The customer is rapidly evolving, especially around their digital behaviour. Until recently, much of the customer journey or interaction with a brand was dated and fragmented, often leaving the customer with a somewhat bitter aftertaste. Today customers are more informed, connected and, therefore, more empowered. They expect information, service, and more and more self-service on an on-demand basis. And they demand personalised interactions with brands regardless of channel. This active and informed customer demands seamless omnichannel purchasing experiences at every turn. This seamless experience is many times the deciding factor in which brand and product to purchase.
Why the Customer Experience (CX) is business-critical
So what exactly is Customer Experience (CX)? Simply put CX is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company over time, through all touchpoints, digital or physical. From websites, apps or social to products, employees (like customer service and sales) or physical stores.
All these interactions add up to the emotional (primarily) and rational connections to a preferred brand and consequently the product and/or service. This means that the more cohesive and meaningful the experience, the more customers are willing to form a relationship, engage with and prefer a brand over time.
As we know, the overall experience with a brand is more often than not likely to be inconsistent or somewhat frustrating. To get noticed by and retain customers, companies need not only to understand their customers and their preferred experience but also proactively innovate and overdeliver on these experiences.
Customer expectations are higher than ever before and the bar is constantly being moved by companies that are redefining the standard for what an experience should be (think Spotify, Apple or Amazon). This effect is not industry or sector-specific nor contained in B2C / B2B, but universal. So success is becoming more and more dependent on the ability to at least meet or preferably exceed expectations with nearly every interaction. And it’s important to remember that this applies to both B2C and B2B. Remember that experience is an emotion led perception, so it does not matter what combination of B’s and C’s we are talking about.
Consequently as competition increases, customer experience may be one of the few ways left for companies to set themselves apart or create an advantage in the market. Companies with a focus on experience and an understanding of their customers will be leaders, with more engaged and loyal customers and will enjoy a steady increase in customer lifetime value (CLV). Those who don’t, well... (you get the point).
We can now see a direct correlation between delivering a great experience and commercial success. But don’t take my word for it, the Econsultancy/Adobe Annual 2019 Digital Trends report highlights this correlation: organisations classifying themselves as ‘very advanced’ at CX (CX leaders) are almost three times more likely than their peers to have exceeded their top 2018 business goal by a significant margin (37% vs. 13%).
All that said, many of us have some work to do. Looking at the data, there seems to be an experience disconnect - over 70% of customers see experience as a key part of their purchase decision but under 50% say that companies deliver an ok experience. That is delivering an ‘ok’ experience, not an exceptional one where the gap is even more extensive.
Now what? Where to start? What areas of focus are crucial for creating these elusive exceptional experiences? There are two areas that stand out as key drivers and with some focus will get you on track for driving success in CX.
Customer obsession is vital
(and actually healthy in this case)
It has been apparent for a while now that being focused on understanding the customer is the key to get anywhere with CX. But that is not enough anymore in my opinion - being obsessed about the customer is now the standard. And in this case, this would actually be healthy for you.
Pushing the customer as the first agenda in an organisation is vital when it comes to driving any success in CX. There is no room for complacency here. As we said before, the target is moving all the time so customer understanding and action is paramount. Now this will not happen in a silo, this must happen in a top-down and bottom-up approach, where the whole organisation is pulling in the same direction. Boardroom lead obsession is essential in building and driving customer-first culture and empower the organisation to execute on that obsession.
Research indicates that there’s good cause to be this obsessed. One factor that is important for businesses, but in this context I would argue even more important from a brand point of view, is price sensitivity. A recent report from PWC - Experience is everything: Here’s how to get it right - shows an interesting picture of how experience affects price sensitivity and indirectly brand perception.
The price premium is real—and it’s big.
When customers feel appreciated, companies gain measurable benefits—including the chance to win more of their customers’ spending dollars. The payoffs for valued, great experiences are tangible: up to a 16% price premium on products and services, plus increased loyalty. While every industry sees a potential price bump for providing a positive customer experience, luxury and indulgence purchases benefit the most from top-flight service. 43% of all consumers would pay more for greater convenience; 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. And, among U.S. customers, 65% find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising. Customers also said they were more likely to try additional services or products from brands that provide superior customer experience. What’s more, while 43% of U.S. consumers said they would not give companies permission to collect their personal data (such as location, age, lifestyle, preferences and purchase history) to allow for a more personalized, customized experiences, 63% said they’d be more open to sharing their data for a product or service they say they truly valued.
Now, this is important to understand from a business point of view — with a great experience attached to a product/service the customer is open to paying more. And apparently, great experience also creates trust which is important in furthering the relationship. This also has a direct and very positive impact on brand perception and the creation of loyalty.
All in all, this hopefully gives a compelling case to obsess about the customer and the creation of exceptional interactions with them.
Integration of technology is the key
The enabler of these exceptional experiences are lead or supported by technology, or more accurately integrated technologies. There is definitely a strong correlation between a seamless experience and a seamlessly integrated technology stack. This is especially true when we are talking omnichannel experiences. But to be fair, we are talking “everyday experiences” for most of us here, jumping from mobile through digital to physical and back around again.
To enable these experiences, integration of some cornerstone technologies and organisational collaborations are needed. The Econsultancy/Adobe Annual 2019 Digital Trends report summarises this quite well:
Strive for integrated CX, martech and adtech
Better collection and activation of data require a strong foundation of integrated CX, marketing and advertising technology to maximise competitive advantage through customer intelligence. Organisations can expend a huge amount of energy trying to integrate disparate tools and platforms, an undertaking which is greatly simplified when they invest in a unified technology setup in the first place. CMOs and CIOs should be working in unison to help ensure that their platforms are as joined-up as possible, rather than focusing unnecessarily on the type of behind-the-scenes ‘plumbing’ that in many cases shouldn’t be necessary.
To extend this, I have found that there are three integrations that need to be in place both from a tech and organisational side to enable seamless experiences. From an organisational view, it is key to get Marketing, Sales, Commerce (eCom) and Support teams to drive toward the same goals and collaborate. And from a tech point of view, it is even more important that underlying systems are integrated and leverage each other to drive toward the goal. Getting at least these four areas to play together will underpin a seamless customer experience - pre, during and post.
And consequently, research shows that the right kind of technology infrastructure is integral to successful CX: Companies classifying as CX leaders are four-and-a-half times more likely than their peers to have a highly integrated, cloud-based technology stack (32% vs. 7%). Further highlighting the importance of integrated systems, companies with a highly unified technology stack are 131% more likely than their peers to have exceeded their top 2018 business goal by a significant margin (30% vs. 13%).
One simple conclusion - seamless experiences matter!
The research shows it, tangible business effects prove it, and more importantly, the customer expects it - well actually ‘demands’ is a better word. A seamless experience is something that one needs to get right, period.