Every year, long lists are made touting the next big things in marketing for the 12 months to come.
But in 2016, only one item need be on that list: customer experience (CX).
Sure, we can talk about adaptive content or virtual reality or disruptively programmatic collaborative innovation, but the fact remains: CX will rule 2016.
A recent Gartner survey found that 89 percent of companies plan to compete on the basis of customer experience. It’s an encouraging but suspiciously high number. While many a marketer can stamp ‘seamless journeys’ and ‘compelling experiences’ off their Buzzword Bingo sheet, few can honestly back it up.
Case in point: 43 percent of customers in a 2015 Australian study said they were dissatisfied with the experience offered by the country’s 34 largest companies. Of those, only 17 percent would stay loyal to the brand as a result. Clearly, there is work to be done.
Customer expectations are higher than ever. At every interaction, at each individual ‘micro moment’, customers want the ability to personalise and optimise the experience, based on their needs. Fair enough too, for the experience is the one tangible demonstration of how far a brand will go to please that customer.
“But hang on!”, you cry. “This isn’t new! We’ve been focused on the customer experience for years!”
So how’s it looking? Seamless, end-to-end, user-first, intuitive, responsive, measurable, data driven yet human, delivering to a clear strategy, proven ROI?
Marketers have been focused on components of the customer experience — the in-store, the website, the social media. The false ‘traditional vs digital’ divide has been a culprit here. Different elements of the experience are developed in isolation, with marketers mostly having to choose which side of the divide they sit on.
This makes joining the dots very difficult; a trend reflected in the number of customer experiences on offer. You can probably think of half a dozen companies who offer either a terrific digital customer experience that doesn’t translate to the real world, or memorable TV campaigns with a poor in-store experience, or great in-store service with a terrible digital offering.
Brands have also been guilty of trying to force the experience on the customer, rather than providing the means for the customer to define it themselves.
Avinash Kaushik, Google’s chief digital evangelist, touched on this when he said that marketers should focus less on conversion, and more on user intent across the entire experience.
In other words, stop trying to force them down a funnel, and instead, understand what they need at each stage to make their own decisions, and simply provide them with the best tools to do that. That helps take much of the guesswork and mind-reading out of the process.
Customer experience doesn’t work in silos and it’s not about tactical hit and runs. It’s about fundamentals and root causes; allowing a customer to do what they want, when they want and how they want.
For all of us, that’s both good and bad news.
It’s bad news because great customer experience is hard.
Every touch point forms part of the experience. From an organisational perspective, building the necessary infrastructure means collaboration between marketing, comms, HR, IT, senior management and possibly more. Who owns what? Who delivers what? Governance is crucial.
Strategically, it requires making hard choices about effort and resources. Tactically, it requires responsive management and creativity. Technically, it requires speed and integration. Marketers with a solid understanding of all worlds will be in high demand.
The good news? The benefits of getting it right are huge. 55 percent of customers will pay more for a guaranteed good experience. And the customer experience is filled with creative potential, a chance for your brand to build something truly unique and personal.
2016 is the year your competitive advantage will begin to rely, more than ever, on the strength of the customer experience. Make sure it’s top of the list.
- Kevin Fitzsimons is the founder of Element Digital.
- This story has been been published as part of Element Digital's sponsorship partnership with StopPress.