If pretty much any year from 2008 onwards was labelled ‘the year of mobile’, 2014 was very much about ‘customer experience’ with marketers at the turn of the year proclaiming it to be the most exciting opportunity (with mobile just behind incidentally).

As an aside, customer experience is nothing new, there is just far greater attention being paid to it as a discipline in its own right because in a consumer-led, multi-device world, a seamless and consistent experience is so difficult to deliver.

One thing that certainly doesn’t help is the lack of customer insight driving key decisions. I don’t wish to sound like a broken record but having spoken to dozens of retailers last year, big and small, I maintain the view that very few truly understand their customers’ needs and expectations. 

To cite an example, who would have thought that Tesco, so long the darling of British retail, would fall from grace in such dramatic fashion?

Make no mistake about it. This wasn’t down to the economy, ‘tough trading conditions’ or even the rise of Lidl and Aldi, Tesco forgot about its customer and what they wanted.

The company lost touch with the customer making it all the more difficult to counter outside threats, such as Aldi.

Avoid the same fate and put the customer first

In the coming months, retailers will once more be faced with a myriad of new tools, technologies and marketing opportunities, which is hugely exciting. But this also heaps yet more pressure on already over-worked budgets and resource.

Clearly, there are certain customer experience initiatives that are a given such as delivery and returns (we all want stuff and we want it now!)

But at a more granular level, how much money and resource is being wasted on campaigns, promotions, tactics and marketing activities that are not truly aligned to customer expectations?

For example, if you don’t know the type of content that most appeals to your audience, how much of the content you are creating is as good as pointless? Don’t get me wrong – some of the mud will stick. But an awful lot won’t.

The ability to decide where to invest for maximum return, minimal waste and happy customers will separate the good from the great this year. This is where customer insight is key. It shouldn’t only be shaping the big decisions but the ‘smaller’ ones too. Even at the most granular of levels, every decision should begin and end with the customer.

Everyone has a role to play

This means that everyone within the organisation, from the boardroom to the ‘shop floor’ needs to adopt a ‘customer first’ philosophy.

Digital marketers have a particularly important role to play. Our world moves at lightning pace. There is always something shiny and new and something that looks more fun than the task at hand. We can be easily distracted.

Before you know it, money is thrown at something with little attention paid to whether it is actually relevant to the customer and their values, behaviours, needs or expectations.

I therefore hope to see marketers take a step back and see the bigger picture in 2015. If 2014 was the year customer experience became as much a part of the vocabulary as SEO or social media, 2015 is the year when retailers need to really live and breathe it. It’s the year when every decision is made on the basis of what customers actually want rather than what the retailer thinks they want.

It’s the year when retailers stop and ask themselves, ‘will this make our customers happy?’

Next time

In my own research last year, I read an awful lot on the importance of customer experience but very little practical advice (especially for SME’s) on how to go about putting in place a customer experience strategy.

I’ll seek to address that next time. Until then, best of luck for 2015.