Understanding the customer and prioritizing empathy can create harmony that fosters customer loyalty and positive word of mouth
By: Terrel Transtrum
If Brand Experience is about making promises, then Customer Experience is about keeping them.
Over the past few years, customer needs and expectations have dramatically changed. Digital technology has become a significant part of the customer experience, forcing organizations to adapt quickly. However, while technology is essential, it’s not the only factor. Understanding the customer is crucial to creating engaging digital experiences that contribute to the overall customer experience.
It’s no surprise that many organizations prioritize technology over customer empathy and focus on customer understanding later in the process once they set technology plans into motion. Operational efficiency, for example, typically prioritizes automation over empathy toward the customer. This back-to-front approach might explain why some leaders view customer service teams as “mop-and-bucket” crews paid to hear complaints and clean up boo-boos.
However, with a deepened understanding of customers to guide technology (not vice versa), it’s possible to create engaging digital experiences that contribute to the overall customer experience (CX). Brands that optimize their customer journeys to align with their brand experience (BX) drive satisfaction, loyalty, and retention as they meet customer expectations.
By prioritizing customer (and employee) understanding and creating engaging digital experiences, brands can enhance reputation, increase revenue, improve margins, and create long-term loyalty.
Brand Experience and Customer Experience
At its core, a brand is a name, image, or symbol that identifies an organization or its products and services, setting it apart from competitors. The Brand Experience (BX) is the sum of all sensations, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions that people associate with a brand, while the Customer Experience (CX) refers to how customers perceive specific interactions with a brand throughout the discovery, purchase, and use of its products and services.
If BX is about making promises, then CX is about keeping them.
“A poor promise will starve a great experience,” says Dipanjan Chatterjee, principal analyst for Forrester Research. “A poor experience will break a great promise. And either will render the brand unfit to compete.”.
When BX and CX are aligned, they create the harmony that fosters customer loyalty and positive word of mouth, which, in turn, drives revenue growth and retention. However, achieving this harmony requires strategic experience planning and execution across all levels of the organization.
Because the digital experience is an essential component of CX, if it’s complicated or frustrating it can lead to a lost customer. Alignment and simplification of BX and CX do not just magically happen. It takes work to create a structure and implement practices that facilitate the interplay between CX and BX. Harmony demands the best of strategic, operational, and organizational elements.
The Digital Experience
A powerful partner that can support BX and CX alignment is the Digital Experience (DX). In making a purchasing decision about a brand, customers will combine and connect every relevant interaction and bit of information or message to inform their decision. In a customer’s mind, everything has been woven together. Yet organizations often lose sight of this connection when they design their marketing and CX strategies.
Marketing becomes focused on delivering messages about the brand proposition and employing marketing and communication strategies to build consumer expectations around the brand. Customer service and operations become focused on delivering the customer experience primarily through service. The strategies are often developed in isolation and are frequently siloed.
Consulting work is routinely about removing silos and fostering collaboration to bind the brand experience and customer experience. Deploying digital strategies to deliver the customer brand experience must reflect a sincere and appropriate understanding of the customer by balancing empathy and technology.
The Total Experience
Leaders in the “new normal” seek advice on how to improve their customer experiences through technology and organizational structure. A holistic approach that considers both customer and employee experiences demands two distinct steps:
- Clarify Your Brand Promise (BX)
Start with your organization’s core belief system and translate it into personality attributes, emotional benefits, and your clear brand promise. This must be felt and lived by everyone in the organization and align with your target customer. Without this clarity, CX efforts flounder. The entire organization, led by the CMO as the brand ambassador and CSO (customer service officer) as the chief customer advocate, must come together to deliver a consistent experience at every touchpoint.
2. Understand What Your Customers Crave (EX)
To create an engaging digital experience, you must understand what your customers want to achieve and what they think of themselves. A better digital experience should enable them to reflect on their choices and deepen their understanding of how to accomplish their goals with your products.
For instance, depending on a customer’s goal, a better digital experience might enable them to reflect on their choices by providing a learning path—interactions that deepen their understanding of how to accomplish their goals with your products. A Gartner study found that customers who “realized something new about their needs or their own goals” were 1.73 times more likely to buy more.
Technology powers research and innovation, and at the same time it propels our organizations with customer growth and retention. Customer understanding informs design and galvanizes the digital experience, an essential ingredient of designing and delivering an engaging CX.
Organize CX initiatives and DX systems around (a) customer understanding and empathy, and (b) total experience to avoid “robotic insincerity.”
Understanding Your Customers
Very few organizations have entirely digital journeys. Most still deliver physical products, offer physical experiences, or provide human interactions, and understanding customers is more convenient and powerful than ever before. Modern tools for listening to customers include voice of the customer (VOC), pulling conversations from the internet that identify customer sentiment (online media monitoring), developing customer journey maps, defining personas, and spot-checking satisfaction with various customer scores.
These efforts can cultivate deeper understanding of your customer for adapting to their needs, and when skillfully applied the organization will come out on top because the customer ultimately wins. Since its early inception, Melaleuca Inc. (now a $3 billion global D2C giant) assigned the executive role of CSO (customer service officer) as the top-ranking position at the decision table and management circle, second only to the CEO. Here is how the CEO reasoned: “The CSO’s job is to keep our customers happy, so everyone else’s job is to keep the CSO happy. Make sure the CSO has what they need.”
Understanding the customer at such profound levels comes as a result of sustained advocacy (your CSO) and intelligent customer data, sometimes referred to as “customer intelligence.” The outcome is understanding that nurtures customer empathy. This better balances a customer’s situation, interests, and intent with the organization’s goals.
A simple, but powerful example is Mary Kay’s Mirror Me™ virtual makeover tool, a customer-centric digital experience that focuses on enhancing the customer’s sense of self. Grounded in human understanding, this buzz-worthy digital experience is designed on the crucial understanding that an important element of a person’s well-being is how a product looks on them. The AI-powered makeover tool allows a person to try on the product virtually, play with makeup and create every look imaginable. When you toss in support from beauty consultants and a simple shopping experience, then beauty becomes easy and fun.
Reshaping CX requires metrics that should reflect your company’s goals (including employees’ goals) and customers’ goals. The right metrics can be used to communicate the rationale for initiatives and investments; validate the effectiveness of CX improvements; guide goals and targets; and signal when corrections or innovations are needed.
Measuring needs and expectations should be at the center of measuring CX. When viewed through the lens of BX (Brand Experience) and CX (Customer Experience) alignment, findings and conclusions will always point to simple and clear recommendations. Metrics that align with key roles across marketing, IT, customer service, sales, operations, and associated CX priorities empower the organization with actionable views of customer behaviors and perceptions.
Here are five metrics that are essential to measuring CX:
- Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): The oldest and most widely used CX metric.
- Customer Effort Score (CES): A precise way to measure if you are truly easy to do business with.
- Net Promoter Score (NPS): The barometer of the state of the customer relationship.
- Customer Sentiment (CS): A key indicator of the three engagement and retention behaviors (saying positive things about the organization, referring friends and family, return purchasing activity)
- Employee Engagement: The role of employees in customer service (not only customer service agents)
Gathering and understanding the right signals from customers along their journey gives you the ability to connect at deeper levels, even in small ways. When you consistently challenge beliefs about what customers and employees want in an experience, technology and the digital experience can deliver meaningful and profitable consistency.
In the final analysis, exceptional CX is about context, not technology.
Terrel Transtrum is the Founder and CEO of ServiceQuest.