One of the key drivers that defines how consumer-oriented businesses interact with both customers and prospects is the level of understanding of what motivates a consumer to do business with one e-commerce site vs. another. There are a number of mature technologies in place that can provide a transactional view of consumer behavior on a website (for example, clickstream analysis or collaborative filtering), or provide a long-term view of a customer’s relationship with a vendor (transactional analysis tied to historical customer behavior). In an ideal world, these types of analyses can be tied to profitability models defined by product classes, as well as to outbound operational systems used by marketing.
If you look at the claims made by analytics vendors, it would appear that their corporate customers have a complete and fully integrated view of their consumers; everything is working perfectly, the results are spectacular, everybody is happy, etc.
The reality is that most companies have a very thin, rear-view mirror perspective of their customers; there is a one size fits all approach to marketing, segmentation is at best a nascent science (the best example of which is the direct marketing industry trying to claw it’s way back up to a 2% response rate—otherwise know as a 98% failure rate), there is little or no integration across operating units that touch the same customer (for example, sales, customer support, billing, etc.), and there is absolutely no integration of the vast amounts of transactional data into a modeling framework that provides a genuine, holistic, and actionable view of the customer, and puts that information in the hands of the people who are in the best position to drive both top and bottom-line revenue.
This situation is further exacerbated by a genuine lack of understanding of consumer motivation. Companies know who their customers are, what they’ve done, when they’ve done it, how they did it, but the key piece they lack, the one element that holds it all together, is why they did it? What drove a consumer to site A vs. site B? What drove the consumer to choose product C vs. product D? The why of consumer interaction is a huge gap in understanding the dynamic of customer relationships, and is one that does not appear to be moving towards any sort of resolution.
The net result of all this is consumers who are frustrated, clearly misunderstood, and able to switch vendors with the click of a mouse, coupled with vendors who are struggling wildly to hang onto their customers, about whom they have almost no understanding, even on a historical level, much less a real time view of what is going on and why. And just to keep things even more interesting, the underlying technology infrastructure and it’s usage are moving at a far faster pace than even the most nimble companies are able to manage; two year ago no one had heard of Twitter, now they dominate the consumer technology landscape, and in spite of this if you ask your average B2C business what their Twitter strategy is you’ll get a blank look. And Twitter is just one small example, there is the whole rich media landscape that needs to be navigated, the stunning rise and dominance of social networks, and all of this occurring in the context of a mobile operating framework which is very different from the old school internet.