Customer experience (CX) is the new normal for today’s brands. Whereas purchase used to be many companies’ sole goal, brands have recognized the immense value of repeat customers and are starting to prioritize the comprehensive experience over a transaction. However, the actions some businesses take to improve their customer experiences and develop stronger, long-term relationships show they don’t fully understand what shoppers value.
According to a recent Forrester report, brands may think they are improving CX, but they continue to miss the mark. In fact, 84 percent of brands included in Forrester’s U.S. Customer Experience Index earned “OK” scores or worse from customers in 2015.
Considering consumers’ more complex and personal expectations for experiences today, an OK experience does not translate to high-value relationships. Instead, brands must revisit their understanding of what consumers consider a positive brand experience. While businesses may think they know their target audiences, the reality is that brand-consumer relationships are changing quickly, and in unexpected ways. Although brands have been able to quantify consumer behavior with big data trends and other improvements to consumer analytics, these metrics do not get to the heart of what customers are feeling emotionally.
With so many competing variables and changing opinions, the best way for brands to align their CX offerings with what consumers truly want from their CX may be the simplest approach — ask them.
And what do they expect?
As a 2017 report finds, consumers anticipate a differentiated experience that:
Keeps its promises
Consumers simply expect the businesses they support to fulfill what they perceive as the brand promise.
For instance, if a shopper visits a department store and selects items from different departments, she should be able to purchase all of them at a single register. The point of a department store is ease of access to and purchase of a multitude of products in one place, and any experience otherwise goes against the brand’s most basic promise. Or, if a product is advertised as available at a certain price, that item should be in stock and at that price. It sounds basic and yet many brands fail to consistently deliver on these baseline expectations. Once these fundamental elements of the experience are mastered, brands can better understand, and allocate resources, toward areas that delight.
When brands meet consumers’ very reasonable expectations, they create a mutually-beneficial experience that offers key business rewards. In fact, when asked which emotions they associate with brands to which they feel the most loyal, nearly 40 percent of consumers associated satisfaction with loyalty across all countries.
But, if brands fail to deliver, they sacrifice trust and can expect much more than just a slightly inconvenienced shopper. When asked what emotions they associate with a bad experience, consumers said “disappointed” (24 percent), “frustrated” (23 percent), and “disrespected” (20 percent). Even worse, consumers were nearly twice as likely as brands to say they associate anger with bad experiences (19 percent versus 10 percent).
Is personal and reciprocal
Providing personalized support means much more to shoppers than receiving an email with their name included or a relevant retargeted ad. Consumers view personalization in terms of the brands they already interact with and how those brands provide individualized attention across the the full journey — from initial interest, to purchase, and through to support when needed.
Personalization means different things at different times. During the pre-purchase period, it means messages and offers tailored to what the customer wants. At purchase, it means understanding the motivation behind the buy and making helpful recommendations. Personalized support means that when customers call into a service center, the brand representative knows they’ve called before and understands their history with the brand.
More specifically, consumers in every country ranked personalized support as their first priority. This was followed by personalized purchase. Targeted, relevant advertising simply isn’t top of mind. While brands, on the other hand, underestimated how important personalization is during the purchase process by about five percentage points.
Today’s consumers have nearly infinite options which means they can afford to be selective in the brands they choose. This trend certainly puts pressure on brands to perform, but it also offers them an opportunity to develop relationships with customers that are much more enduring and profitable. With emotion established as the top driver of a positive customer experience and loyalty, brands must learn how to better design, measure and iterate on the customer experience with this in mind. And it begins with with learning what consumers expect you to deliver, and then remaining laser-focused on consistently meeting those expectations.
This post makes some important points, the most impactful of which is addressed early on. There is a proven direct connection with driving personalized experience value on an emotional, as well as a functional, level and bottom line profitability. And, this begins with listening to, and interpreting, the voice of the customer.
Unfortunately, there is rarely linearity between what customers say they want (their expressed priorities), what they mean (real-world, actionable insights), and what they actually do (effect on decision-making behavior). If linearity did exist, as my colleague Colin Shaw so ably points out, the healthy salads Disney theme part visitors say they want would replace the hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizzas they actually eat. Instead of stated importance, actual importance needs to be modeled around perceived customer value and prospective impact on marketplace behavior.