Business Report

Recognizing Customers Wherever They Are

Businesses today have to communicate through a dizzying variety of channels.

A company’s customers can use dozens of methods to get information about a product, buy it, and talk about whether they’re satisfied. A person interested in a car, for example, might get curious after receiving an ad on a mobile device. She might follow up by researching the car on a desktop computer, watching it in action on YouTube, or visiting a dealership for a test drive. If she bought the car, she could take it to any number of places for service, buy accessories at stores or online, and maybe discuss it on social-media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

One message, many platforms: Web Experience Management (above), part of Adobe’s Digital Enterprise Platform, helps companies manage and send out their messages over a variety of channels, including e-mail, websites, social-media sites, and mobile devices.

This multiplicity of avenues can make it hard for a company to assess how well it’s doing at enticing and pleasing customers. How can it connect the dots and track a customer through the whole course of learning about a product, deciding whether to buy it, using it, and telling people about it?

“That is a very disaggregated process today, and we’re trying to build a process around it that’s very consolidated and uniform,” says John Carione, group manager of enterprise product marketing at Adobe Systems. Technology companies such as Adobe are stepping in with tools that help businesses identify customers and remain aware of their preferences and history, whether they’re physically standing in a store or posting comments on Twitter.

Last week Adobe launched its new Digital Enterprise Platform, a system that tries to provide all the technology companies need for that process. One of its main features is that it helps keep track of who a customer is no matter how that person chooses to communicate with a company. In some cases, it’s possible to detect this identity automatically—for example, the system can identify when a person returns to a company website and call up other information that’s been collected about him or her. In other cases, the company would have to take steps to centralize its record keeping, maintaining records related to in-store transactions in the same system that tracks interactions through social media.

The platform also keeps track of how customers prefer to get information. For example, it can track what a given customer focuses on when visiting the website—video, images, or interactive forms. Adobe’s system provides a central repository where companies can store and update all that information, making it easier to meet the customer’s preferences in the future.

Finally, the platform tracks how well all these interactions go. Are customers completing forms or abandoning them? Are they watching videos all the way through? Are they discussing their experiences through social media?

While Adobe’s system may work best for companies aiming massive marketing efforts across a variety of digital platforms, other companies are looking to address the needs of more modest marketing efforts.

For example, Greenrope, a company based in San Diego, aims its product at small and midsize companies that simply want to be able to identify their customers in different communication settings.

“Small businesses have so much to keep track of with just doing their work,” says Lars Helgeson, the company’s CEO. They know that personal responses to comments on Facebook pages can give them a leg up—“By tailoring a response to someone, it makes them feel special,” he says—but in practice, it’s difficult to know that the person commenting on Facebook today bought a product at the store last week. Helgeson says, “We’re trying to create a convergence of information.”

Such systems aren’t perfect, he acknowledges. For example, Greenrope’s technology can search for Twitter handles that obviously match the real names used on LinkedIn and Facebook or in e-mail addresses, but some Twitter handles don’t reveal the user’s name. In that case, it’s up to the company to make the initial connection. Then the system can track all the person’s interactions from that point forward.

Companies are still trying to figure out how best to communicate with consumers. “There’s still a lot of experimentation going on,” Helgeson says. Systems such as Greenrope’s and Adobe’s, however, can help them unify their efforts, collect data about what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately get better at using new media and mobile devices to stay connected to their customers.

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