‘Look Into the Customer’s Eyes:’ Improving Retail Relevancy

Ted Rubin, Author, Speaker, Social Media Strategist on Customer Data Perspectives by

“Get back to basics and look people in the eye digitally,” is Ted Rubin’s key message to marketers today. 

Ted is the author of several books about developing customer relationships. “Retail Relevancy,” the new book he co-authored with John Andrews, explores how brands and retailers can thrive in the future by being relevant in consumers’ minds. As a self-proclaimed “relationship” guy, Ted challenges marketers to get back to basics by developing customer relationships.

“We got so wrapped up in all of our abilities to make things mechanical and do mass marketing that we forgot what it means to develop a relationship with the customer,” he says.

Ted challenges whether too much automation, an over-reliance on data, and humanless AI is the right answer for marketers.

“Customer experience is no longer simply about product delivery and service…it’s about the customer experience with our marketing,” says Ted.

In the podcast, Ted shares what some marketers get wrong, what companies like Zappos, Warby Parker, and the Great Wolf Resorts get right, and how to prepare for new technologies like the Metaverse and Web3.   

Check out the full conversation below, or get the full transcript here.


1. Don’t Bang People Over The Head With Your Marketing

How often should you email customers and prospects about your products, offerings, and related content? Ted believes marketers have gone overboard, undermining their brands and customer relationships. 

“People must come first in your growth strategies, marketing plans, and in every interaction you have. Brands seem to be running headlong into brand equity destruction through this overuse of their email list and incessant digital spamming,” Ted says. 

We all know how fast the inbox fills with marketing emails. 

“It makes me wonder how many brand managers and, more importantly, CMOs bother signing up for their own email distribution lists?” Ted says.

In the podcast, Ted and I share some of the things marketers get wrong and what they should do differently. Ted shares several “back-to-basics” recommendations, like following regulations on unsubscribes, while I recommend using customer data platforms to help align marketing messages to the correct audiences and personas.  

2. Learn Pain Points From Customer Service And Turn Them Into Relationship-Building Opportunities

Ted and I believe many marketers miss significant opportunities to learn from customer service interactions and turn them into marketing opportunities. “Customer service is the only time you have 100 percent of your customer’s attention. Don’t waste that opportunity to build your brand,” says Ted.

Marketers can learn a lot from employees who interact with customers regularly, including field operations, service managers, and customer service agents. Organizations also owe it to these employees to equip them with access to the most relevant customer information so that reps have the opportunity to convert a pain point into an opportunity.  

A good example is the airline industry, where hundreds of things can go wrong that cause delays, lost baggage, and other poor midflight experiences. Ted sympathizes with passengers and offers this suggestion to airline employees and their leaders. “As a customer, you also have to realize there’s only so much companies can do for you at certain times, and no plane is taking off because you are annoyed or you are late,” he says. “What they can do well, and I find Delta does, and JetBlue does really well, is keep you informed.”

Keeping them informed requires using technology to understand the context around the customer, what events impact them, what information to share with them, and which options can improve their outcomes. The technology requires integrations with the SaaS that connect the customer journey and present agents with real-time information. Where marketers can step in is to review the customer experience analytics and craft the actions and messaging to turn a poor experience into a relationship-building opportunity.   

“I find the technology is not being used in so many places, not just small companies, but very sophisticated enterprises with huge money and budgets,” says Ted. “How many times do you call up, give your account number, they transfer you to somebody, and you have to give your account number again?” 

Talk about getting back to basics. 

3. The Metaverse is a Learning Opportunity Brands Shouldn’t Ignore

If companies are still working through the mechanics of their customer journeys, should they pay attention to emerging platforms like the Metaverse and how Web 3 will change marketing strategies? 

Ted wrote in a blog post, “Brands don’t have a clue ‘where’ the Metaverse is or how they are actually going to be a part of it,” so I asked him to go deeper into what marketers should be doing to prepare for this next-horizon platform.

“What brands really need to do about the Metaverse is they need to investigate, learn, and test. Be prepared because when it happens, it will be faster than the last transition,” he said.

In the podcast, we dive deeper into the connection between back-to-basic customer interactions, using customer data to competitive advantage, and how to think about experimenting with machine learning. 

Ted believes the basics mean understanding that “relevancy as a retail brand is about your customers’ needs and how you fulfill them.” When eyeing the future, he believes “marketing will truly win when humans control the machines, instead of machines controlling the humans.”

Customer data is the foundation for today and future objectives. Tune into the episode for Ted’s wish for a customer data “easy button,” his insights on permission marketing, and other recommendations on developing customer relationships. 

Want more Customer Data Perspectives? Check out our latest episodes here.

Isaac Sacolick
Isaac Sacolick
Isaac Sacolick is the President of StarCIO, where he guides clients on succeeding with data and technology while executing smarter, faster, safer, and more innovative transformation programs. Isaac is the author of the Amazon bestseller, Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology, and has written over seven hundred articles as a contributing editor at InfoWorld, Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other publications.