For decades businesses developed products to serve customers economical, functional, differentiated or experiential needs. But, with increased competition, accessibility, and advances in technology, it became clear that products by themselves are not guaranteed to acquire and retain customers. Businesses needed to offer reason to be the preferred choice and maintain customer engagement over time.
So the focus shifted to building brand equity, to open conversations, understand customer lifetime value, omni-channel activities and so on and so forth. Businesses couldn’t ‘sell’ their product anymore, they had to ‘market’ it and older methodologies weren’t as successful given generational progression. To that end, the importance of data became clear. 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.
Through that data businesses realized that customers maneuvered through several touch points en route to potentially 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 could amount to being positive, negative or neutral.
The complexity in experience
Customer experience may last from a few seconds to extended periods of time depending on the business 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 your weekly grocery run. While all 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 strong customer connections.
Negative experiences on the other hand are sure to send customers over to the competition. Since we live in a connected world, experiences can be 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 works and what doesn’t so that improvements can be made.
Examples of customer experience touch points
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 is by no means an exhaustive list.
Like all experiences the process is fluid and varies with each traveller. While service is the mainstay of the primary offering, there are numerous other influences to customer experience. In fact, the experience begins even before the traveller arrives at the destination and may extend after he/she leaves.
As mentioned above, the more the number of potential touch points, the higher the need for consistency and vigilance. Every touch point is creating an impression with the customer, impressions they will carry with them when they exit the journey. It is very probable that those impressions will be communicated to a larger audience through some medium.
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 process for customers, they created an entirely new shopping experience as seen below.
Again, the process is fluid and may even be shorter for some shoppers, but, you get the point. 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 to no frustration while willing to repeat their interactions with the business and/or refer the business to other potential customers.