Mikkel Bach-Andersen, Partner
Customer experience is inarguably a current hot topic in business, and the most recent darling among marketers. Yet the concept of customer experience takes many shapes and forms depending on the eye of the beholder. Everything from small scale initiatives, such as marketing-automation, social media interaction, and personalisation on websites, to larger, more strategic initiatives, such as service design, are called out as “customer experience”. Yet the practical application of the concept often stands unanswered.
Welcome to the tech-utopia for marketers
Much of the perplexity surrounding customer experience can be explained by the radical and speedy transformation of the technological landscape and hence the flocking of technologists to the marketing space. Their “customer experience pitch” has typically tackled how the customer–company relationship could be digitalised, personalised, automated, scaled, and streamlined. The tech-utopia for marketers.
However, speaking in ones and zeros, these technologists have often teamed up with specialist departments within the organisation, such as digital marketing, CRM or even back office divisions such as the IT department. Consequently, the customer experience initiative becomes isolated to a single division that generally only deals with a few consumer touch-points. What’s worse, this practice often creates misalignment between the digital platforms and the interactions with the customers that are happening in the physical world.
So, while the benefits of much new technological evolution are real; Our experience is that many customer experience initiatives take an ill-advised starting point
Empty bits and bites
Maslow wisely stated, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. Accordingly, you can’t really blame technologists for their “technology-first” approach in terms of achieving a more streamlined customer experience initiative – the problem is that this approach often comes with the cost of turning the experience bland and generic at best, and fragmented at worst.
As the area of customer experience continues to mature, we’re beginning to observe competing brands often basing their initiatives on similar data, insights, and advice. They map the same customer journey, use similar tools and operate on the same platforms. This tendency turns customer experience into a paradoxical game of catch, where the uniqueness that used to drive and define individual companies gets lost in the quest to react instead of lead.
The paradox lies in that many technology-first and data-obedient customer experience initiatives - no matter how advanced - can turn the same experience into a grey, commoditised, and generic mass, where differentiation and distinction between companies are lost. In our viewpoint, defining customer journey(s) and mapping the customer touch-points are crucial tasks, but they are not enough to build long term competitive advantage. These journeys and the general experience must be infused with the unique essence and memorability of the brand, and ultimately, create brand preference.
So, in many ways, the data and digitalisation opportunities that stem from technology have propelled customer experience into a top priority among executives. Yet, going forward, we believe that companies should be equally concerned with leading the customer, rather than solely being led by numbers. It may sound a bit backwards, but companies should instil the brand and vision into the core of the experience, because in many ways, great customer experience is all about reinventing the core of good marketing: invoking emotions and creating unique, memorable moments.
Hail to the visionaries
Sculpting a lasting brand and planning a successful customer experience requires in-depth soul searching to determine who you are, whom you are serving, and why you are serving them. Ultimately, you must have a long-term vision for your brand that guides you across touch-points – and not just the digital ones.
Some of the world most successful brands are all based on a clear vision for the relationship between them and the customer and the emotional response they want to trigger. They use technology as an enabler and are highly data-driven, but it all stems from a core belief and clear vision.
Having a clear vision for your company and the courage and foresight to let it lead you seems the only way to navigate these currently raging waters. Successful brands take charge and lead the way. Reacting to data and walking in the footsteps of others will never get you ahead anyway.