I was recently in a client meeting and was asked the question of where the future of customer experience is going. This was a tough question to answer because where I think CE ‘should’ go, and where it ‘is’ going might be two different things. The reason they may be different is that marketing managers in charge of CE are still focused on managing existing experiences, instead of creating new customer experiences. So, unless consultants and CE thought leaders can convince them otherwise, the future may simply lay in improved customer service.
But, I believe the future of CE should be in experience creation. As an industry, we will continue to manage customer service and existing experiences, but never get them perfect. I expect the law of diminishing returns will eventually set in on managing existing experiences. So, creation of new experiences will be the true CE differentiator of the future. When something positive and unexpected happens to a customer, it creates instant word of mouth value. People talk about new experiences – they rarely talk about expected experiences unless they were bad ones.
Easton (sports equipment maker) is an excellent example of a company that is utilizing post purchase experience creation to its advantage. I can comment first hand on Easton. I bought a graphite hockey stick from them last year. It broke during a game after a couple of months which is considered normal wear and tear by most manufacturers who only technically cover manufacturer’s defects. I did not have the receipt anymore, but I had heard that Easton really cares about their customers. Their website will give you a customer return number if you have a complaint or warranty return, which is impressive in itself. So, I sent the stick to them, COD, in 2 pieces. Literally 48 hours later, a new stick arrived by Fedex (a newly created experience) at my house – no questions asked. It was the most painless and impressive process I could imagine. I didn’t even pay any shipping charges. I was expecting a response to take weeks, and to find out that without a receipt and because of the stick’s age, that I was out of luck. They created a true emotional bond with me through that experience.
As a society, we now expect a lot from brands and companies before and during a sale. We are programmed that way. But, we have very few (or many negative) expectations post sale. This leaves a huge gap for differentiation through post sales experience creation. Overall, according to our customer research, the opportunities to win through CE exist (smallest to largest) as such:
Experience Management: Purchase
Experience Management: Usage
Experience Management: Pre-Purchase
Experience Management: Post Purchase
Experience Creation: Purchase / Usage (tie)
Experience Creation: Pre-Purchase
Experience Creation: Post Purchase
I do believe that all parts of the customer experience need to be managed, and mined for creation opportunities, but the fastest way to differentiate now, and well into the future, will be through post purchase experience creation.