Exploring customer experience

It’s probably not escaped your attention that in recent years the term ‘customer experience’ has become increasingly prevalent in marketing conversations, as organisations explore a multitude of different tactics and approaches in order to ensure they’re serving and delighting users. However, it can be difficult to pin down all the things that make up the ‘customer experience’, as well as how it differs from traditional sales and marketing concepts, and the impact this may have on organisations’ existing business strategies and operations. This post aims to provide an introduction to the idea of customer experience, delving deeper into the key elements of what makes an experience great along with some of the most compelling reasons why you should be investing in this area.

What does the customer experience comprise?

Forrester describes customer experience as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company”; a broad definition that touches many different disciplines within an organisation including marketing, IT, customer service and product management as well as user experience and design. Importantly, though, despite the involvement of so many teams and roles, only the user is able to determine your ultimate success, which can make it difficult to accurately predict what will and won’t work. Easy, enjoyable and useful interactions are always vital, however, and this concept brings with it a number of considerations that are a must for any good customer experience.

The (not-so) secret ingredients

The utopia of customer experience is a vision you’re no doubt already familiar with: delivering the right message, at the right time, in the right format. Relevance is key to achieving this, as users not only want access to the information they need exactly when and where they need it, but more than ever expect all communications to be tailored to their specific circumstances, whether this is their profile, engagement history, or current behaviour. When managed effectively, this also helps ensure you’re delivering real value to your users, providing them with information and services that, crucially, they consider to be valuable and that aren’t solely focused on conveying the advantages you believe your organisation can offer. This focus can be seen, for example, in the rise of content marketing, which generates word-of-mouth advocacy through shareable, original and helpful pieces, rather than batch-and-blast advertising that users are increasingly tuning out. Naturally, though, no matter what form your communication takes, it’s important that it’s instantly recognisable to the user and conveys the authenticity of your brand, making consistency another important quality.

As they become increasingly business-critical these pillars of customer experience are being embraced across the enterprise, with Forrester reinforcing their importance and stating that the most successful organisations to respond to the customer experience boom will be those that focus on “real-time actionable data, contextualised customer experiences, sales methods tied to buyer’s processes and content-led marketing”.

Underpinning the experience with understanding

Of course, achieving this customer experience nirvana is much easier said than done. Customers’ buying patterns are not linear; they regularly move back and forth between stages, causing the traditional sales ‘funnel’ to be drastically reshaped, yet still expect a relevant, valuable and consistent service. As such, organisations need to understand every potential interaction between the user and the brand, covering all touchpoints so that users are empowered to complete key tasks and access important information as quickly and easily as possible. Techniques such as data analytics and experience mapping can help you build this understanding, and enable you to see the interactions that occur post-transaction too (your relationship with your customers shouldn’t end at the point of purchase, the importance of which is covered further on). Only when you are armed with a clear and comprehensive picture of the varied and complex journeys users go on will you be able to draw out exactly what they want to achieve at every stage, and therefore respond to this most effectively.

The impact of technology

One of the key drivers behind the dominance of customer experience is technology, which allows users to choose from a wider range of services than ever before as many of the existing barriers to entering new markets and locations are removed. With organisations of all shapes and sizes able to access means of production and distribution typically only available to large enterprises, traditional points of differentiation such as price, quality and reach are also decreasing in significance. In this new landscape, customer experience is emerging as one of the key spaces in which organisations can stand out from the crowd.

At the same time, technology is enabling users to gather more information about your organisation earlier in the decision-making process, while amplifying any opinions, both positive and negative, to provide customers with a powerful voice. This makes ensuring that their experience of your brand is favourable a priority; indeed, Forrester has gone so far as to state: “The new power of customers means that a focus on the customer now matters more than any other strategic imperative”.

Seeing the benefits

It’s been made very clear that organisations can no longer place their own objectives and vision above serving the needs of their user, and must become “customer-obsessed”; something that entails substantial investment and often requires a complete shift in mindset and operations. The returns from this effort, however, can be just as large, as it’s been found that good customer experience correlates with consumers’ willingness to repurchase, reluctance to switch, and likelihood to repurchase across virtually all industries. This loyalty can have a huge effect on financial performance, with a 5% increase in customer retention generating an estimated 75% growth in profitability, and the effort required to attract a customer six times that required to keep one.

It’s no surprise then that companies with high customer experience scores have been found to deliver significantly higher shareholder value than low-scoring companies. In the face of this evidence, more and more organisations are focusing on this area, with 92% highlighting customer experience as a top strategic priority; only 45%, though, say they have the budget needed to get the job done, suggesting that organisations able and willing to move quickly in this area stand to reap the benefits of first-mover status.

Summing up

So, while the need for a positive customer experience brings with it considerable challenges and complexity, this is arguably matched by the scale of the potential rewards, making it a vital space for all organisations to explore. Additionally, it seems that the focus on this area is unlikely to fade any time soon, as new trends and technologies, for example powerful platforms such as Sitecore, simultaneously improve organisations’ capability to deliver timely, relevant and informed messaging while changing user expectations of what constitutes a truly exceptional customer experience; issues I’ll be looking at in a future post.

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