In a hyper-demanding digital world, what can brands do to put experience first?

To paraphrase an article from McKinsey, as improving customer experience becomes a bigger component of corporate strategy, an ever-increasing number of executives will face the decision to commit to a broad customer experience transformation.

But it’s not sufficient to understand that the benefits of change are great. The immediate challenge will be choosing how to structure the organization and rollout, and deciding where and how to get started.

Indeed, fine-tuning an organization’s customer-centricity often entails not only the deployment of transformative technologies. It also involves a more complex process of evolving culture, shifting processes, and crafting new, cross-departmental programs.

But, even before all of that – there is a bigger question at the core of the customer-first evolution. That is – what does it actually mean to put experience first? 

It’s not your mom & pop’s anymore

In today’s über-digital world, where the bulk of engagements occur in the digital space – it can be too easy to forget that our customers are unique individuals, human beings with goals and aspirations, and not just conversion stats or marketing data points.

It used to be the case that the corner store was the hub for nurturing customer relationships, delivering personalized experiences, and deepening loyalty. We could see the customer walking in, understand what they were feeling that day by the look on their face, and predict their intent with relative accuracy – just by observing their body language.

But today’s online retailers are not yesterday’s corner store. The way modern ecommerce executives deliver products and services is not how “Mom & Pop” used to do it. Sadly, it often seems that there is a growing disconnect between consumers and brands – a chasm that can be very difficult to overcome. 

If only we could understand digital customer behavior just as we understand in-person customer behavior – by observing it within the intimate familiarity of our favorite neighborhood shop or branch (but we’ll get to that shortly).

So, before we get to the ‘how’ (that is, how can we put experience first) – it is critically important to understand the ‘what’ – that is, what does it mean to put experience first in the ever more demanding world of digital experiences?

The 3 Hallmarks of Being Experience-First 

Amidst the growing complexities and information overload of our data-deluged, always-connected world, what our customers are actually seeking is simplicity. They don’t need us to pull out all the stops. What they need most is to be serviced in a way that is considerate of their most elusive resource… time. And to make this happen, they need experiences that are seamless and friction-free. 

“Delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty;
reducing their effort –  the work they must do to get their problem solved – does.”

Harvard Business Review

Corby Fine, VP Digital Commerce at CIBC, agreed on a recent webinar I chaired with CX Network, “The more friction that you can remove from someone's time commitment, the better the experience. The better the experience, the happier the customer.”

Hui Wu Curtis, head of Customer Service and Strategy for Arizona Public Services, the largest public utility in the state, commented on another important component of what it means to put experience first – choice. “Some people don't want to go to a computer and only have one option of contacting you, such as a chatbot or other kind of automated system. Yet, other customers love that.”

When it comes to choice, Corby adds how important it is to track the relevant customer behaviors – to ensure that you are presenting the choices that are right for them, namely, “Are you tracking their channel preference and interaction history? Are you tracking the fact that they've never opened an email? That they've never gone into your store? That they've never called you or that they've never logged into your mobile app?”

The third piece of the experience-first puzzle is personalization.

“Eighty-eight percent of marketers say they’ve realized a measurable lift in business results from their personalization campaigns” 

Forbes

Petra Gianopoulos-Wise, Director of Customer Service at ezCater, a US-based office catering business, commented, “We want to do more in terms of personalization. We need to find out who those customers are, how do they want to be contacted, and when do they want to be contacted, so that we can provide them what they're looking for.”

The “How” of Being Experience First

Indeed – friction-free, personalized experiences that give consumers choice are three must-haves for being experience-first. But, as noted earlier, brands today (seemingly) don’t have the luxury to look into the eyes of millions of customers to gauge the needs of each and every one of them, and to cater to each one’s specific intent…or do they?

As Corby Fine said, “If you look at your analytics and you have the ability to track who read certain pages, whether sales or support or service, and then follow through to see how many customers within 24- 48- or 72-hours winding up calling or going into a retail shop – then you could arrive at the “why,” and whether the content on the page is unclear.

“For example, did you ask them to pick a model number as opposed to showing a picture of the different models? Sometimes it takes a simple fix. But, first you have to understand why.”

Hui Wu-Curtis adds, “We're observing what they're clicking on, what they're looking at, where they are on the site and once they connect to the voice channel – what are the types of things that they're calling about.”

Although customer engagements today overwhelming fall into the digital ‘bucket,’ organizations can still enjoy the benefits of the same intimacy and familiarity that the Mom & Pop shops previously enjoyed.

By understanding consumers’ digital body language, marketers can gain a much richer understanding of their needs, intent, and why they choose what they choose, and do what they do. This way, brands can really put experience first, and better cater to their customers’ needs – driving satisfaction and loyalty.

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