Expanding Minds and Experiences at the 2019 TMSA Annual Conference

At this year’s Compass Awards, a direct mail campaign by VantagePoint Logistics took some of the top honors. Yes, a 147-year-old medium (or 537 or 3019-year-old medium depending on who you ask) bested video, VR, social and digital everything. 

Make no mistake, the work was excellent. It was a luscious, high budget, multiple-piece highly-personalized campaign to a very limited, high-value audience of 150 people. It worked; recipients loved it. When the company called to request a meeting, the prospects were excited, it was as if they already knew them. They couldn’t wait to make it real, to move to the next piece in the sequence: the meeting. 

Talk about an experience. Their prospects couldn't get enough of them. 

Customer experience (CX) was the guiding theme of this year’s Transportation Marketing and Sales Association annual conference. What may seem like an undimensional topic took on new definition from the get go. Keynote speaker Robert Rose,started us off with the big idea that people today are loyal to the experiences that we as companies, brands and marketers provide—not to the product and not to the service. In essence, to how we make them feel.  

I think this makes this a very cool time in “communications history”, for lack of a better term, because every medium is fair game in our efforts to make a great customer experience. 

In her seminar, Jennifer Karpus-Romainfrom Intelestream describes this as not being merely multi-channel. Rather, it’s being “omni-channel.”

Rose takes it even further. “We cannot be everywhere that our customer will be. We need to be anywhere they need us to be,” he said. “It is not about being omni-channel, it is about being very focused and specific about the experiences that we create so that where our customers want to find us, they find us and they find value in our experiences.”

In the case of VantagePoint Logistics that meant a string of mailings that delivered a surprise with every drop. In the case of John Deere, it means a 124-year old publication called The Furrow that farmers love, and in the case of Salesforce, it’s Dreamforce with its 170,000+ attendees.

These creative experiences grew client relationships, created communities and built brand loyalty. They’re just a few of the examples of how wide both the definition and the universe of the customer experience can reach.

It seems like everything and anything a brand or its people can do contribute to this OX or “overall experience.” It’s anything goes as long as it’s legal and it imparts value. 

Fittingly, the customer experience world changes how we view sales, too. How? Well in an era and environment where success is achieved by the value you provide—whether that’s content that’s free and helpful, customer service that exceeds expectations or any other anything that benefits or delights—prospects demand more from a sales encounter than the features and benefits they can pull off your website themselves. So when you’re selling to people, strive to see them as people with real challenges. Avail yourself to help—even when the ask has nothing to do with what you sell. 

TMSA conference panelist and Director of Customer Experience for SaferWatch and PostEverywhere, Kathy Sardelli describes what “hitting it out of the park from the perspective of customer experience” looks like to her. She said, “When one of our customers calls us first to solve a problem that they know isn't ours because they can trust that there is this one in a million shot that we can get it done for them.” 

Looking at everything your company does through the customer experience lens requires looking beyond set roles, departments, silos, titles and business hours—and seeing everyone and every facet of your operations as cogs in the customer experience machine. 

So how’s that work? 

Rose laid it out this way, “The first is to think it's not about a campaign. This is not a marketing campaign. This is not a sales campaign. This has nothing to do with military tactics. It is a product. Think about this like a product. Every experience you create is a product that you develop and you develop an audience for it. And so you begin planning it like a product. Everybody is in your business. This is where we get to think creatively, iterate and create an experience that’s valued and liked and as important as one of our products.” 

One big question that came up was ‘who’s in charge of customer experience when it’s everyone’s responsibility?’ According to Rose, companies on the leading edge are restructuring, or rather, unstructuring accordingly. Motorola merged IT, marketing and sales together and now they now call it their “customer experience group.” Another sign: 2019 TMSA Marketing & Sales Executive of the year recipient, Justin Hall wears the title Chief Customer Officer at YRC Worldwide.  

Technology is helping to facilitate the experience. Samuel Johnson, founding partner and Vice President of marketing strategy consultants, Sachs, Horace Janson LLC pointed out how it’s possible to measure every touch and service throughout the customer lifecycle through salesforce and customer data. “Every interaction you have with a customer creates a boatload of data you can find out from a revenue standpoint, from a margin standpoint, the tenure, the industry, their buying patterns, their buying habits,” he explained. He says this enables companies to develop programs to address churn and algorithms that identify when customers are at risk. 

Karpus-Romain presented the idea of “360-degree CRM.” This involves creating a central location for storing info to ensure easy note-taking and information-sharing for sales and customer teams. By integrating CRM with TMS, she says companies are creating powerful CX systems. 

Sardelli referenced USAA insurance for their successful use of AI on their website to address intent. Daytime visitors using a laptop are likely researching, so content around a single market is promoted. For the visitor viewing the site from an app at 11:30 at night, the experience is different because the system recognizes the person is likely in a crisis and needing to start a claim. 

This level of CX is not for everyone, but it’s important to know about it to find the version of customer experience that’s manageable for your organization, starting with content marketing. So faced with all the options and opportunities out there, where do you begin? Rose suggests asking where it hurts the most in the buyer’s journey and starting there. He urged conference attendees to go deep—to the heart of customer experience and knowing your audience as people. That means understanding what they value and what they’re vexed by. It means delighting them with the imaginative, unexpected stuff like the Associated General Contractors of America’s I build America program to recruit young people into the industry or the Capital One Café, Capital One’s coffee shop-bank hybrid.

So whatever it takes to make the experience positive and memorable is exactly what we should be doing. Sounds like it’s time to get creative with the media. There are so many options today. It’s silly to get fixated on ones that you think you should be in just because everyone else is. Why bother when you could be right were your customer needs you to be?

By Conrad Winter, a campaign and content copywriter for the transportation and logistics industry. He is a TMSA member and will be exhibiting at the upcoming TMSA Logistics Marketing & Sales Conference, which has a theme focused on the Customer Experience (CX). For more information, visit conradwinter.com.

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