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Marston’s CIO: The IT secret behind every successful customer journey strategy

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Daniel Oines 

Digital marketing isn't always the driving force behind the customer journey, sometimes its the back-end, tech team. Mike McMinn, Group IT Director at Marston's, explains.

Mike McMinn is Group IT Director for Marston’s, the British based pub operator and the world’s largest brewer of cask ale. He has worked at Marston’s for just under two decades.

The customer and the customer journey concept has become increasingly important to my role over the last five years, even as a non-marketer.

As Group IT Director for Marston’s, my strategies to address customer-centricity have covered our point-of-sales systems, payments platform, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and web interactive technology; my customer tech team and I have been developing IT-led solutions to improve the relationship between the business and our consumers.

These then have to be translated and used by marketers to connect our brand with the outside world, mostly via the digital platform.

It is this last step that is often scrutinized. The dominance of digital marketing from the point of view of the marketer is well documented, but a company can only develop its customer’s journey(s) if it has the necessary technology, data and IT services to measure, analyze and create its strategy.

A final marketing strategy doesn’t necessarily begin within the marketing function.

At Marston’s, for example, it was the IT department a number of years ago that began pushing to develop and measure analytics on our customers that today would be recognized as key parameters for understanding the customer.

Online, customers could search for nearby Marston’s pubs that they could visit, but the then system only supported registration to one establishment – which doesn’t make sense when one individual visits at least four pubs within their area.

Also, the searches weren’t personalized or understanding of the customer’s needs: maybe they preferred a large beer garden, or if they have children they may prefer different facilities, like a play area, and search results were not differentiated to support these preferences.

These considerations were not remembered the next time a customer entered a site, either.

Our customer tech team recognized that these were relatively simple to fix, and could help the marketing team and wider company understand their current and new customers; we embedded a code on our website so that when people searched for specific services from a pub, the site would remember and suggest more appropriate alternatives during the next encounter.

At the time, the idea of a customer journey, and a business’ position within that, was not yet clearly defined, and as a result our plan to personalize our search engine genuinely scared the marketing department when we approached them.

They weren’t ready for this type of technology; we went ahead and began the research anyway.

Our thought process was to to at the very least begin collecting and storing the wealth of information we would gather before we could sit down and work out the best way to react to it all.

The customer journey strategy, from measurement to application, is best detailed with the collaboration of the marketing department and the IT and customer tech team however, a lesson that is still difficult for companies to achieve.

After that first decision to quantify our customer’s behaviors, others followed.

The marketing department wanted to be able to listen to online and social media chatter in real time, in order to connect, engage and respond to customers and potential customers on those platforms.

We built an application to listen to Twitter and TripAdvisor, and our metrics included complaints to covers ratios of our pubs, all feeding into a machine learning system that would deliver us maps of content that could be turned into a sort of dashboard of sentiment about the standards of our service.

That step forward allowed us, for the first time, to know people’s opinions of our pub’s food and the customer service they received, which could be reacted to as it happened.

The partnership with our marketing team to deliver a sound customer experience was helped by us being constantly aware of changing consumer preferences and behaviors; a collaborative approach also means the appropriate strategy is used.

In this context, appropriate means informative for the marketing team, and achievable by the customer tech team.

Misunderstandings and miscommunications arise when a marketer sees a strategy they want to utilize from a third party and asks the customer tech team to develop it, without concluding whether or not IT can actually deliver the product.

In general, marketers have a tendency to get preoccupied with flashy and exciting new strategies, and third party sellers aren’t interested commercially in talking to IT teams, for fear of exposure really, which compounds the problem.

From an IT perspective, marketers need to spend more time considering how their new plans are going to be created, and how they will actually help, they need to ask more questions on data and on how they want their information presented.

These, and more, are instrumental to the customer tech teams who will need as much information as possible to build the these ideas.

With both teams sitting down together to discuss a new product or service early on, the overall strength of a new product or service launch is made stronger than it otherwise would be, down to the collaboration of a marketer’s vision, and the tech maturity of an IT expert.

Now that Marston’s are better at this way of working, I believe that we are able to successfully build upon our brand experience.

We’re working on our new point-of-sales system, we’re looking at how to bring fresh sales functions in a loyalty based environment, and we interlink these continually with what we discover about our customers.

The customer journey is not just a front-facing business strategy for marketing teams.

To sustainably grow your company alongside the development of your customers, your marketing and customer tech teams (and your sales, and your digital, etc) need to walk together before the assessment period, decide together on the appropriate strategies, and then launch a new product or service to the customer base.