How your brand engages with customers can make or break your brand’s reputation. And that’s especially true when marketers deliver experiences that are forgettable or middle-of-the-road, warns customer experience expert Hollis Thomases.
Thomases, a Principal Analyst at Digital Clarity Group, met with a group of Signal clients in Chicago recently to offer practical advice for creating a great customer experience. The task may feel daunting, but Thomases urged the marketers to focus on customer journeys, which are more strongly correlated with business outcomes than touchpoints.
“A customer’s holistic perception of a company and its offerings (are) based on all of the customer’s interactions with the company….” Hollis Thomases, Digital Strategy Group
Positive customer journeys, she said, result in a 30 percent increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and willingness to recommend a brand. Inversely, negative journeys boost cancellations and churn by 30 percent.
Here are some of her tips:
Reduce the friction within the part of the customer journey you own.
The customer experience, in Thomases’s view, is ongoing rather than singular in nature. It consists of a series of finite journeys that includes every single interaction your customers have with you. As a marketer, you certainly can’t control every aspect of their journeys, which likely cut across individual touchpoints optimized by product, online, retail, or other company departments. But change begins with baby steps. Take positive action to optimize the portion of the journey you can control. “It’ll be like germinating the garden,” Thomases said.
Get cozy with your first-party data.
Figure out how to leverage “a lot of little data points,” such as the data gleaned from onsite search queries. Did the customer use a general search term, such as “women’s boots” or a very specific product description, such as “women’s black over the knee boots?” Use that information to serve an ad on your site that helps the customer find the boots she wants, faster. When the customer completes the footwear purchase, don’t just send a confirmation email. Utilize the conversion data to create a suppression list so your remarketing vendor can stop targeting that customer (and wasting ad dollars) with ads showing her the very same boots she just bought. Instead, serve her an ad for a black handbag or a belt.
The always-on digital environment demands broader thinking.
Think beyond the browser. Say you send a customer a call to action to download your mobile app, and provide an offer for a discount on store merchandise. If your store has a beacon, leverage it as an opportunity to improve the journey for your top customers. When the customer walks in, give them a memorable, Nieman Marcus-like shopping experience with hand-selected merchandise laid out in a fitting room. Keep in mind, though, that mobile isn’t a friendly environment for every type of customer interaction. For example, from the customer standpoint, filling out forms is a more laptop-friendly activity. If customers don’t convert when asked for information in a mobile app, serve them ads that help them complete the form on a laptop.
Provide value to keep and grow customers.
This bit of advice may sound obvious. But what consumers prize and what marketers prioritize is a source of major disconnect. So no wonder we all walk away from so many brand experiences thinking they were valueless. Marketers tend to focus on channels such as email, web, mobile, SMS, ads, and so forth, while consumers value a great journey. They don’t want their time wasted with useless messages. An example is the email Thomases received from an airline at 8:16 a.m. reminding her to check in for her 7:40 a.m. flight to Chicago. Problem was, Thomases said, she had already checked in—36 minutes before the email arrived.
Consistency is the key to well-managed expectations.
The secret to turning customers into brand enthusiasts is consistency – providing an excellent journey – over and over again. When asked to rate the importance of various factors that influence where they buy, consumers ranked “matched expectations of the brand” at the top of the list (8.7 on a scale of 1-10), Thomases said. Also high on the list were “matched past interactions,” “relevant to needs,” “received at the right time,” and “helpful in making a purchase decision.”
During the Great Recession, the goal of “good-to-great” morphed into being “just good enough.” Today, ninety-eight percent of customer experiences with brands are just “okay,” Thomases estimates. “The ones consumers remember are either really bad or really great. Your customers will disengage with you if they have a bad experience. So if you expect to court them to engage with you on a journey, you better deliver a great experience.”