The multichannel customer is increasing in importance in today's fast-expanding digital world, according to Ingrid Froelich of SDL Web Content Management Solutions, who explains how to successfully catch them surfing and turn their activity into profitable relationships. This article is copyright 2011 The Best Customer Guide.

The term 'surfing channels' used to refer to people who stayed at home staring at the TV with a glazed look on their faces, flicking idly from channel to channel. But the modern-day channel changer is a completely different animal that marketers must try to understand if they are going to form any kind of relationship with them, Froelich warns.

Today's channel-changer swoops dexterously from place to place with practiced grace and gives a completely new meaning to the word 'surfer'. These customers are completely 'cross channel' when it comes to product information, searching, socialising, personal interactions, communications, purchasing and entertaining.

Email, social media, mobile, online and offline interactions are all now part of the customer journey, and each has a profound effect on content, process, relevance, usability, touch points, channels and of course marketing strategy. To have an impact on the overall journey, marketers first need to know how customers behave so that they can respond proactively. This means that a holistic approach to marketing is required.

These active cross-channel customers have fundamentally changed marketers' approach and priorities. We've left the era of 'push marketing' and the traditional 'show and tell' approach, as customers now actively seek out the brands they want to interact with - with or without our help. If brands can't manage to interact with consumers effectively, they will simply go somewhere else or listen to another brand that provides a more compelling offer.

The key to an effective cross-channel strategy, therefore, is the ability to let the customer initiate their next interaction with your brand. It is then important to respond by offering relevant, personalised content that provides a significant, value-added proposition.

Unlike the TV surfer who endlessly receives (and mostly ignores) the messages you choose to initiate, the new customer-centric, cross-channel approach requires much more listening on the brand's part, in the form of analytics, data, messaging, and feedback. Incoming data from email, web forms and online behaviour all provide cross-channel feedback that can help you discover how your different channels support each other. This enables you to prioritise channels and streamline the journey more effectively.

And, in addition to supporting multiple channels where consumers can find information, the number of different devices available (e.g. smartphones, tablets, and other applications) is also growing. Marketers who understand these environments can better adapt their message and usability to what consumers actually want to do, on which device they do it, and where they want to use those features.

But while the advantages of a unified cross-channel approach are clear, many organisations still use a siloed approach to marketing strategy, employing different web teams, social media teams, email teams, PR agencies, and so on. These silos often initially emerge when organisations focus on new channels in an effort to get to grips with what they can do for them. This also sometimes relates to corporate culture and performance indicators that serve to reinforce siloed approaches, often with little regard to how different channels actually influence the effectiveness of the others.

The ability for people within the organisation to work together is more crucial than ever, and this includes the web editors, email marketers, internet marketers, social media personnel, PR teams, sales teams, customer support, human resources, and so on. This calls for truly integrated processes to create a more effective dialogue with customers, as well as for tools that make this internal interaction as easy as possible.

Today's customer tends to look for a single experience of each brand, regardless of channel they choose to use, and that journey should be as smooth as possible, allowing them to act on your offers and messages. But when you throw in different translations, localised content, multiple departments, multimedia content and the specific requirements of each channel, the task appears quite daunting.

Froelich concludes with a simple checklist of the key points to consider in an effective, unified, cross-channel customer experience strategy:

  1. Break down your internal silos.
  2. Focus on your customer rather than the channel.
  3. Define the value of the channel and create task-based interaction, aligning channel capabilities with customer wishes and behaviour.
  4. Apply branding, messaging and brand experience across channels consistently.
  5. Provide cross-channel opportunity at every juncture: email, to web, to social media, to mobile, and so on.
  6. Measure, test and refine social media data, web analytics and transactions per channel.
  7. Integrate your customer intelligence in your web content management system to maximise effectiveness.