(Re)approaching customer experience
If you ask most organizations to describe customer experience (Cx), you’ll commonly hear something along the lines of, “It’s the cornerstone of everything we do.” Alternatively, it’s often described as “the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company over time.” And while they’re right—customer experience is an enterprise endeavor, as we’ll explore below—these statements don’t really tell you much about how you go about building yours.
Building truly exceptional experiences requires leaders and their teams to adopt a more systemic understanding of how Cx intertwines with brand and key dimensions of your business to drive consistent, authentic and sought-after experiences—which are not only critical to growth but also to how companies can lead in the future.
So let’s explore further how businesses can design exceptional customer experiences from this perspective.
Customer experience is customer-driven and brand-led.
One of the key elements that Cx design brings to the forefront for organizations, big or small, is to connect with customers’ needs. Traditionally, companies often have a natural bias toward focusing on their operations and their offerings, overlooking whether or not they’re aligned with their customers’ needs and desired experiences.
But the key to delivering meaningful experiences is understanding customer needs and aspirations—and centering everything the organization does around them. For organizations that recognize Cx as a crucial driver for their companies, significant business performance improvements soon follow:
- Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers.
- Experience-driven businesses grew revenue 1.4 times faster and increased customer lifetime value 1.6x more than other companies in the past year.
- Companies embracing service as a value creator achieve 3.5 times more revenue growth than those managing it as a cost center.
But simply placing the customer at the center isn’t enough. We said earlier that Cx is customer-driven, but brand-led. That ‘brand-led’ factors is a crucial element to delivering an ideal customer experience. Because brands are driven by meaning—by shared belief between an organization and its audience. When that meaning is shared by customers (and employees), brands can create powerful emotional connections.
Customer experience is where that brand meaning comes to life—where it’s both built and maintained. Experience is where brand promises are fulfilled, and the more a brand promise is aligned with what your organization does and the experience it delivers every day, the more your customers will believe in your brand and want to be part of it—even advocate for it. This, over time, will build a competitive advantage that’s hard for competitors to copy.
Customer experience is an enterprise endeavor.
So, how do you integrate and adopt a brand-led and customer-driven approach to building powerful customer experiences?
Simply put, you must ensure your brand’s meaning pervades every facet of your customer experience. It has to consistently deliver that meaning across every engagement or interaction you have with customers as you address their needs. This transforms customer interactions from being purely transactional to being relational, based on shared meaning and experiences. And it transforms customers into advocates who are invested in the brand and seek—more than just satisfaction—participation, recognition and belonging.
That level of relationship only occurs when you make customer experience an enterprise endeavor. Every decision you make and every activity you undertake influences how effectively brand meaning is brought to life across a customer’s journey.
For example, consider a brand that manufactures audio electronics. Perhaps their brand promise is ‘universal connection and seamless adaptability’. How might their Cx approach be led by that commitment?
- Their product development team needs to incorporate those concepts heavily during the design phase—well before customers make a purchase. For instance, customers would feel betrayed if their product required separate, proprietary cables that can only be bought from the same company.
- Their website catalog and in-store displays should be intuitively organized to help customers find the product or related components they need. Purchasing processes should be as simple and seamless as the equipment’s setup and use.
- Their customer success team needs to provide post-purchase resources and how-to guides, enabling customers to fully use the products’ adaptability. Leaving customers to figure out setup and connection to other devices or audio systems alone leads to frustration and missed opportunities to increase the equipment’s personal value and deepen their relationship with the brand.
Thinking about Cx this way requires focusing less on specific touchpoints and interactions and more on how an organization creates and delivers value end-to-end, throughout the entire customer experience. From our work with clients, we have learned that the secret to adopting this brand-led, customer-driven and holistic approach to Cx starts with four critical dimensions.
- How you learn and know
- How you build relationships
- What you offer
- How you work
#1 How you learn and know
Brands that deliver exceptional customer experiences build a foundation to continuously learn and understand their customers. They’re focused on understanding the people they’re creating value for and how they evaluate impact or success.
This requires going beyond demographics and unearthing the psychographic and cultural dimensions that influence their customers’ behaviors, aspirations and decisions. But because these are always evolving, customer understanding remains an ongoing activity.
The best means for building this understanding is via a “mixed methods” approach—combining qualitative and quantitative research. These inputs enable you to assess whether your brand’s meaning and customer experience align with what your customers are seeking, monitor the over-time impact of any changes you make, and create an environment that supports your brand’s ability to do what matters to them.
And crucially, it also allows your brand to anticipate customer needs and innovate on the experiences you can deliver.
This mixed-methods approach can include evaluations and metrics such as:
- Customer satisfaction surveys
- Customer research, identifying the driving mindsets of your core customer community (e.g., Liquid Agency’s proprietary Brand Believer research)
- Brand tracking, identifying the personal meaning a brand has to specific segments and performance throughout the marketing funnel
- Persona or Jobs To Be Done identification
- Go-to options when making purchase decisions
- KPIs relevant to business goals (e.g., customer churn, customer retention, customer lifetime value, etc.)
All this understanding will only matter if it’s integrated into your day-to-day work—into the ways of working that employees practice. Driving shared understanding within your organization is the key, because after all, employees are the ones who support your customer experience and represent your brand during all those interactions that develop meaning for customers. If their understanding is misaligned, you simply can’t achieve a brand-led and enterprise-wide model for customer centricity. It will be too disjointed, confusing customers about your brand and the experiences they can expect.
#2 How you build relationships
Without relationships, you don’t have experiences.. Thinking about how your people connect with your customers along the journey and intentionally designing these interactions—physical or digital—is key to any experience.
From customers’ first encounter to every subsequent moment, the experience should be designed to deepen your brand relationship with your customers. This involves evaluating all your brand’s touchpoints, interactions and even communication style with customers. Are they consistent and aligned with the brand meaning you want to impart? Are you able to better provide guidance and resources that anticipate needs and support the outcomes customers seek?
For example, imagine you operate a regional bank, one that has been a cornerstone of the community for decades. You know that your customers value the personal relationships and services they receive at their local branch, but you also recognize that digital services are essential to your future. How do you expand your offerings in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the personal touch that has connect your brand and customers? Perhaps you hire a team internally from among your most-successful branch employees to act as official brand representatives, who can answer questions and provide project guidance as they would in-location. Or perhaps those same employees become key stakeholders in the development of the digital experiences, ensuring parity between their behaviors and that of your new service.
Start by determining what kind of relationship you want to build with your customers. Then identify existing elements of your customer experience that already achieve that type of relationship and seek to extend that capability while reaching new customers (or existing customers in new ways). Think about how you may provide advice and guidance to your customers, what supportive environments (digital or physical) you may be able to create, how you respond in moments of crisis, and how deepening the connection with your customers might look and feel.
#3 What you offer
The relationships customers form with brands should only deepen once your product is in their hands or service delivery starts. And as you move to expand into different product lines, customers should find the same meaning and type of experiences. For that reason, think of your offering not as a single thing—or as disjointed solutions serving different needs—but as an integrated ecosystem. Consider Apple. Their flagship offering, the iPhone, sits at the center of a broad ecosystem of complementary services and products, from iOS to the App Store to the Genius Bar to the Watch. Each has a clear role to play, and distinct value that increases the overall worth of the ecosystem.
This results in value (and, by extension, brand meaning) being distributed across everything you offer in that ecosystem. So if one part becomes compromised, the rest of the system sustains the organization because its value comes from connectivity, rather than individual components.
For example, imagine you operate an art supply business. The product you sell may be project or art supplies, but what is the nature of the experience that you offer? Art supplies offer customers the joy, wonder and freedom of creation—how will those attributes show up across your brand? The customer experience you build can reinforce this sentiment through products and services like:
- Educational workshops providing skills that enable more creative opportunities and expressions
- Community gatherings or contests to display and celebrate customers’ creations
- Automatically contributing donations to youth art programs at certain purchase levels to help customers participate in sharing their passions
So think about how you may develop your offering as a solution ecosystem, or build an end-to-end user experience, or come up with unexpected ways to deliver value across different and integrated formats, be it physical or digital.
#4 How you work
Employees need the right systems, processes and tools to deliver the customer experience you want to build. This is where customer experience and employee experience (and their inherent ties to your brand) are most visibly aligned. How you and your colleagues get your work done—sharing information, making decisions, planning and prioritizing—remain key components of experience design.
Broadly, this involves your environment, processes and resources. First, does your organization create an environment and processes that directly facilitate the customer experience you’re building?
For example, consider a collections business—an industry that often struggles with customers developing antagonistic relationships. The brand can change what meaning its customers associate with it by adopting a partnership mindset, retraining its employees and equipping them with financial guidance resources to help borrowers establish better financial stability.
Looking internally for solutions frequently provides the biggest customer experience benefits. And regarding resources like technology platforms and other tools, their impact is evident:
- The product development team likely designs better-received financial support services after incorporating user testing capabilities.
- The web development team will require a site architecture and capabilities to facilitate customer experience and interaction (e.g., customer user accounts, payment history records, available services).
- The customer success team will require a living information repository (e.g., intranet, a content management system (CMS)), to help them inform customers of repayment options and guide them through various processes.
Consider your collaboration and problem-solving approaches, which decisions take top priority and the systems or tools necessary to deliver ideal experiences.
Brand and customer experience are inseparable.
Customer experience success depends on how well you deliver your brand’s meaning—enabling believers to form genuine, authentic relationships with your brand based on the value and support you provide them. And for organizations to adopt a brand-led and customer-centric approach, every facet of every engagement and interaction must deliver the brand’s meaning and address customer needs.
Before engaging with your customer experience, a given individual merely aligns with your brand’s meaning. It’s during experience where the meaning becomes tangible for them.
Accenture. Accenture Report Finds 3.5x Revenue Growth for Companies that View Customer Service as a Value Center. https://newsroom.accenture.com/news/accenture-report-finds-3-5x-revenue-growth-for-companies-that-view-customer-service-as-a-value-center.htm
Forbes. How To Prove The ROI Of Customer Experience. https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/09/07/how-to-prove-the-roi-of-customer-experience/?sh=4044869067f4
Forrester. How Customer Experience Drives Business Growth, 2018.https://www.forrester.com/report/How-Customer-Experience-Drives-Business-Growth-2018/RES137327