Wednesday, June 11

Marketers Renew Their Interest In The Customer Experience

Content marketing might have a lion's share of the social conversation, but more and more marketers are starting to see customer experience (a.k.a. CX) as the single most exciting opportunity for business this year. According to one recent study conducted by Adobe, customer experience even edged out mobile by a narrow margin for the first time in recent years.

It only makes sense. Content marketing and mobile are both part of the customer experience, which includes all customer facing touch points (and I might argue internal facing touch points that can influence customer facing touch points). Ergo, the best lead generation on the planet is pointless if the only outcome is to target those leads with long-term loss leaders such as email spam or telemarketing.

"Every ad is an investment in the long-term image of the brand." — David Ogilvy 

Ogilvy had it right in that every advertisement, message, and touch point has a brand impact. It's only by mapping out the entire customer experience from the first touch point to post-experience that business owners and executives can begin to understand the relationship forged with customers.  

The customer experience concept goes beyond the sales funnel. A typical customer experience journey begins with a need, consideration, engagement, evaluation, purchase, receipt, usage, and post purchase. 

Need Awareness. The three most common types of need awareness are those that are externally generated (friends, influencers, or businesses pinpoint a known problem or unknown need), internally generated (an individual has a problem and is searching for a solution), or purposefully sought after (an individual who already knows what they need). All of them require a different approach. 

Solution Consideration. Once someone accepts there is need, brand loyalty tends to be the first consideration. People generally rely on brand familiarity and measured previous experiences before considering solutions from other companies with which they have had little or no experience. There are exceptions (such as price-motivated customers that never develop brand loyalty). 

Customer Engagement. As part of the decision-making process, customers will likely visit websites, social network pages, retail outlets, mobile apps, visit links, or engage in any number of other direct touch points. Always remember that even if the company is absent from the conversation (such as comments left on a review site), customers still consider the experience as a brand touch point. 

Customer Evaluation. Everything during the experience — from perceived need fulfillment and frontline staff to presentation and ease of purchase — may have an impact the brand relationship. This includes outside interruptions and messages intended to reach customers earlier in the sales cycle. In fact, this is one of the most neglected truths in marketing: the sales funnel is not linear.

Point Of Purchase. Even some of the best companies never consider how many negative impressions they introduce at the point of purchase. Anytime they include an additional charge (e.g., baggage claim), charge too much for shipping and handling, attempt to add on impulse offers or unneeded plus sales, make it difficult to claim a rebate, add unjustifiable financing terms, introduce post-purchase policies, etc., customers add it to the weight of their experience. 

Delivery/Installation. Many marketers consider the the point of purchase to be the end of the sales funnel, but the purchase is only the beginning of the customer experience. How something is shipped, the length of time required for delivery, the ease of installation, additional costs that were unintended or expected are generally attributed to either the manufacturer or retail outlet. 

Promise Delivery. If modern marketing has learned anything in the last century, it ought to be that the expectation marketing creates with a value proposition needs to be closely aligned with the ability to deliver on that promise. It's often the difference between the proposition and promise delivery that makes or breaks the company. 

Post-Purchase Satisfaction. Even after a purchase is made and the customer owns the product, post-purchase touch points have an impact. When companies send too many post-purchase incentives, any time the company is embroiled in controversy, or if the life cycle of the product or service fails to meet expectations (and sometime even if it does), post-purchase satisfaction remains ever-present.

Every touch point deserves consideration within a communication strategy. 

When you begin to think from the perspective of the customer's experience, things change. Retailers don't settle for a low price leader claim, they make lower prices part of the customer experience. Innovators do more than make a motorcycle helmet, they augment reality to make it safer and smarter. Shoe companies do more than tell you to just do it, they innovate the tools to help you get it done while considering the customer experience from introduction to the next innovation. 

At every stage of the customer experience, there is considerable room for communication. Marketers have an opportunity to express a need, help people find a solution, ensure the right message, make purchasing easy without being overbearing, create the first post-purchase touch point, reinforce the promise delivery, and continue to add value (not sales pressure) until the product or service life cycle is complete. 

Marketers desperately need to develop comprehensive plans that better address the customer experience with the convergence of next generation digital, engineering, and personalization. According to the same Adobe study that revealed CX is steadily gaining ground, nearly 75 percent of respondents recognized that marketing still doesn't have the skill sets needed fully realize tech.

While that may be true today, it won't be true tomorrow. The next round of communication convergence will come with an engineering edge — customer experience baked into the products we buy and the services we select. After all, isn't that the real reason companies like Uber and Lift disrupted the marketplace? Technology helped them change the customer experience.
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