Once upon a time distinctive buy button and seamless checkout experience was all your online store required to impress your customer and differentiate from your competitors. But things have changed.
The loyal customer now represents an endangered species in a world of e-commerce that has become more advanced and refined in its processes. Efficient e-commerce is the new stock-standard, which has effectively levelled the playing field and left marketers scrambling to find a new basis for differentiation. To top it off, the customer’s expectation of their buying experience has evolved rapidly and the threat of the consequences of failing to innovate loom overhead.
At last month’s Future Ready conference, presented by the Canadian Marketing Association, some of the largest buzz among industry leaders was generated by customer experience, or CX. Discussions centered around a targeted approach to creating unique and valuable interactions with stakeholders. Digital Transformation specialist, Craig Hanna (@cragster), spoke at length to conference attendees about the challenges marketers face as we approach the digital age and beyond. He defined the future-ready marketing agency as one who concentrates on the prioritization and harmonious integration of CX across all brand interactions and touchpoints from initial discovery to post-purchase.
Customer Experience (CX) can be defined as a customer-centric differentiation strategy that prioritizes the creation of easy, fun, valuable and pleasurable interactions between a brand and its customers across all traditional stages of interaction (attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase), with the aim of developing and communicating an genuine, insightful and empathetic understanding of each individual customer’s experience.
HOW TO INCORPORATE CX INTO YOUR BRAND EXPERIENCE
EXTERNAL & INTERNAL ASSESSMENT
The first step in integrating CX into your marketing strategy is actually a step backwards. Take a step back from your business, away from your role, and get into your customer’s head. When is the last time you bought a product on your site to attempt to understand the processes your customers go through? While contemporary marketing theory and strategy acknowledges the shortcomings of ‘marketing myopia’ and has adopted a customer-centric focus, the truth of the matter is that even though big data and analytics have provided us with insights into consumer behaviour on an unprecedented scale, brands continue to miss their mark.
Just as important is testing employee satisfaction within the workplace. They can often be the most influential point of contact between brands and customers so ensuring a workforce with positive morale that is up to speed with the corporate and customer expectations of customer service is essential to laying an effective foundation in CX.
MAP THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
Think about the processes involved with commonplace purchases you, yourself make. What are the emotional responses elicited at each stage? What is frustrating? What is enjoyable? For some products and services it might be fair to say that they’re widely recognised as arduous processes, perhaps even necessary evils (think: subscription services like cable). Rather than treating the consumer’s path to purchase as a maze to be navigated, learn to reframe this process as a journey a consumer undertakes. This non-linear narrative is filled with overt and subtle brand interactions, and should be understood as a personal and emotional experience that can determine the future of a relationship with a brand. Understanding these journeys rather than tweaking the performance of individual contact points is what will generate real value for companies moving forward.
RE-EVALUATE YOUR TARGETING APPROACH
Don’t limit yourself by restricting the use of data analytics to the evaluation of success factors. The insights that this data can yield about your consumer base can provide you with a unique foundation of behaviour patterns and targeting opportunities that can’t be realised through intuition or qualitative research alone. This data can be leveraged to reveal individual’s interests, online behaviour, and ecommerce and search histories that, together, paint a picture of your customers so detailed that you will feel like you’ve actually met.
When you segment, do so creatively. Design a unique way to frame your customers both as individuals and as potential or existing customers. The trending approach in this situation is to develop personas – fictional characters that epitomise your ideal prospective or actual customers – specific to your company, not just the industry. Bring these personas to life with detailed narratives, images and individualised contexts and give them goals, behaviours, challenges, interests and preferences that influence decision making. Ask yourself, if your competition perceives/portrays customers in the same vein as your company how can you hope to develop truly unique experiences for them?
DEVELOP A CX PLAN
Define overarching CX goals for your brand and tailor appropriate structures and management processes for each business unit to facilitate these goals. Set standards for best practice, educate and appoint CX ambassadors accordingly, and incorporate accountability measures as well as incentive programs. Effective CX demands a roadmap not a checklist. The more time and effort spent during these early stages, the more ROI you’ll see from your CX down the line.
STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN SELF-SERVICE SUPPORT AND PREDICTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Consumers have never been more happy to search out information for themselves. Our job as marketers is to ensure that the appropriate information required by customers is readily available at all stages of the buying process to save time, improve the overall experience, and influence the customer’s decision during competitor evaluation (or prevent it altogether). Complimenting this with technology that can personalise and predict consumer inquiries – something as simple as identifying ahead of time a specific customer from their phone number, or incorporating social platforms like Facebook Messenger into an omnichannel approach to make service conversations more convenient – improves traditionally unenjoyable brand interactions and represents a perfect example of effective CX. Accurately anticipating the needs your customer isn’t even aware of themselves should be the long-term goal of an effective CX strategy.
…and above all: DON’T GET COMPLACENT
WHO’S WALKING THE TALK
In his presentation at CMAfuture, Piers Fawkes, (@piers_fawkes) founder and editor in chief of consumer research and analysis firm, PSFK, illustrated the influence CX-driven design is already having by drawing attention to emerging ‘live, work and play better’ platforms and services on offer for consumers.
The need to refine user experiences through analytics-driven personalisation and intuitive interactions rather than reinvent them altogether is evident in services like the virtual personal shopper, Mona, who filters through advertising noise to provide relevant products and a simplified shopping experience, or Rise, a diet coaching platform that encourages user accountability for their health through regular snippets of daily contact with their individual dieticians.
CX concierge services look set to be the next Uber trend – refining the e-commerce experience by removing the search-engine leg work completely. Take the 24/7 service, Magic, an ordering service for anything (legal) by simply texting item and price-point details, while Pana takes a similar approach in removing the hassle of researching, planning and booking user flight and accommodation needs for travel.
There is a core theme of balance behind the design of these platforms, which reframes the notion of being busy, healthy, productive, and happy in today’s world as a right rather than a possibility. This shines through in services like Alfred, a low-cost subscription household service aimed at removing life’s nagging chores to provide users with more time in their day for the things they love. Time that perhaps could be spent using Highbrow, an education provider that condenses topics of interest into daily bite-size emails to facilitate the ongoing development of personalised knowledge for users. Top this off with Hemingwrite, a selectively modernised typewriter that equips users with useful innovations like cloud-compatibility while at the same time removing access to the distractions of email and social feeds to provide a more productive work environment, and you may notice a pattern emerging. The latest and greatest products and services are looking to reduce how much effort it takes to spin the wheel, rather then reinvent it altogether to improve the overall experience for their customers.
And that’s what CX is – a revitalised idea rather than a revolutionary one. The heir to the throne of differentiation strategy rather than the usurper. Whether you want to buy into the new terminology or not, keeping your customers happy is essential for attracting new customers, for maintaining high conversion and retention rates, and developing a high level of brand equity. It may sound like one of the most common sense business practices, but the fact is that the way marketers and companies have been approaching it hasn’t evolved with the times.
The King is dead, long live the King.