A marketer's worse nightmare - a disconnect between themselves and their customers - often leads to lower spending, possibly an end to the relationship. Yet the Consumer Conversation report, a combined effort from Econsultancy and tech firm IBM, has shown that brands' belief in the customer experience they offer doesn't always line up with the reality - and the experience often falls short of customer expectations.
When the interaction between brands and individuals is positive, a customer is likely to spend more, promote the brand, and may even pay premium prices to remain in the relationship, says Econsultancy. But when this relationship sours - through a negative overall customer experience (CX) - critical word of mouth could suffer and ultimately spending is affected.
The report is a sobering account of the relationship between customers and brands, showing a skewed picture in which customers expect to gain significant value from exchanging information with the brands they trust, but currently they're not receiving the value they deserve.
According to the study, just 37% of consumers believe that their favourite brand understands them - despite 81% of brands saying that they have a working holistic view of their customers. And when consumers are contacted by their favourite companies, only 35% of them say that the communications are usually relevant.
Meanwhile, most brands are fully aware of the value of the customer relationship: 64% of marketers strongly agree that identifying high value customers is vital to their growth, and almost half (48%) of marketers strongly agree that their growth depends on them providing a personalised customer experience.
But do brands really know the cost of the perception gap between themselves and their customers?
Such misunderstandings could explain why so many consumers leave a brand's website without completing their purchase, says IBM. According to recent analysis by the firm, shopping cart abandonment rose to 73.7% in March 2015.
A key issue is technology, and brands' lack of ability to deliver cross-channel CX. Just 37% of marketers say they have the tools to deliver the exceptional customer experiences they'd like to provide.
Lack of investment could cost brands dearly: nearly half of consumers - 49% - told the researchers they have changed service providers in the last 12 months, with experience-related factors playing a prominent role.
Deepak Advani, general manager at IBM Commerce, summed up the report's findings. The customer relationship can be managed through investment in technology, he said - offering unprecedented insights into customers' specific behaviour patterns across the channels.
Greater control for the customer is not so much a threat, but an opportunity for marketers to "engage and serve the customer's needs like never before", he added.
While Stefan Tornquist, vice president research for the Americas at Econsultancy, commented: "The fundamental thinking behind digital marketing has shifted. The goal of providing the right message to the right person at the right time is now just a part of the larger puzzle. The real challenge is providing the right experience for the right person at a time that's right for them.
"At the centre of it all is the marriage of marketing and technology and a commitment to innovation that's driven by individual customer needs."
Of course, this applies to travel brands as much as any other sector, and more, for technology is absolutely critical to travellers. Here at Digital Trip, we recently talked about the growing number of connected holidaymakers, and how technology is being used increasingly by travellers not only during the booking process but also while they're on holiday and for a range of travel-related activities. The message is clear: travel brands that fail to keep up with technology risk losing customers.
It is imperative that travel marketers exploit technology in order to manage the delicate balance that is the customer relationship.