As a marketing professional, I am obsessed with learning about new trends and technologies. I frequently speak with my peers, entrepreneurs and analysts about their business successes, market shifts and lessons learned from initiatives that may not have gone as planned.

I recently read a Gartner study that said more than two-thirds of companies compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, and that in two years, 81% expect to compete mostly or completely on the basis of CX. These are not surprising stats. As a digital consumer, I buy only from companies with superb customer service.

I turned to CX expert Steve Pappas to help me understand how companies can engage with customers in today’s digital world where everyone expects real-time service and detests having to answer the same questions for multiple representatives. In addition to being the CMO of software company Panviva, Steve has built and sold six companies. His mantra is that customer is at the center of the universe.

Q: How did you get interested in marketing? 

A: It was out of necessity that I immersed myself in marketing techniques and methods. I was starting companies and needed to market our services and products. My first startup was a Cruise Travel Outlet and I had to learn very quickly how to market a cost-plus service nationwide. Our goal was to be nationwide while being local to garner customers away from local mom-and-pop or chain agencies. We made a lot of mistakes and wasted a lot of money in the first six months, but then I learned what needed to be done and how to focus my efforts to build the business. Now I’m hooked. Marketing is the true lifeblood of a startup’s growth.

Q: A CMO wears many hats today. What do you think should be CMOs’ top focus, and why? 

A: CMOs need to better understand their customers since they have other choices. Get out and constantly talk to customers. Ask about their stories. Understand them better than any survey or research project could ever tell you. Make a point to call, visit or spend time in your call center. There is no better way to thoroughly understand what works and what doesn’t than spending a few days in your call center. You will gain incredible insight from your reps and the customers they serve to help you make better decisions in going forward.

Q: How can companies best engage with customers in today’s omnichannel world?

A: I believe there are five ways to engage with customers. Make it easy and intuitive for your team to deliver fantastic customer experience.

  1. Be where the customers are. We need to start by understanding the customers’ processes. Most of my peers call this customer journey mapping. I have used techniques for years that look at everything from how the customer thinks they need a product or service all the way to when they have an issue with either and need support.
  • Determine customer communications preferences and mediums. Do customers want to use social media? Do they prefer to walk into a retail location? Will they email us? Communicate online via chat or even at 2 a.m. with a chatbot? Understand how customers want to interact and get information from your company.
  • Develop one single source of truth. This means rolling all of the possible answers, decision flows and governance processes into a single repository of information that will serve all channels used today, while being flexible enough to accommodate all future needs.
  • Create a customer-first culture. Teach your team to focus on delivering the very best customer experience possible, not just creating and executing marketing programs. Customer experience is everyone’s job. Marketing is at the early part of the customer experience, where we look to make the awareness journey pleasant and easy for customers. Sales has their part to play in assuring the buying experience for the customer is frictionless and positive. Finally, customer experience starts even before the product is developed and packaged. Always ask, “How will this be for the customer?” Think about their level of effort, frustration points and saving them time.
  • Build relationships: After a sale is done, all of the departments should be charged with supporting, servicing and retaining the customer and delivering great experience. Try to promote more of a long-term partnership relationship with customers rather than a vendor-customer relationship.

Q: What marketing trend do you see coming down the road? 

A: I see everyone trying to jump on the omnichannel bandwagon, which is the future. But I don’t see folks approaching the transition with an eye to process. No digital transformation or omnichannel initiative will work and give you the payoff you need without first addressing all of your current processes and setting them for future needs. I always tell my team not to look at your processes based on today’s needs. At midnight, today is over. Look at what you will need for processes two to five years out. Really think about these growing channels. Channels are all of the ways your customers, partners and prospects can interact or transact with your company. Then make sure you are applying the right messaging and style for each. As CMOs, our companies are looking to us to provide vision on how we should be marketing tomorrow to benefit today.

This article first appeared in Marketing News.


  • Parna Sarkar-Basu

    Parna Sarkar-Basu is a corporate marketing strategist and founder of Brand and Buzz Marketing. Leveraging her two passions – technology and brand building – Parna humanizes corporate brands, simplifies the complex and creates industry buzz to elevate companies to new heights. She has been instrumental in propelling tech companies into category leaders in highly competitive markets, including artificial intelligence, enterprise software, storage systems, robots, agtech and mobile platform. Recipient of multiple awards, Parna serves as a strategic advisor to entrepreneurs and CEOs and works with their team on a variety of initiatives, including launching companies and innovative products, brand development, global expansion and reputation management. Parna has led marketing and communications functions for various global companies, including Kaminario, iRobot, iCorps Technologies, Invention Machine (acquired by IHS), Verivo Software (acquired by Appery) and PTC. A champion of STEM initiatives and innovation, Parna builds and supports programs to inspire future innovators and entrepreneurs. She is the WITI (Women in Technology International) Boston Network Executive Advisor and South Shore Innovation board member. She is also the V.P. Brand Marketing for American Marketing Association, Boston.