Puleri: Making the Most of Customer Relations

Woman on her laptop in a cafe.
Woman on her laptop in a cafe.

Nowadays, ordering products is like signing a lifetime contract to receive advertisements. Any parent with teenagers knows that marketers for acne cleansers can sniff you out wherever you are. Whether through print catalogs, email, social networks or phone, you will be pressured to purchase these products when you’re a grandparent.

A few months ago I ordered a supply of acne products for my son. Each month following the initial order we received a package with a supply large enough to equip a small army of acne-prone teens. Last month, I called the product manufacturer to discontinue our order. I explained to the call center that my bathroom cabinets were filling too quickly, and in the future I’d purchase products as needed from the mall kiosk.

Like I said, marketers will find you, but I was surprised to find it wasn’t by connecting the 16 digits on my credit card. The second I swiped my card at the kiosk I was bombarded with a slew of messages practically begging me to return as a loyal customer. Now, I receive weekly phone calls from the manufacturer asking if I want to renew my regular order. Did the marketers not connect that this same card purchases their products regularly?

Hello, I am still a customer, I just want less product! How about a thank you card for not being wasteful?

IBM’s 2012 Consumer Survey highlights this very idea—marketers are disconnected and simply have not caught up with the opportunities new technologies can offer. In fact, the survey of more than 28,000 global consumers found that not only are consumers expecting a more personalized shopping experience, but they’re willing to share personal information to marketers to make it happen.

Specifically, consumers noted media usage, demographics identification, lifestyle and location to be pieces of information they’d share with marketers. With these few pieces of information, the skin care marketers would realize I still purchase their product. They would notice that I set up a separate email account just to catch their spam mail, and in two clicks the advertisements disappear until next week. They would determine that in three years when my youngest son goes to college, I’ll likely stop purchasing his products, so they can spend that time flooding someone else’s inbox.

With the adoption of social media, the retail industry has shifted to a community of “we.” It’s no longer the retailer who controls the reigns, but rather it’s the consumer. The digital world is really the epitome of what “big data” entails, but learning to navigate this world can give any retailer the upper hand.

This social databank can tell a retailer exactly how their customer likes to be contacted, what time of day and through which mode of communication. It can determine ahead of time the products the customer wants to learn more about and the products that a customer will instantly move to the trash. It can even offer a shopping history to pinpoint exactly when and why a relationship faltered or was initiated.

With a new year upon us, the future of retail lies in one’s ability to efficiently navigate new technologies and effectively utilize the wealth of knowledge they offer. The big data boom offers retailers and consumers alike the opportunity to establish online relationships that can be continued offline.

So, if you’re listening, marketers, take what I’ve now shared about myself to determine how you’ll contact me next time.

Jill Puleri is the Worldwide Retail Industry Leader for IBM Global Business Services. In this role, she is responsible for the strategy and development of offerings and solutions that address retailer’s pain points around the Store, Merchandising, Supply Chain and Multi-Channel. She has over 20 years of experience with clients in the retail industry having held various leadership positions in sales, marketing and consulting.