But that’s OK. Here are 5 tips for controlling the touchpoints you can – and actively influencing those you cannot control.

In the old days, touchpoints were easy to control. You had ads, direct marketing, collateral. Even the first decade of the Web was easy to control. Update your site every quarter or so, and you were good. But that’s all changed. In fact, marketers are having a hard enough time controlling the touchpoints they should be able to control – those they manage. But today, the numbers of touchpoints outside your control are increasing exponentially.

What’s a touchpoint? Anyplace where you interact with, or “touch”, a customer. Salespeople, packaging, advertisements, manuals, toll-free customer service centers, invoices, web sites, distributors, text messages from your firm, catalogs, thank you letters, and even products themselves.. all touchpoints.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to realize that many companies are losing control of their distribution channels, brands and even their customers. In a world where good – and bad- news spreads like wildfires over digital media, companies move much slower than their customers.

With that in mind, here are 5 tips that can help you begin to better control the touchpoints you can, and influence those you cannot control.

1. Does your organization know what touchpoints you have?

Lack of knowledge about your touchpoints means that you tacitly (and usually unconsciously) cede control of the touchpoints that influence customer experience, and their perceptions of your brand. Winners will be those that move to influence and control their touchpoints, based on a deep understanding of which work, which don’t, and why.

2. Control your touchpoints – or they will control you.

The importance of touchpoints – understanding them all, controlling those that you can, and influencing those you cannot – will be the defining factor in delivering a better customer experience, building stronger relationships and driving loyalty over the next five years – and beyond.

3. Understand how your touchpoints work

First (No. 1, above) identify the touchpoints you do have, and create a map of where you are today. An understanding of how individual touchpoints work – in sequence or alone – to move customers through the lifecycle and closer to your organization.

4. Map the gaps

Once you start looking at your touchpoints, you’ll start seeing places where gaps exist. You’ll find them in places where touchpoints should exist – and don’t. Places where touchpoints do exist, and shouldn’t. And places where the touchpoints you have can do a better job (faster, more informative, better experience, less expensive) at meeting customer needs and business objectives than they do now.

5. Construct a specific plan for moving forward

By using your touchpoints as a strategic hub for coordinating your customer experience strategy, you can find ways to sets priorities, maps out the costs and benefits, and provide specific metrics for measuring the results. While short-term results are inevitable, this is not a one-time effort, nor is it one that can be completed in a matter of months. It is a long-term strategy backed up by numerous tactical details.

As touchpoints proliferate across these digital and user-driven channels, traditional corporate influence over them wanes. The bottom line is simple to understand, but a lot of work to execute: companies must immediately re-evaluate the way they touch, influence and serve customers. Five years from now, the majority of profitable customers will expect faster, better and more customized service than most firms offer today.