-up is being driven by a desire to move towards more customer-focused approaches as companies attempt to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace and attract new buyers or service users through personalised, engaging campaigns.

Ovum conducted interviews with 1,380 enterprise executives who utilised more than 500 employees, with 18 countries overall involved in the survey.

More than half (54 per cent) expressed plans to enhance or transform their marketing automation system in 2014, while one in seven plan to overhaul their system completely and bring in a new one, according to the report.

“Product and market maturity are converging to form a ‘perfect storm’ with vendor functionality meeting strong customer demand,” said Gerry Brown, a senior analyst of customer engagement and marketing technology at Ovum.

“Enterprise business challenges and IT trends have aligned with the marketing automation value proposition.”

However, he pointed out that firms need to be sure their board’s vision and their implementation plans align before carrying out any major investment in this area.

“The need for competitive advantage, strong austerity measures around cost control and managing risk, and improving the quality of operational execution are the catalysts for evaluating marketing automation systems,” concluded Mr Brown.

According to the new study, the four main industries where automation is likely to become a major trend over the coming 12 months are technology, insurance, manufacturing, and higher education, although this is by no means comprehensive, with many different sectors keen to develop their marketing processes.

Natwest Business Banking recently opted for a Microsoft Dynamics (CRM) system to replace a number of other software processes, explaining that it offers a degree of flexibility and integration the company would otherwise be unable to attain.

The organisation saw a relatively quick return on investment after making the purchase in 2011, it explained.