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Feb 24, 2021

The Elevation of Experience: Why a Deep Customer Understanding Matters Even More

With the tremendous amount of change over the past year that has altered the way people live, work, shop and socialize, there has been a lot of discussion about customer experience. There is now, I would argue, consensus that elevating customer experience as a central component of a brand’s promise is a vital competitive differentiator. But what do we mean by “experience,” specifically as it pertains to how a customer interacts with a brand?

At the widest view, experience encompasses the full value exchange between a customer and a brand, yet far too many companies approach customer experience as simply a set of interactions necessary to deliver a product.

A look at the scale of changing consumer behaviors may help understand why experience needs to be thought of in a new light. According to an October survey from McKinsey, the only activities that more than two-thirds of US consumers planned to engage in over the next two weeks – or presumably until a return to “normal” – were shopping for groceries/essentials and spending time with family. Activities such as working outside the home, air travel, going to the gym, eating at a restaurant and using public transportation/ride share all polled at less than 40 percent.

Transforming the Experience

Just on a surface level, the simple fact that people are having so many fewer in-person experiences is making the ones we do have more valuable. Before engaging in an activity, we now go through a mental checklist of pros and cons. If I choose a non-digital activity, how safe is it? Is a digital experience adding value or should I just go for wherever is cheapest or can deliver fastest?

More than ever, consumers put an onus on the brand to prove that it – the brand – is worthy of engaging with us. When viewed in this light, it becomes clear that a personalized customer experience that matches the expectations of today’s always-on consumer is less about knowing their name, knowing which channel they prefer or even selling them a product than it is about establishing a deep understanding of what matters to the customer. Not that any of those things are inconsequential, but the value a customer extracts from their relationship with a brand goes deeper. Why, the customer asks, do you deserve to engage with me?

In a recent survey that Redpoint conducted with Dynata, consumers offered that an understanding of who they were – what made them tick – was most important. In the survey, 70 percent of consumers said that they planned to shop exclusively with brands that personally understand them. Think of that; they didn’t mention price or availability. Rather, a personal understanding – which goes deeper than a collection of personalized interactions. From the customer’s perspective, part of the understanding means that before deciding to engage with a brand, a customer must feel secure knowing that the brand shares their personal values or concerns around social, political or environmental issues. In Generation (P)urpose, a 2020 report from Accenture on the importance for companies to bring clarity to their values and beliefs, 80 percent of consumers say that a brand’s purpose is at least as important as customer experience.

For a Superior CX, Start from the Outside-In

When purpose is considered as part of what it means to meet the needs and demands of an individual customer, it underscores the responsibility that brands have to understand that customer when delivering their brand promise. A brand may have the capability to deliver a superior experience, but if it breaks its brand promise – which could relate to a social issue, a privacy breach, ignoring a preference, etc. – a superior experience will be for naught.

Said another way, brands have had an ability for a long time to engage with customers anywhere at any time. Ubiquitous engagement is not new, but what is new is the increasing customer expectation that engagements are meaningful, that they matter personally and that they reflect a deep understanding.

The evolving expectations crystalize why the mindset that incremental efficiency gains to one type of engagement on one channel is outdated. A piecemeal approach takes the view that an engagement technology solution’s features and functions drive outcomes is entirely backward.

In a new normal where customers expect a deep understanding to infuse every part of their relationship with a brand, the prevailing mindset must take an outward-in approach that starts with outcomes and works backward to a targeted set of experiences. Is the outcome to sell a product or is it really to form an almost unbreakable bond with the customer defined by shared values, trust and respect? If the latter, a brand will quickly realize the absurdity of trying to drive 10 percent efficiency gains in emails, as an example.

Accenture discusses this new way to look at customer experience as the “business of experience (BX)”, which in the wake of the 2020 disruption takes customer experience from a marketing purview to the boardroom as mission-critical for driving profitable business growth. In their survey of business leaders, 77 percent of CEOs say that after the upending world events and drastic consumer shifts, they will now fundamentally change the way they engage and interact with customers.

There has been an awakening, an enlightenment if you will, that the experience a customer derives from a brand is foundational for driving sustained profitable growth. It starts with re-examining everything from the customer’s perspective and values and then determining how best to deliver perfect experiences reflected in highly personalized and sustained engagement.

A customer, after all, views a relationship with a brand not as a set of distinct interactions, but as one holistic experience that transcends all channels and marketing itself. While an outcome may differ for each customer, the foundation of the relationship is relevance. It is called the moment of truth – being precise at every moment of interaction and proving to the customer that you are deserving of their time, their attention and their business.

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