With increased competition, accessibility to information, and advances in technology, it became clear that products by themselves didn’t guarantee acquisition or retention of customers. Businesses needed to offer reason to be the preferred choice and so shifted their focus to building brand equity.
They opened conversations with their audience, paid attention to customer lifetime value, omni-channel activities and so on and so forth. Businesses couldn’t ‘sell’ their product anymore, they had to ‘market’ it better than competition. They had to understand the DNA of their customers better than competition. They needed an edge. To that end, the importance of data became to gain momentum.
Today, businesses collect customer data from as many sources as legally possible to formulate a better understanding of what customers want, when, how, why and where. Data became the impetus to better marketing strategies. Data became gold
Through that data businesses realized how customers maneuvered through several touch points en route to completing transactions. The probability of completing those transactions depended on the quality of experience customers had with a particular brand or business relative to competition.
When we talk about customer experience, we refer to the emotional, mental or even physical state of a customer as he/she progresses in their buying journey. The impression they hold at the end of their interactions, whether positive, negative or neutral, impact their decision to do business. Customer experience is the new secret sauce.
The complexity in experience
Customer experience may last from a few seconds to extended periods of time depending on the industry or product in question. For instance, our search for a vacation package may take longer, require several sources of information and involve multiple rounds of deliberation when compared to ordering a cup of coffee at the local drive-through. By the same measure, evaluating enterprise software applications for a company differs greatly from downloading a personal mobile app. While all these instances involve opportunities for experience, they differ in longevity and depth.
What does it mean for businesses?
Businesses whose customer journey maps involve several stages or possibilities for interaction need to be concerned with delivering good consistent experiences across the board. All points of interaction are opportunities to leave a positive impression and hence making each one count is pivotal to building stronger connections.
Negative experiences on the other hand are sure to send customers elsewhere. Also, since we live in a connected world, experiences are shared far and wide and work productively or counter-productively for any business or brand. While it is impossible to please every potential customer on the planet, it is a good practice to study what worked and what didn’t so that improvements can be made.
Must we do more or less to offer better customer experiences?
In my opinion, the duration of the interactions may not be as vital as the depth of those interactions. By depth, I refer to the impact a particular interaction had on the customer, for better or worse.
Let’s look at two customer experience scenarios. The first one is that of booking a hotel stay in a new city. The touch points listed are only indicative of the point I’m trying to make and are by no means an exhaustive list.
Like all experiences the process is fluid and varies with each traveller. While the hotel stay is the primary experience, there are numerous other influences. In fact, the experience begins even before the traveller arrives at the destination and may extend long after.
As mentioned above, more potential touch points requires a higher degree of consistency and vigilance. Every touch point creates an impression with the customer, impressions they will carry with them when they exit the journey.
Now, let’s take a look at a shorter customer experience process provided by Amazon Go. When Amazon addressed grocery shopping and decided to use technology as a means of reducing non-productive or stressful aspects of the shopping process, they created an entirely new experience as seen below.
Again, the process is fluid. It may be even shorter for repeat customers. Amazon Go uses computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion to offer an experience devoid of human assistance (video link). A service without service if that makes sense.
Which customer experience is better?
As mentioned earlier, customer experience is the mental, emotional or physical state of the customer as a result of some interaction with a business. It is the impression they are left with after a business touch point or at the end of a purchase journey. The length and depth of the process or touch point does not have an impact on the quality of experience a customers receives. Customers may be just as satisfied or dissatisfied with a hotel stay as they would shopping at Amazon Go in the examples above.
The objective is to ensure that the customers accomplish their goals with minimal frustration while willing to repeat their interactions with the business and/or refer the business to other potential customers.