- An emphasis on customer experiences is vital to capturing market share and growing consumer loyalty.
- Not all customer experiences are created equal, with categories including connected, branded and personalised.
- Organisations should treat the customer experience as a continuum, moving towards a complete experience that combines the three categories.
In many ways, the digital revolution has ushered in a golden age of the customer experience. A new era, dedicated to perfecting how customers interact with organisations offering products or services – from setting foot in a store to browsing a website or engaging on social media.
Organisations understand this newfound importance of the customer experience. With entire market segments now digitised and disrupted, such as social media’s effect on advertising, or online shopping’s effect on distribution, the customer experience has become the new battleground, with repeat business, great word of mouth and market share the ultimate prize.
However, many organisations are still struggling with what the customer experience really means for them. Is it an omnichannel experience spanning ecommerce, contact centres, bricks-and-mortar stores, and advertising? Or is it about leveraging new digital technologies to create completely personalised journeys? Also, what’s the difference between the two?
What follows is a guide to great customer experiences, and how organisations can begin to craft the ultimate experience by leveraging the power and promise of digital technology.
Let’s start with the expression, ‘Providing the right people with the right experience, at the right time, through the right channel and with the right content’¹.
In the world of customer experience, that scenario is the utopia – the ultimate expression of its golden age. Each customer is able to interact with an organisation in the way that they want to, and when they want to. Most importantly, they’re receiving an excellent experience every single time.
The proverb sounds good on paper. However, delivering such an experience in the real world is difficult, and can be quite overwhelming for organisations. So where should they start?
Firstly, organisations should realise that it’s not probably possible to deliver a customer experience utopia immediately. Rather, it should be seen as part of an ongoing process.
The first goal should be to unify the customer experience across every channel, defining it as a connected customer experience. In doing so, organisations are creating consistent interactions with all their customers through every medium.
For example, a brand can successfully leverage multiple channels using free samples. When buying a product in-store, samples of other products are provided. This experience can then be replicated online, with customers able to choose which samples to add to their basket at the checkout phase of the transaction. When the brand launches new products, samples can also be provided within direct marketing materials. These are then sent by post to customer mailboxes.
Another scenario involves ‘click-and-collect’ services. After purchasing a product online, a customer can opt to collect the product within any one of the company’s retail stores. Not only does this unify the online and offline experiences, it provides the opportunity to track customers across these multiple channels, potentially increasing their basket size by providing special offers at the point of collection.
If organisations can achieve this unified experience across multiple channels, they will be well ahead of the curve. This is especially true as it becomes harder to navigate the increasingly numerous channels available to customers, from still-growing social media platforms such as Snapchat, to upcoming virtual and augmented reality technologies.
As organisations begin to unify their customer experience, they should also seek to differentiate these experiences by creating memorable interactions. This is called a branded customer experience, where organisations craft signature sensory events that are unique to that brand.
When deciding on what kind of experience to pursue, organisations should think about the brand’s values, and how these can be effectively and creatively communicated through physical or digital channels.
A good example is the adult card game Cards Against Humanity. Described as “A party game for horrible people”, the brand’s values are infused all throughout the product’s online store.
During the checkout process for the card game, all interactions are carried out in an informally casual yet direct tone. If a customer adds incorrect contact details, for instance, an error message pops up proclaiming, “Dude, that doesn’t look real”. After the product has been purchased, an emailed invoice brashly proclaims: “Dear customer, thank you for spending your money all over our website.”
Rewriting the messaging on an online storefront might only be a minor change, but it demonstrates how every part of a customer’s interaction with a brand is part of the total experience. Further, if these interactions can then be leveraged to communicate brand values, the effects on the customer experience can be significant and memorable.
While the Cards Against Humanity store is an example of a branded customer experience, this is still the same experience for all customers. It’s not personalised for the individual. The next step is the personalised customer experience, in which an organisation knows who its customer is and delivers an experience that is tailored according to that information.
Currently, organisations best positioned to offer personalisation at scale are digital streaming platforms. For instance, Spotify uses data and artificial intelligence for its Discover Weekly playlist, a setlist of 30 tracks curated for each user. Similarly, Netflix uses algorithms and viewership data to personalise its service to the taste of each individual customer, providing a different experience to each user. The company also sends notification emails notifying customers when new episodes of a TV show they’ve been watching becomes available, providing useful information over another channel that will likely avoid being marked as spam.
Scaled personalisation is being embraced by more traditional retailers, too. Shoes of Prey, a US shoe retailer, offers a create-your-own service to customers, allowing them to personalise their own pairs of shoes through a 3D digital maker platform. For a more individualised experience, the brand also operates retail stores staffed with shoe stylists, who can guide customers through the online designing process if required. The final designed shoes are then custom made and delivered directly to consumers.
How can an organisation begin to design a personalised customer experience? Here, digital capabilities such as complete listening and microtargeting can assist in helping to sort signal from noise. Complete listening combines social media listening with media monitoring and internal customer data (such as from loyalty programs) to paint a fuller picture of customer preferences and expectations. Microtargeting, meanwhile, involves identifying individuals, or specific small clusters of people, and feeding them tailored messaging.
The personalised customer experience existed a long time before the digital revolution. Consider a customer entering their local coffee shop, being greeted by name, then having their usual order placed without them having to say anything.
All organisations should focus on creating customer-centric experiences. Recognising that this is a journey of maturity, moving from connected through to branded and beyond (and which is supported by rapidly improving technologies), any organisation – no matter their size – can set off on the path now and learn more along the way. In doing so, they can be rewarded with considerable customer loyalty.