Companies Are There to Make People Happy

We are all famil­iar with the fre­quent­ly quot­ed cliché: “the cus­tomer is king”. As is so often the case with clichés: com­pa­nies have fre­quent­ly treat­ed this asser­tion as noth­ing more than the mel­liflu­ous war­blings of the mar­ket­ing depart­ment. But then along came digi­ti­sa­tion. And with it, the net­worked cus­tomer is increas­ing­ly acquir­ing influ­ence: each expe­ri­ence with a brand can be com­ment­ed, assessed, and then spread like wild­fire through social net­works. Com­pa­nies that neglect to take cus­tomers seri­ous­ly, and that fail to enter­tain suit­able, inter­ac­tive rela­tion­ships with them across all chan­nels, will soon find them­selves at the cen­tre of a dig­i­tal sand­storm. To act in a tru­ly cus­tomer-cen­tric man­ner, com­pa­nies must be will­ing to ask some dif­fi­cult ques­tions of their busi­ness mod­els – which quite fre­quent­ly will require com­plete restruc­tur­ing. After all, it takes more than just a wily mar­ket­ing ploy to bestow tru­ly roy­al treat­ment upon customers.

The customer leads; the brand follows

Cus­tomers gen­uine­ly were roy­al­ty in the age of the cor­ner shop: the own­er would know the cus­tomers drop­ping in on their errands, would know their pref­er­ences, needs and buy­ing habits, and would be able to tai­lor the stock accord­ing­ly. Sat­is­fied cus­tomers would con­tin­ue to buy their gro­ceries from the cor­ner store, and in ide­al cas­es would even spread the word around the neigh­bour­hood. This ide­alised per­cep­tion of a busi­ness rela­tion­ship has not changed sub­stan­tial­ly in the mean­time, although the world around us has moved at a dizzy­ing pace. The direct con­tact between the cor­ner shop own­er and the cus­tomer has now become an extreme­ly intri­cate con­struct of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. This com­plex impres­sion of all the expe­ri­ences a prospec­tive cus­tomer or con­sumer acquires in his or her deal­ings with a brand is increas­ing­ly in the spot­light of all entre­pre­neur­ial activity.

It is per­fect­ly evi­dent why com­pa­nies have become more inter­est­ed in how their poten­tial and exist­ing cus­tomers expe­ri­ence their brand: dig­i­tal net­work­ing has brought sweep­ing changes to deci­sion mak­ing and buy­ing pat­terns among con­sumers, and brands are now com­pelled to respond if they wish to sur­vive in the mod­ern busi­ness envi­ron­ment. After all, the uni­ver­sal abil­i­ty to access com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion on prod­ucts and ser­vices and to pub­licly broad­cast one’s own opin­ions by tablet, PC or smart­phone has giv­en indi­vid­u­als a hith­er­to unknown pow­er and con­trol over a brand: the 3Rs of the ‘social con­sumer’ – Rat­ings, Reviews and Rec­om­men­da­tions – are the dom­i­nant fac­tors in how cus­tomers make deci­sions. Increas­ing­ly, con­sumers are turn­ing away from the brand’s own claims, and are trust­ing more and more in what their peers have to say, even if they are prone to over­look that an appar­ent­ly pos­i­tive over­all rat­ing can cer­tain­ly be decep­tive and that any­one dis­re­gard­ing the sources, qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of rat­ings may quick­ly be misled.

User reviews are even more indica­tive of a brand’s true val­ue. Who needs Which? mag­a­zine when any­one who buys a prod­uct or uses a ser­vice can share his or her expe­ri­ence with the world, unredact­ed and in real time? Many com­pa­nies still fail to recog­nise just how impor­tant the authors of these reviews are for a brand. And this although endorse­ments by sat­is­fied cus­tomers and enthu­si­as­tic brand advo­cates today hold greater sway over rev­enue than a num­ber of oth­er more tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance indicators.

This has also brought change to what con­sumers insist on from com­pa­nies: nowa­days they expect imme­di­ate­ly usable ‘on demand’ solu­tions to all their momen­tary needs, which they artic­u­late using smart devices that in most cas­es are mobile. They decide where, when and how a brand may inter­est or be of use to them, and hence define – from their per­spec­tive – the ide­al cus­tomer experience.

Everything is customer experience

Here, con­sumers are aware that wher­ev­er they go, they leave behind dig­i­tal foot­prints. And in return for dis­clos­ing their own infor­ma­tion they expect that their per­son­al con­tact with the brand to be as unique as pos­si­ble and that they receive com­men­su­rate sat­is­fac­tion of all their indi­vid­ual wish­es and pref­er­ences in the form of specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored prod­ucts and ser­vices across all touch­points – whether in the form of search requests, the com­pa­ny web­site, apps, social media chan­nels, the shop round the cor­ner or their deal­ings with cus­tomer ser­vice. And the crux of the mat­ter is that each indi­vid­ual encounter with a brand influ­ences cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Indi­vid­ual brand involve­ment encom­pass­es con­crete expe­ri­ence with the provider and its prod­ucts or ser­vices just as much as the emo­tions that the brand itself trans­ports. But the thin blue line between tai­lored cus­tomer con­tact and a tedious slew of infor­ma­tion overkill is pre­car­i­ous­ly easy to over­step. The mar­ket­ing agency i‑scoop penned an arti­cle on the top­ic of Cus­tomer-cen­tric­i­ty and cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, in which it illus­trat­ed that con­sumers are not always look­ing to be blown away by each expe­ri­ence. Like in the cor­ner shops of yore, today’s cus­tomers expect to be treat­ed as indi­vid­u­als with an array of needs across a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent situations.

It is rea­son­able to con­tend, there­fore, that across all touch­points, the fine art of dig­i­tal brand strat­e­gy con­sists of cre­at­ing a form of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence that takes con­sumers seri­ous­ly, accom­pa­nies them on their jour­ney towards pur­chas­ing, keeps them enter­tained and avoids get­ting on their nerves. Com­pa­nies can achieve this by using intel­li­gent data tech­nol­o­gy and ‘social lis­ten­ing’ to record the inter­ests and wish­es of con­sumers in their respec­tive con­texts, and by pro­vid­ing made-to-mea­sure respons­es. Google suc­cinct­ly describes this chal­lenge as a ‘micro-moment’. The real­i­sa­tion that each indi­vid­ual, inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly, can help fash­ion brand expe­ri­ence, leads to a trans­for­ma­tion in cor­po­rate cul­ture: the consumer’s voice is now rever­ber­at­ing through the mar­ket­ing and sales depart­ments, and is already echo­ing down into prod­uct devel­op­ment. Com­pa­nies that give the cus­tomers a voice in research and devel­op­ment process­es pos­sess the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty of match­ing the entire cus­tomer expe­ri­ence with what the con­sumers actu­al­ly want, instead of mere­ly opti­mis­ing their prod­ucts and ser­vices. TUMI, the man­u­fac­tur­er of lux­u­ry bags, is a shin­ing exam­ple of a cus­tomer-cen­tric, entre­pre­neur­ial approach. From its very incep­tion, the com­pa­ny includ­ed its cus­tomers in the entire prod­uct life­cy­cle, organ­is­ing its depart­ments to reflect cus­tomer groups. The cor­po­rate strate­gies in place with­in dig­i­tal star­tups like Uber andZap­pos also point in this direction.

Where does customer experience end and strategy begin?

Although the major­i­ty of com­pa­nies are aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of con­vinc­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, the real­i­sa­tion that this will require a com­pa­ny-wide, cus­tomer-cen­tric strat­e­gy is, in many instances, con­spic­u­ous in its absence. In most cas­es the mar­ket­ing depart­ment remains respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, and in the mean­time they have start­ed invest­ing mind-bog­gling amounts in suit­able tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture, while nev­er­the­less over­look­ing the IT man­agers in their own com­pa­nies. In order to cre­ate a uni­form cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, it is essen­tial to estab­lish inter­faces between the var­i­ous com­pa­ny lev­els. Only this way is it pos­si­ble to con­sol­i­date the acquired data and to dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion on cus­tomer inter­ac­tion to the var­i­ous depart­ments with­in the com­pa­ny as quick­ly as possible.

There are a few oth­er stum­bling blocks with­in com­pa­ny organ­i­sa­tion: who is respon­si­ble for real-time inter­ac­tion with con­sumers, or for pro­vid­ing pos­i­tive feed­back in response to endorse­ments and rat­ings? Who coor­di­nates these impor­tant fac­tors of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence? Who looks after, and who con­trols com­mu­ni­ties and forums if a com­pa­ny lets its cus­tomers in?

A holis­tic, cus­tomer-cen­tric strat­e­gy does not mean that mar­ket­ing and sales should focus on the most impor­tant cus­tomers; rather, it involves stream­lin­ing all process­es and busi­ness func­tions to reflect the cus­tomer per­spec­tive. Even in its finan­cial objec­tives, a cus­tomer-cen­tric com­pa­ny will con­cen­trate on opti­mis­ing the val­ue gen­er­at­ed with each indi­vid­ual cus­tomer. If not before, at least now it becomes clear that the top­ic of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is strate­gic, not oper­a­tive, and that every­one with­in the com­pa­ny must define this issue as a cross-depart­men­tal pri­or­i­ty in order to achieve long-term success.

Opti­mis­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence along the lines of a cus­tomer-cen­tric cor­po­rate strat­e­gy will require inter­nal and exter­nal changes. First­ly, each indi­vid­ual inter­ac­tion between the brand and the con­sumer must be scru­ti­nised to ensure a smooth cus­tomer expe­ri­ence across all touch­points. Sec­ond­ly, the trans­for­ma­tive strat­e­gy will also affect the organisation’s struc­ture. It is imper­a­tive to dis­man­tle depart­men­tal silos and to tear down bar­ri­ers between indi­vid­ual divi­sions. It is equal­ly nec­es­sary to crit­i­cal­ly ques­tion how IT is cur­rent­ly used with­in the company.

Once the foun­da­tion has been built, the strate­gic roadmap for ide­al cus­tomer expe­ri­ence pro­ceeds by address­ing what cus­tomers are look­ing for in their deal­ings with the brand. How can the brand appeal to the hearts, minds and sens­es – and which cor­po­rate goals does this involve? All the par­tic­i­pat­ing archi­tects of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence must agree on which infor­ma­tion con­cern­ing the company’s prod­ucts and ser­vices the con­sumers are like­ly to share, and on who will respond – and how and to what – across the var­i­ous life­cy­cles. After all, the 3Rs men­tioned at the start ensure that pos­i­tive brand expe­ri­ence lasts longer than the actu­al pur­chase trans­ac­tion, so com­pa­nies should active­ly pro­mote and reward pos­i­tive rat­ings and com­ments. Com­pa­nies are in a posi­tion to con­tin­u­ous­ly opti­mise their cus­tomer expe­ri­ence strat­e­gy, pro­vid­ed they make clever use of cus­tomer data and estab­lish suit­able loy­al­ty pro­grammes. As in any good rela­tion­ship, the cus­tomer and the brand will only share valu­able infor­ma­tion once they have built a spir­it of mutu­al trust. The secu­ri­ty afford­ed to per­son­al infor­ma­tion and the clar­i­ty of agree­ments are among the weight­i­er fac­tors on which this trust depends.

How­ev­er abstract it may seem, these ideas must not be left to chance, and require care­ful strate­gic plan­ning. Com­pa­nies must per­ceive cus­tomer expe­ri­ence as a promise they make to con­sumers, one that is imple­ment­ed in a mea­sur­able way, involv­ing clear respon­si­bil­i­ties and tar­gets. Macala Wright pro­pos­es ‘Return on Expe­ri­ence’ as a con­crete per­for­mance indi­ca­tor for suc­cess­ful cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Stud­ies have shown that con­sumers are will­ing to pay sub­stan­tial­ly more for an equiv­a­lent prod­uct or ser­vice if they believe it will help them acquire a supe­ri­or brand expe­ri­ence. There­fore, suc­cess­ful cus­tomer expe­ri­ence will, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly, impact pos­i­tive­ly on ROI and will help cre­ate an unusu­al­ly loy­al cus­tomer base in our fleet­ing times. For this rea­son, com­pa­nies should do what­ev­er they can in the best pos­si­ble way to make cus­tomers kings of their brands.

Ingre­di­ents for a suc­cess­ful cus­tomer expe­ri­ence strategy